All Christmas food is a bit weird. Probably because it’s the one meal a year where we’re all allowed to ignore table manners and pile our plates with several thousand calories of roasted awesomeness, cooks tend to go a bit bananas on the big day. The result is a line up of dishes that would look seriously strange if you looked at them in isolation, but make perfect sense when mashed together in a big, brown lump. This is true wherever you happen to be celebrating the holidays.
Probably because we take tradition so seriously at this time of year, we never really stop to think about how unusual what we’re eating actually is. Therefore, to give some context to our odd diet, we’ve decided to take a Christmas culinary tour around the world, to point out some of the more exotic dishes on display. Once we’ve appreciated how weird we all are, we can get back to the important business of stuffing our face. These are the seven strangest things that people eat at Christmas around the world.
1. Christmas Pudding
We start in the UK, with a dessert that continues to divide opinion. What makes Christmas pudding so strange isn’t the fact that it’s basically a big cannonball of fruit, nuts and alcohol, or even that you set it on fire when you serve it. It’s that, traditionally, there is a metal penny buried in the middle of it. Who needs that when you’re trying eat as quickly as possible?
We’ve all heard of three bird roasts - stuffing something small inside something bigger - but the Inuit of Greenland take this idea to new and incredibly gruesome extremes. Kiviak, a traditional winter food, features little auks stuffed inside the carcass of a seal and left to ferment for several months. The rotten birds are then removed an served as a centrepiece. Yum.
No matter how many times you hear it, the idea of fried chicken on Christmas doesn’t become any easier to get your head around. First started in the 1970s, Japan’s KFC tradition has been called the most successful marketing campaign, as millions flock to the franchise every Christmas eve for a taste of the colonel. Today, orders have to placed at least two weeks in advance.
4. Mopane Worms
Many people agree that bugs are the food of the future. That may be the case, but deep fried caterpillars still seem a whole lot less Christmassy than pigs in blankets. Eaten in South Africa for centuries, the mopane harvest happens to coincide with the Christmas holidays, explaining why they continue to be such a staple.
5. Herring in a Fur Coat
If furry fish doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, we advise that you don’t spend any time in Russia over the festive period. Layers of herring, onion, boiled potatoes, carrots, eggs and beetroot are all slathered in a generous blanket of mayonnaise, making the whole thing look like a terrifying throwback to the glory days of 70s aspic cookery.
Scandinavians serve up an array of alarming dishes all year round, but their Christmas centrepiece is easily one of the most haunting. Smalahove is a whole roasted sheep head, which takes pride of place at a traditional Norwegian Christmas table. Many modern Norwegian's claim that smalahove is now extremely unusual across much of the country. I wonder why.
7. Bread Sauce
Beloved by many, this final entry is more a matter of personal preference than anything else. Despite adoring almost every aspect of the Christmas meal, I have never been able to get my head around the idea of ruining a plate of potatoes, stuffing and turkey with a lumpy stew of milk, white bread and cloves. It looks like something Goldilocks would have thrown up after overindulging at the Bear’s breakfast table. Why, God? Why?
Obviously, weirdness is entirely subjective. What one person may find perfectly normal, another may be totally incapable of stomaching. If you look at these foods objectively, it’s hard to argue that they all aren’t slightly strange. But, that being said, that’s what Christmas is all about.