Beyond Turkey & Log Cake 
Christmas is celebrated all around the world, so why limit the feasting to turkey and log cake? Here are exotic dishes from various parts of the world eaten during the Yuletide season.

For many of us, Christmas feasting evokes delectable visions of turkey with cranberry sauce, baked ham and a slice or two of log cake. These festive staples are what we have come to expect from every supermarket’s Christmas catalogue and Christmas menus at Western restaurants.

So it is refreshing to discover an amazing treasure trove of Christmas dishes that is popular in other parts of the world. They range from the bizarre (fried emperor moth caterpillars in South Africa) to the fun (Kentucky Fried Chicken in Japan) and comforting (tamales in Spain). We have narrowed the list to a select few you may wish to try this festive season.

Mexico

Bacalao
The Christmas season officially begins on 12 December and ends on 6 January. Celebrations here include the posada processions, which commemorate Joseph and Mary looking for somewhere to stay in Bethlehem before Jesus was born. Children carry candles and painted clay figures of Mary riding on a donkey and go from house to house singing songs. They will be turned away at each house till they arrive at the house hosting the posada party for the day, where they will be invited in for food and games.

Christmas eve dinner is the highlight of the occasion, and it is usually eaten late at night. A must-have dish is Bacalao ala Vizcaina. This is a dish made from dried salted cod. When rehydrated, it becomes delicate and tender. Once a staple of the poor, Bacalao is now considered a true Mexican holiday comfort food worthy of a place at the Christmas table.

This colourful and festive dish includes potatoes, tomatoes, onions, olives, capers and bright red bell peppers. The cod is soaked for hours before it is sliced into bite-sized pieces. The ingredients are layered in the pot and boiled over medium heat till the potatoes are tender. As families tend to open their doors to others on Christmas eve, this dish is often made in large quantities and served with a selection of fruits and drinks.

Poland

Whole Carp
In Poland, Advent signals the beginning of Christmas. In this largely Catholic country, this period is a time for reflection, fasting and generally getting ready for Christmas Day.

For the Poles, Christmas eve supper is the most important meal of the season. Traditionally, this feast features 12 dishes, which represents the 12 disciples of Jesus and the 12 months of the year. The dishes are meat-free as a way to commemorate the animals that took care of baby Jesus in the manger. As a rule, everyone at the table must sample each dish.

The dishes differ from region to region, but some universal ones include beetroot soup, forest mushroom soup, herrings, pierogi (stuffed dumplings that are boiled and fried), braised sauerkraut, cabbage rolls, kutia (a cereal dish), gingerbread, dried fruit compote and poppy seed cake.

The star dish, though, is a whole carp, which can be baked or fried. The carp is typically cooked in a grey sauce (made of lager, beer or ale, with a bit of wine, fish blood and caramel or rye bread), with dried mushrooms and cream or stuffed with parsley.

The tradition of carp farming in Poland is believed to be at least 700 years old. There is a belief that if you eat this fish at Christmas and keep the scales in your wallet, money will come to you. Sounds a bit fishy, don’t you agree?

The Philippines

Bibingka
The Christmas spirit fills the air in the Philippines as early as the start of December. In this predominantly Catholic Southeast Asian country, Christmas customs are a fascinating mixture of Western and Filipino traditions. It is not unusual to have Western Christmas fixtures such as Christmas trees, Christmas cards and Santa Claus next to a parol, a bamboo pole or frame with a lighted star lantern representing the star that guided the wise men.

In the Philippines, Christmas eve is the most anticipated day of the occasion. Christians flock to churches for the traditional Christmas eve mass followed by a buffet-style midnight feast. One of the dishes that graces the table is Bibingka, a flat cake that is cooked and served on banana leaves and topped with grated coconut.

Bibingka is made of rice flour, coconut milk or water, eggs and milk. It is traditionally cooked over hot coals in a specially made terra cotta container lined with a banana leaf. After pouring the rice flour and water mixture onto the leaf, it is topped with another banana leaf and covered with more hot coals.

This results in an aromatic, soft and spongy flat cake that is slightly charred on both surfaces. It is served with toppings such as margarine, sugar, cheese or grated coconut.

Italy

Pollo Alla Toscana
It is a little-known fact that we have the Romans to thank for Christmas Day. When Emperor Constantine adopted Christianity as the state religion, he declared 25 December a day to honour Jesus. In AD 350, Pope Julius officially declared that all Christians would observe this day as a day of giving thanks for the birth of God’s son.

In Italy, Christmas eve dinner is traditionally a light meal with no meat and a lot of seafood. The most indulgent meal is reserved for Christmas Day, and it can last for hours. This usually begins with an antipasto spread of cured meats, fine cheeses and briny olives followed by pasta, roast meats and free-flowing red wine.

For Pastaria Abate manager Jake Folkoff, whose extended family hails from Italy, one dish that must be prepared is Pollo Alla Toscana or Tuscan Chicken. “During Christmas, when the family gathers, children play while adults converse over glasses of wine around the fireplace,” he describes. This dish is slowcooked throughout the day and finally brought out at dinner — a hearty and warming dish perfect for winter.

“This chicken dish is usually prepared using whole chickens, braised in a cast iron pot over a fireplace for hours on end,” adds Jake. “Of course that is not feasible in Singapore, so we use a modified recipe when we prepare it here.”