Many of us think we only speak one language, the language our mothers used to sing us lullabies, the language we were taught in school, the language we use to communicate with friends, colleagues and loved ones. But there is another language we are all fluent in… the language of food.
I remember our first Christmas in the UK (having spent my formative year in France), we were frantically searching the aisles in our local supermarket for foie gras and a bûche de Noël but all we could find were 3kg turkeys and Brussel sprouts which is when we realised that all cultures enjoy different meals on Christmas.
Kentucky for Christmas. Yes, you read that right. Around 3.6 million people treat themselves to a bucket of KFC fried chicken on Christmas. For 42 years and counting KFC’s in Japan have recorded their busiest time of the year to be around Christmas time with many families having to pre-order their meals weeks in advance! But why????
Well it seems that this is all down to a clever marketing campaign by KFC in the 1970’s (hit us up if you need a clever marketing campaign of your own, by the way) which was essentially inspired by the Western tradition of eating turkey on Christmas. Back then (and to this day), turkey was pretty hard to find in Japan, so the foreign Christian population settled for the next best thing – KFC chicken. Japan’s KFC marketing team took the opportunity to start a Christmas campaign called ‘kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!’ or ‘Kentucky for Christmas!‘ and voila!
Home to a large Inuit population, the Christmas menu consists of many Inuit traditional dishes. Mattak is a whale skin dish, the piece of whale skin comes with a strip of blubber inside which is said to taste like fresh coconut. Many times, it is too tough to chew and so it is swallowed whole. Kiviak, another traditional dish, is the raw flesh of an artic bird, the auk. The preparation of this dish is quite fascinating… The bird is killed and then buried whole in sealskin for several months in the run up to Christmas. Once the auk is in an advanced state of decomposition, it is ready to be enjoyed (rather them than me). Men traditionally serve the women throughout the Christmas meal, which, quite frankly, should be tradition everywhere!
In Jamaica, beautiful white sand beaches and scorching sun replace the cold, grey skies that we are all used to at Christmas time. Like many Caribbean and West Indian countries, a succulent ham which has been left to season overnight, will be on the menu for Christmas in many Jamaican households. Although Rastafarians and Seventh Day Adventists will most certainly not be partaking in this tradition! (no pork for them). Gungo peas are often an essential part of Christmas Day for Jamaicans. Indeed, Gungo Pea Soup was, and for some still is, a favourite appetizer before the main spread. But if there is one thing to note, it is that no Jamaican Christmas dinner is truly complete without sorrel. Sorrel aka dried hibiscus leaves are mixed with ginger, orange, cinnamon sticks, water, sugar and rum… It is often responsible for a hefty headache the next day. But the sweet, Christmas-y taste makes it all worth it.
Whether it’s turkey, whale blubber or ham, food might very well be one of the only things we can properly enjoy for Christmas this year (and I, personally, am very grateful for this) so why not give something else a try and immerse yourself into another culture this year?