Christmas Food Traditions: a flavorsome journey around Europe (Part III)
2 more sleeps and Christmas is finally here! And because we’re feeling so festive, the final part of our series is also here – so, if you’ve ever wondered what the Eastern European Christmas food looks like then read on…
Countries in spotlight: Poland, Romania, Czech Republic & Slovakia
Czech Republic & Slovakia
As one moves East, food traditions are a lot more different.
In Czech Republic, for instance, the traditional Christmas feast is served on December 24, ‘The Generous Day’. The first course of the meal is the customary Rybí polévka (Fish soup) or cabbage soup (Kapustnica). The cabbage soup almost always contains mushrooms and may contain smoked meat or sausage. The main always involves carp – some Czechs buy their fish alive from the market and keep it in the bathtub until it’s time to prepare it! They serve Carp with Bramborový Salát (Potato salad). For dessert, Czechs have Vánočka (Christmas bread) a braided cake-bread with raisins and almonds.
Even if the dishes that are traditionally prepared for Christmas in Czech Republic and Slovakia are similar, the traditions differ – Slovaks enjoy Velija (Christmas dinner), consisting of 12 dishes and symbolizing Jesus’ Apostles. The dinner always begins with small bread wafers (Oplatky) and a family blessing. Kapustnica is customary, and each family has their own recipe for preparing it. This is followed by fried carp with potato salad. In Slovakia, people serve a variety of cookies for dessert – some families bake over ten different types of cookies, such as vanilla crescents, black-and-whites, ‘bear paw’ cookies, walnut and apricot cookies and many others.
In Poland, Kolacja Wigilijna is the main Christmas meal and is eaten on the evening of the 24th, after the first star has made its appearance on the night sky.
Tradition has it that it must consist of 12 different types of dishes, as a reminder of the 12 Apostles and to bring the family good fortune in the following year. After a day of fasting, the family prays together and shares the Christmas wafer, wishing good luck to each other.
The Polish don’t eat meat on this day and instead choose fish and vegetables dishes. Dinner commences with barszcz (beetroot soup) and with uszka (small dumplings) – a classic Christmas starter. As a main, the Polish serve carp or herring and tench in aspic. Other indispensable Christmas dishes include cabbage with mushrooms (Bigos), pierogi, Kulebiak (a Russian pie, usually filled with salmon or sturgeon, rice or buckwheat, hard-boiled eggs, mushrooms, onions, and dill) and Kutia (sweet wheat berry pudding). For dessert, they enjoy the customary dried fruit Kompot.
The Romanian ‘Masa de Craciun’ (Christmas meal) usually takes place at lunch or early evening on Christmas Day. Romanians fast for 40 days before Christmas, during time they only eat vegetarian meals. This means that the Christmas meal is always hearty, meaty and very rich. There is one word that perfectly describes the meal – pork. 🙂
All of the Romanian Christmas dishes feature pork. This is because the custom is that rural families who keep pigs gather all their members on the 20th of December for Ignat Day and the head of the household sacrifices one of the pigs. Then, they share the meat among the family members and use it to prepare all kinds of pork delicacies together. The most common ones are:cârnați (smoked or dry-cured sausages made with garlic and spices), Pomana Porcului (a quick dish made of the best pork bits and served in honor of the helping guests), caltaboș (a liver-based sausage), piftie (pork-based aspic, with pork meat, vegetables and garlic) and many others.
Dinner usually starts with a soup or a ciorbă (a name for many sour soups, similar to Polish borsch) – varying with each region. Appetizers are also an important part of the dinner, such as roasted eggplant salad, carp roe salad or Boeuf salad. However, the national favorite is perhaps sarmale – pickled cabbage leaves stuffed with minced pork, rice, vegetables and other spices. Romanians serve sarmale with sour cream, polenta and hot peppers.
For dessert, they enjoy cozonac (a sweet bread loaf with cocoa, walnuts and raisins cream). The meal is never complete without one of the strong Romanian spirits – palincă, rachiu or țuică (a very strong fruit brandy).
Feeling hungry yet? We know we do! If you would like to try any of the dishes above, cooked with and by locals, then call us on 1-800-227-1393 and start planning your next European journey with Finest Journeys.
Have a very Merry Christmas!
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