Here in Malaysia, Christmas meals are highly localised. For Christmas and all other celebrations, we like to tuck into local delicacies like rendang, mutton chops, biryani, and steamboat. Similarly in other countries, there are local dishes that are especially popular during the festive season – some more unusual that others.
We’ve found seven of the strangest, most revolting dishes (in our opinion) that people around the world have during the festive season. Do not continue reading if you have a weak stomach or if you’re just about to have lunch. You have been warned:
1. Fermented skate in Iceland
In Iceland, fermented skate is on the menu on the 23rd of December to celebrate the Patron Saint of Iceland, St. Thorlac. The event has, in modern times, become part of Christmas traditions. After decorating their houses and tree and buying presents on the 23rd of December, many families gather together for a meal of fermented skate, which according to research, tastes like rotten fish. (We’re not sure how insightful that research was.)
Because it’s quite a hassle to prepare at home, most people opt to have their skate meals in restaurants. It’s said that the whole of Iceland smells of ammonia on the 23rd of December because of the skate. Yum?
2. Kentucky Fried Chicken in Japan
On its own, KFC is not unusual or weird. They have over 1,500 outlets around the world and it’s a household name. However, in Japan, KFC has become the quintessential Christmas meal. Since only about 1% of the population is Christian, Christmas is celebrated on a commercial level. People decorate their houses, exchange gifts and have a family meal on Christmas day.
Thanks to a commercial by KFC in 1974 to market the special brand of chicken for Christmas, the Japanese have a bucket of ‘Christmas Chicken’ on the day itself. Nowadays, the set even comes with cake and champagne. Fancy.
3. Smalahove in Norway
This traditional Western Norwegian dish is made from sheep’s head and is served with sausages, mashed rutabaga and potatoes. The head, nowadays only from lambs, is salted or smoked, and then dried before being boiled or steamed for a few hours.
Traditionally served with a strong Norwegian alcohol made from herbs and spices called Akvavit, smalahove is not for the fainthearted. At some point in the past, it was food for the poor since they could only afford the unwanted off-cuts, but now it’s considered a delicacy.
4. Mattak and Kiviak in Greenland
This one takes the cake for being the strangest Christmas dish I’ve come across. Whale is a big part of the Inuit diet and in Greenland, they serve up a dish of raw whale blubber with a layer of whale skin. The blubber is cut into cubes but not all the way through, so it’s still attached to a layer of skin – kind of like how mangoes are cut in fruit shops so you can taste it before purchasing. Commonly served raw, mattak can also be fried or pickled. For many, this dish will be over-whale-ming…
Kiviak, on the other hand, involves some work. A seal skin is hollowed out and stuffed with hundreds of auks, little seabirds. The auks are stuffed into the seal whole, feathers and all. The skin is then sewn up and slathered with grease to form a seal. The entire thing is then buried and left to ferment for about seven months. Once it’s decomposed enough, the birds are removed and served up ‘raw’. This sounds like a very seally idea to us.
5. Lutfisk in Sweden
The Swedes usually feast on a smorgasbord of interestingly tasty, and weird. dishes for Christmas. The Christmas smorgasbord, usually referred to as Julbord (pronounced Yule-board) consists of pickled or cured fish, some form of ham, salads, cheeses, a potato and anchovy casserole, meatballs and sausages.
One of the varieties of fish that sometimes makes the board is lutfisk – dried white fish soaked in lye and water, served with a white sauce and melted butter. And yes, the fish really is cured in the same thing used in making soaps.
6. Fried mopane in South Africa
This is probably the least repulsive of all the dishes listed here. Mopane is basically fried Emperor Moth caterpillars. These caterpillars are actually a major source of protein in Africa, and the reason it’s popular at Christmas time is that the harvest tends to occur at around the same time.
The caterpillars are usually preserved or dried for the winter but some are fried and served up for Christmas. This dish is not all that different from snacking on fried grasshoppers in Thailand or silkworms in Korea but it still warrants a place in this list.
7. Kholodet in Russia
Reminiscent of Rachel’s ‘English trifle’ from an episode of Friends, the Kholodet is a meat jelly traditionally served during Christmas. The dish is made with pork, beef, or poultry, and is set in a gelatinous broth. Like many traditional dishes around the world, each family has their own variation and recipe using different meats and spices. However, the one thing that remains the same is that no gelatin is used in preparing Kholodet.
Instead, the broth is made using parts of the animal that already has plenty of gelatin like pigs ears, legs, and beef tail. The broth is cooked for hours before being strained. The meat from the broth is then pulled apart and then placed back into the now gelatinous broth before being refrigerated for 24 hours to set. Of course, the dish is served cold and goes great with vodka.
Tell us your thoughts
What’s the weirdest festive dish you’ve ever tried? Let us know in the comments below!