Long before you sit down to Christmas dinner in Ethiopia, preparations are under way. Farmers buy lambs early to fatten them up for yebeg wot, the thick, buttery berbere-spiced stew that locals know and expect.
After all, holiday meals are judged by a different set of standards than any other kind. You may like your dish dry because that’s what pleased you as a child. Memory is the juicier thing. Such sentimentality is a shared global matter, but food traditions are decidedly local—and reveal much about a destination.
The same old, same old won’t necessarily be available abroad, so if you’re leaving home for the holidays, embrace the opportunity to savor the season as celebrated in another part of the world. Every place has specialties, prepared with love and idiosyncrasies similar to your own.
In Quebec, the thing is tourtière, a meat pie. Maybe the crust on the one you’ll eat will be slightly burned to pay homage to the baker’s favorite uncle. There should be quirks. If you’re eating Jansson’s temptation in Sweden, perhaps it’s a version of the casserole with extra cream because one year, way back, some kid knocked the whole bottle in and, hell, it worked.
In Japan, it just wouldn’t be New Year’s Eve without eating a plate of stretchy buckwheat noodles to bring prosperity and ensure a long life. The longer the noodles, the better. Visitors can join in this age-old ritual at Tokyo’s Washoku En, among countless options.
The urge, just about everywhere on earth, is to eat what you’ve always eaten for the holidays and just as you’ve always eaten it. The quality of a dish is never measured in objective terms. Technique? Taste? Presentation? It hardly matters. The question, globally, is how does the food make you feel?
Fortunate is probably the optimal answer. To come back to the same table and appreciate the same flavors with the same people—whether it’s curry devil on Boxing Day in Singapore, or that thing that’s been in your family since long before you have—is the benchmark of the season. Repetition, this time of year, is exactly the point.
But if you’re away from your own traditions, we bet the local ones, wherever you are, will make you feel just as sated—and may even inspire you to introduce a new dish back at home.
Sweden : Jansson’s Temptation
Said to be named after the Swedish opera star Pelle Janzon, this casserole of potatoes, herring, onions, cream, and bread crumbs is a holiday mainstay.
Where to Get It: The Veranda, in Stockholm’s Grand Hotel. 8 S. Blasieholmshamnen; 011-46-8-679-3586; grandhotel.se