Military families find themselves living around the world. Germany, Italy, and Japan play host to the US Armed Forces, sharing with us their culture and traditions. The holiday time is a special time to explore the food and culture of the nation’s host. Whether you have lived there, want to live there, or are reliving your time there, here are some fun holiday treats from around the world in places our Armed Forces are serving.
Whether you know it or not, when you are living in Japan (Okinawa and mainland), get ready to see a long line at the local Kentucky Fried Chicken store and ads for the holiday preorders. Why? Christmastime is a time for gatherings and why not enjoy some American fried chicken? There is even a whole song dedicated to this called Stueki na Holiday “Kentucky for Christmas.” (Don’t believe me, use your favorite search engine!)
Balance out the fried chicken and biscuits with the local favorite of Japanese Christmas cake – lightly whipped sponge cake layered with light and fluffy whipped cream and strawberries. These cakes are so commonplace you can find them in your local grocery store in addition to bakeshops, so even if you forget to place your order you can usually find them.
Celebrating the New Year is extra special in Japan – celebrated with fireworks and music, and of course food. The Osechi Ryori is the traditional food and dishes used to celebrate New Year. The dishes are packed in layered bento boxes and each item within has a special meaning.
Datemaki – sweet rolled omelet – represents scholarship due to the omelet’s resemblance of rolled papers
Kuri-Kinton – chestnut dumpling – represents wealth
Kohaku Kamaboko – boiled fish paste in typical colors of red and white – represents the first sunrise of the new year
Kobu-maki – kelp – represents happiness
Kazunoko – herring roe – represents fertility
Ebi – shrimp – represents longevity
Kuromamae – black beans – represents health
Tatsukuri – dried sardines – represents a good harvest
Renkon – lotus root – represents a foreseeable, good future (as seen through the holes of the lotus root)
Kikuka-kabu – turnip in the shape of the chrysanthemum flower – represents celebration and promotion
Gobo – burdock root – represents strength and stability
Tai – the sea bream fish – represents celebration
There are two P’s to remember for celebrating the holidays in Italy – Panettone and Pandoro. Panettone is the typified Italian holiday dessert enjoyed through New Year. The tall bread-like cake is a sweet dough with candied fruits and raisins. This is no fruitcake so do not expect a dense, sugar-coated cake. The cake is so popular that it is now present in big box stores like Costco in America during the holiday season. It’s not as well-known sweet bread of Pandoro is a local favorite in Italy. The eight-star pointed cake is similar in texture to brioche bread and the modern version is dusted with flavored powdered sugar as “snow” on top of the mountain.
Move over stockings and get those shoes (or rainboots) ready for December 5. Nikolaustag, or St. Nicholas Day, is celebrated when the spirit of St. Nicholas visits children who left their shoes outside the door. The typical treats are oranges, representative of the gold that Nichols threw as dowry money in the legend of St. Nick. The taller the shoes, the more the treats may be an American twist on the German tradition, but it is a fun way to celebrate the season.
Christkindlmarkt – the Christmas street market – originated in Germany. The outdoor markets are held in cities all over Germany offering seasonal food, drink, and items for gifting like ornaments and other handicrafts. Traditional foods like Glühwein, Kinderpunsch, Baumstriezel (pastry covered in cinnamon sugar), and Maroni (roasted chestnuts) are offered, There are often children’s programming and petting zoos offered at the markets. If you are no longer in Germany and are looking for somewhere in the U.S. to enjoy the German market, then look no further than to the town of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania also known as the “Christmas City.”
Warm-up in the German style with Glühwein. The spiced red wine is sold throughout the country and not just at the holiday market. Make it at home by purchasing the spice mix and adding it to your favorite bottle of red wine in the crockpot. Want to make the kid-friendly version? Kinderpunsch is the same version of the punch for adults who don’t drink or for children. Use fruit juices as tea as the base for the punch. Orange juice, apple juice, cherry juice (to give it the distinct red color) and hibiscus tea add a fragrant base for the drink – add in the ratios to your own personal taste. Add in the spices of cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, and whole star anise to the base and warm everything in a stockpot. Add honey to taste and you have got yourself a warm taste of the holidays in addition to your home smelling of the season.
Need a treat with your Glühwein or Kinderpunsch? Stollen is a bread-like cake that is eaten from November 1 through New Year’s Eve in Germany. There is even a whole festival dedicated to the Christmas Cake – the Dresden Stollen Festival. A giant cake is made and sold at the festival. While eating your cake you can enjoy music from marching bands, a parade, and actors in historical costume. The eating of the cake goes back to the Medieval celebrations of the holidays so it is well-practiced. There are many versions. The holiday version is ChristStollen with marzipan running through it.
The holiday season around the world is a festive time. A time to make memories in a way that is unique to where you are living. Once you have returned to the U.S., you can continue these traditions with your family and share them with friends. Even if you haven’t lived there, add one of these traditions to your family’s celebrations this year for a fun and unique holiday treat!