Spending time with friends and family is great, but if you ask me, the best part of Christmas is the mouthwatering Christmas dishes that get served for dinner. Like sure, maybe you can’t stand your aunt’s nosy questions about when you plan to get married, but hey, they make a mean roast beef and for that, you’re willing to put up with it.
But maybe that’s not enough for you anymore, maybe you need variety so it doesn’t feel like you’re having the food equivalents of Home Alone and All I Want For Christmas Is You year after year.
In that case, you can try these Christmas dishes from around the world that are sure to refresh your Christmas menu. Don’t worry, we’ve picked out dishes that are different enough to feel new but not so different that no one at your Christmas potluck will try them.
Macaroni Au Gratiné from Haiti
Mac and cheese – but make it fancy! Macaroni Au Gratiné may be French in origin, but the Haitian version is three-cheese heaven on a fork. The dish traditionally uses rigatoni so your cheese gets everywhere, even inside the pasta. If you don’t have that, regular elbows will do. What you can’t compromise on are the cheeses that give this pasta its distinct flavor. You’ll need cheddar cheese, parmesan, and a third cheese of your choosing.
Personally, I like adding a bit of blue cheese to all my cheese-inclusive pasta dishes since the strong, complex flavors of blue cheese give even the most ordinary spaghetti bolognese a boost in taste.
Ponche Navideño from Mexico
Ponche Navideño is another “x but make it better” type of recipe except this one requires no cooking. Yay! This twist on fruit punch comes from Mexico and is closer to spiced cider than actual fruit punch because the punch is served warm.
I know, odd, right? But it somehow works and even brings out the flavors of the spices more compared to chilled sangria.
Ponche’s key ingredient is Hawthorne apples or tejote in Spanish. It has a sweet yet tangy taste that’s a little like an apple crossed with a pear crossed with a guava. Its other ingredients are tamarinds and guavas so you get this very fruity, tropical taste that’s just as suited to Christmas as it is to summer beach trips.
Sapin-sapin from the Philippines
Colorful and chewy sapin-sapin is a rice cake dish that will make your Christmas table pop in photos. Sapin-sapin means “layered” in the local tongue so you’ll never see a sapin-sapin that only has one color. The simplest versions of the dish will have the same flavor for all three layers, but the best sapin-sapins will have different flavors and as many as 4 to 5 layers.
The dish is mostly made of glutinous rice flour, coconut milk, and condensed milk. For the layers, flavors include ube, jackfruit, and pandan. Don’t let the flavors and layers intimidate you. Sapin-sapin manages to make it all work and requires very little work to make.
Panettone from Italy
Panettone, not to be confused with Pantone of “Color of the Year” fame, is an Italian bread packed with raisins and citrus. Like many of the best comfort dishes we have today, panettone was invented because of scarcity. Legend has it that during the 15th century, the Duke of Milano invited nobles for a Christmas Eve feast consisting of 12 courses. His chef, who was too busy having an affair during the big event, forgot that he was making dessert and left the dish to burn in the oven.
This was not a good look. Not only did he risk being exposed for his affair, but he would embarrass the Duke to his guests if he couldn’t serve dessert. The chef, likely fearing for his life, grabbed the remaining dough, raisins, and orange peels left over from the other dishes served that evening to make the first panettone.
Panettone’s low sweetness makes it a flexible addition to your Christmas dinner table. Slap on some whipped cream and marmalade and you’ve got a dessert. Serve it with cold cuts and cheese and you’ve got a charcuterie board bread. What’s there not to love?
Christmas Pudding from England
Before anyone says something bad about English food, please give the Christmas pudding a chance. Made of orange zest, ginger, nutmeg, and brandy, Christmas pudding is fruitcake turned up to 11. The best thing about it is that you don’t need to be a baking genius to make it so don’t worry about having to “peak” icing or what have you.
Baccala from Italy
Baccala is a salted cod fish dish that you can find on the tables of Italian-American families during the Feast of the Seven Fishes, a traditional dinner that coincides with Christmas Eve. Baccala is a stew that keeps its process simple yet its flavors complex. It’s made of white wine, a ton of tomatoes, peppers, and, of course, cod.
It’s a great main dish to serve for Christmas if you don’t want to wait forever or spend the entire day cooking.
Kūčiukai from Lithuania
Instead of chocolate chip cookies, how about leaving out Kūčiukai for Santa this year? These Christmas cookies are eaten in Lithuania with poppy seed milk and are made in tiny bite-sized shapes that, frankly, remind me of Lucky Charms. They’re made of poppy seeds, flour, sugar, yeast, and salt. Pretty simple, right? Most of these items are probably already in your kitchen cupboards, making this a convenient Christmas dish to whip up on short notice for when you have surprise guests but not enough food.
Or If You Don’t Feel Like Cooking, Just Order KFC Like the Japanese Do
Kentucky Fried Chicken is the furthest thing from a unique flavor, but hey, if you’re tired of cooking every year and want to spend all your free time chatting with the people you love, don’t feel guilty about relying on Doordash for your Christmas dishes. Millions of Japanese people celebrate Christmas with cake and a bucket of KFC chicken thanks to an aggressive marketing campaign by KFC in the ‘70s. It’s a marketer’s dream and the tired Christmas cook’s Hail Mary.