There’s more to Christmas holiday traditions than the usual turkey and ham. Restaurants and home cooks often line up their festive favourites with personal touches to make them special. For example, it could be the addition of certain spices, a secret family recipe, or a particular pre-meal activity.
We ask six culinary experts who now call Singapore home to share their meaningful Christmas holiday traditions. As they look back fondly on the activities and delicacies they grew up with in their native countries—France, Germany, Italy, Korea and Australia— some have even incorporated them into their restaurants’ Christmas menus this year. Come along on their journey down memory lane and “travel” around the world for some holiday feasting!
French fun: Oyster-shucking competitions, grandma’s roasted chickens, grandpa’s handpicked wines
Growing up in the city of Vaux-Sur-Seine, near Paris, The St. Regis Singapore’s executive chef Thibault Chiumenti traditionally celebrates Christmas on Dec 24 with a Le Réveillon de Noel (long dinner) after midnight Mass.
“At my grandparents’ place, we commence dinner preparation with the family tradition of an oyster-shucking competition among my father, brother, uncle and cousins,” Chiumenti says. “Meantime, the ladies prepare French festive staples such as smoked or marinated salmon and foie gras terrine.”
“My grandmother chips in with her signature roasted chicken, traditional logcake and walnut cake. We’d enjoy these with copious fine wines handpicked by my grandfather and stored in our natural dry cellar in the basement,” he adds.
German greats: Grilled sausages, Christmas goose with bread dumplings
Set on a picturesque hill with a castle, Dachau is home to Paulaner Bräuhaus’ executive chef Michael Hoffmann. Here, the main day of celebration is also Christmas Eve, when most children will be exuberantly unwrapping Santa’s gifts.
“I remember running home from church when I was young because I knew presents were already under the Christmas tree,” shares the 30-year-old.
Italian editions: Live market eel, mum’s home-cooked red prawns and octopus
Giovanni Speciale, Four Seasons Hotel Singapore’s director of food, beverage and culinary operations, spent his childhood in Martina Franca. This charming Italian town starts Christmas celebrations as early as Dec 8, the Day of Immaculate Conception.
“To purify our bodies for Christmas Day, we avoid eating meat on Christmas Eve, and eat only vegetables and seafood dishes.
“I used to go to the wet seafood market to pick live eel with my dad and grandfather. My mum would prepare the eel two ways: chargrilled, and in a tomato ragout with angel hair pasta. We’d also have red prawns, octopus and salted cod fritto.”
“If you think we’re talking about a three-course meal here, think again! It’s traditionally way more. There is a theological reason behind the indulgence. Seven courses might be served for seven sacraments, nine courses for the Trinity, 12 for the apostles, and 13 for the disciples with Jesus,” he explains.
Seoul food: Korean BBQ, galbijim, soju and mum’s cinnamon cake
As K-drama fans will attest, turkey is not a popular ingredient in Seoul, Korea. Instead, beef is the meat of choice during celebrations such as Christmas, says WOOBAR‘s Chef TJ. Whenever the chef is in Korea, he would enjoy Korean BBQ, galbijim (steamed beef ribs) and soju with his extended family during Christmas, one of his favourite seasons of the year.
Another popular Korean festive staple: Christmas-themed cakes in all shapes and settings, such as fir trees and snowscapes. It is not just the standard log cake available internationally, TJ says. His personal favourite treat? His mother’s signature cinnamon cake. “Every time I have cinnamon cake now, I’d recall happy family memories.”
Perth picks: Panettone, porchetta and pavlova at the beach
Christmas holiday traditions Down Under has a different kind of charm. For The Providore’s co-founder and managing director Bruce Chapman, family celebrations in Perth is all sun, sand and surf. “It is hot so we usually start the day with coffee, panettone and moscato for breakfast while opening presents. Then we head to the beach for a swim before preparing lunch,” Chapman says.
One common alternative to turkey is porchetta (whole pork loin roast), slow roasted on wood fire outdoors. Needless to say, there’s much that he reminisces while here in Singapore. “What do I miss? I want to say everything, but really it is family and the beach.”
Chef Drew Nocente, owner of Salted & Hung, used to help his family members prepare Italian extravaganzas on their family farm near Brisbane. It was perhaps one of the Christmas holiday traditions that ignited his culinary passion.
“We get lots of visitors from friends to extended family. Spending the week feasting with them is definitely the highlight of the season,” Nocente says. “On the table will most definitely be ham, roast beef, prawns and mud crabs. In addition, there are our favourite Italian desserts like cannoli, biscottis and nougats.”