Top ten holiday season foods from around the world

No matter where in the world you live, whatever your ethnic or religious heritage, the holidays are inextricably linked with food. Whether there’s symbolic meaning behind these seasonal treats, or they’re everyday dishes that have become festive additions to the seasonal repertoire, they’re hard to resist.

Below, I’ve picked some of my favorites, most of which have personal meaning (although sometimes, an Israeli jelly doughnut is just a really great jelly doughnut). For the record, I’m not religious, and in fact don’t really celebrate the holidays anymore (the result of years working in the food and travel industries, and not having kids). I’m ethnically Jewish and of Russian descent, but grew up “celebrating” Christmas, which usually included a heaping plate of my grandmother’s latkes (yes, I realize that’s weird, but you haven’t met my family).

In more recent years, I’ve taken to traveling during the holidays when I can, but barring that, I love me a good dim sum feast on Christmas Day. Who says we can’t make our own traditions?

In no particular order:

1. Tamales (Mexico, parts of Central America)
Who can resist steamed bundles of sweet, earthy, corn-based dough filled with spicy, savory meat or cheese?

[Photo credit: Laurel Miller]2. Aebleskivers (Denmark)
Like dense popovers, these baked balls of dough are served with berry jam and a sprinkling of powdered sugar. The promise of these were my parent’s modus operandi for getting me and my brother to behave on our annual road trip to the Danish-theme town of Solvang, on the Central California Coast.

3. Jollof rice (West Africa)
This fragrant Kwanzaa rice dish has all kinds of irresistible, adaptable components, fried up in coconut oil. Chilies, nutmeg, cinnamon; onion, tomatoes, and other veggies; chicken and/or roasted pork or seafood. What’s not to love?

4. Latkes (Eastern Europe)
One of the most classic foods of Hanukkah, these lacy potato pancakes are fried in oil and served with applesauce or sour cream. Addictive.

5. Roasted chestnuts (parts of Europe and Asia)
One of life’s greatest pleasures is strolling the streets of an unfamiliar city, plucking steaming chestnuts from a newspaper cone.

6. Sufganiyot (Israel)
Fried doughnuts stuffed with jelly or preserves, and dusted with powdered sugar. Clearly I have a weakness for dough with jam.

7. Asado/parilla (Argentina)
Meat. Lots of it, grilled or roasted.

8. Stollen (Germany)
Yeasted, spiced bread with candied fruits and nuts, icing, and a marzipan filling. A good stollen will make up for the emotional scars caused by fruitcake, something I discovered while working at a bakery in Oakland’s quirky-cool Rockridge neighborhood.

9. Cotechino de lenticche (Italy)
A humble New Year’s dish of pork sausage with lentils traditionally eaten just after midnight. Legumes are associated with money throughout much of the world (for their resemblance to coins when cooked), and pork is also symbolic of good fortune, progress, or prosperity.

10. Pavlova (New Zealand/Australia)
Although Kiwis and Aussies are still fighting over who invented this confectionery dessert of meringue, whipped cream and fresh fruit, who cares?

Tell us about your favorite holiday foods, and what part of the world they come from!

[Photo credits: aebleskivers, Flickr user Johann C. Rocholl; chestnut vendor, Flickr user Todd Mecklem; pavlova, Flickr user Sandy Austin]

SkyMall Monday: Money Maze & Bilz Pinball Game

The holiday season is in full swing and everyone is looking for the best gifts for friends and family. The SkyMall Monday headquarters is filling up with presents for our favorite people. Sometimes, though, you simply have no idea what to get for someone. No matter how much you rack your brain, you just can’t come up with the perfect gift for someone in your life. Whether it’s your coworker, mailman or mistress, you may realize that they’re better off picking out their own gifts. That’s when you need to suck it up and give them a gift card or, if you want to limit them only by their imagination, cash. However, gift cards and cash can seem cold, easy and, possibly, lazy. Not on your part, that is. You were generous. Cash and gift cards are easy for the recipients. Make those people earn their gifts by forcing them to solve a puzzle to get to that sweet consumer gold. Thanks to SkyMall, now your friends and loved ones will be able to cherish the greatest gift of all: humility. Because, after a few glasses of eggnog and with everyone staring at them, they’re going to have a hard time freeing those gift cards from the Bilz Pinball Game and Money Maze.

While there may be no greater holiday thrill than opening a giant wrapped box to find exactly the gift that you were hoping for (oh yes, I remember getting my original Nintendo very well), as an adult there is a simple joy in receiving cash. I mean, it’s money. It sure as heck beats underpants, a hideous sweater or a Two and a Half Men box set. The down side of receiving cash is that it lacks the oohs and ahhs elicited by flashier gifts. If you want the recipient of your monetary gift to be the center of attention, there’s no better way to do so than by forcing them to solve a puzzle to get their hands on their holiday booty.

Think it’s perverse to require someone to solve a puzzle to receive their holiday gift? Believe that it’s not in the Christmas spirit to make someone earn their presents? Well, seems to me that complaining about your gift might just put you on Santa’s naughty list.

The Bilz Pinball Game and Money Maze also serve another wonderful function: They allow the gift-giver to avoid shopping for holiday cards. Normally, you would put cash in a greeting card. Have you gone to a stationery store to shop for cards during the holidays? Christmas songs are blaring, the shelves are in complete disarray thanks ravenous customers and the employees are counting down the days until their seasonal position is eliminated by slashing marks into their wrists. In other words, it’s not the most pleasant retail environment. By putting the cash in one of these puzzles, you save yourself the time and depression of having to shop for cards. It’s a win-win.

This year, stop trying to figure out what everyone on your list wants for Christmas and Chanukah. Just get them all cash and lock it in either the Bilz Pinball Game or Money Maze. They’ll be sure to thank you when they’re done muttering obscenities under their breath while trying to solve the puzzle that is holding their gifts captive. Frankly, if you have to endure their company at yet another holiday party, the least you can do is make them get carpal tunnel while navigating their gift.

Happy Holidays!

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.