Southern European Christmas Foods

Southern European Christmas Foods

Christmas is extra special in France, Italy and Spain, with culinary specialties that are steeped in tradition and full of festive flavour.

Regional ingredients and time-honoured recipes take pride of place on Christmas tables and restaurant menus across Southern Europe. In France, Italy and Spain, food is the focal point of the festive period – an occasion to gather together with loved ones and celebrate the birth of Christ with extravagant dishes, many of which are imbued with religious symbolism and all of which help to make the season magical.

Top French Christmas dishes

In France, the main festive meal is Le Reveillon, or “the waking”, so named because it takes place on Christmas Eve in the early hours of the morning after midnight mass. No expense or effort is spared for this banquet, which starts with decadent appetisers ranging from caviar blinis to foie gras and scallops in tarragon cream sauce. Seafood is a prominent part of the Christmas meal – think oysters on ice and whole lobster – although the main course is typically turkey or capon stuffed with chestnuts.

In Provence, it’s traditional to serve 13 desserts, meant to represent Jesus and his apostles. Although precise dishes vary, popular choices include pompe à l’huile (olive oil brioche spread with grape jam), walnut-stuffed figs, fresh fruit and dates. Bûche de Noël, or chocolate Yule log, is a staple everywhere and Champagne is the beverage of choice for washing it all down.

Favourite festive food in Spain

Spaniards also enjoy their main festive meal on Christmas Eve. The celebration begins with a lavish assortment of tapas, including regional seafood, cheeses and charcuterie. Next up is a first course of stew, with ingredients varying from one region to the next. Catalan tradition demands escudella de Nadal (a hotpot of different meats, vegetables and large pasta shells), while trout soup is served in Castile and León. For the main course, rotisserie lamb and cochinillo (suckling pig) are popular choices.

Dessert is a smorgasbord of sweet treats, with turrón – Spanish nougat – a particular must-have. Meanwhile, no festive season would be complete without the crown-shaped sweet bread known as roscón de reyes. This is served on January 6, or Three Kings’ Day, with toppings of candied fruit and chopped nuts and often, a whipped cream filling helping to conceal the lucky figurine of baby Jesus inside.

Best Italian Christmas cuisine

Italy’s festive season begins on December 8 with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and continues until Epiphany on January 6. Families gather to celebrate La Vigilia on Christmas Eve – a pescatarian celebration with seven unique seafood dishes. These could include anything from baccalà (salt cod) to frittura di paranza (tiny deep-fried fish). On Christmas Day a second feast is served, this time with an exquisite array of artisan antipasti, followed by a regional pasta dish then meat as the main course. Braised beef or roasted veal are typical options.

Christmas in Italy is particularly defined by its sweet treats. The most famous is panettone (brioche bread stuffed with candied fruit and raisins), but others include biscotti, torrone nougat and the moist, golden bread known as pandoro.

(*) Average meal price calculated on the basis of starter and main course or main course and dessert, excluding drinks, menu and promotional offers. The average price is an estimate only, calculated according to the prices provided by the restaurant. Depending on the country, the average price may or may not include all taxes.