Unique Holiday Foods From Around the World

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For many people, the holiday season is almost synonymous with a never-ending stream of meals from Thanksgiving until the end of the year. Does your grandma have a famous recipe for chocolate cake that she makes only once a year? Even when the extended family cannot spend the holidays together, almost every family has a unique dish or two that makes it feel like their traditional holiday. Each corner of the globe also has special dishes reserved almost exclusively for this time of the year. From Tang Yuan, sweet rice balls with black sesame filling, a dish to celebrate the Chinese New Year, to Laufabrauð, a traditional Icelandic bread that looks like a paper snowflake, here are some of the unique dishes people around the world eat during the holidays.

Ponche Navideño, Mexico

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In the days leading up to Christmas, no Mexican family gathering is complete without the aroma of this drink in the home being served to guests. This festive warm, spiced (and sometimes spiked) punch is made by simmering fresh sugar cane, hibiscus, guavas, tejocotes and various spices. It smells like Christmas in a glass.

Lefse, North Dakota, United States

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These potato-based flatbreads came to North Dakota by way of Norwegian immigrants. Particularly popular during the holiday season, these rolled crepes can be paired with many toppings from sweet sugar to savory eggs.

Mattak and Kiviak, Greenland

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Greenland is known for its frozen landscapes— and the Danes claim it as the home to the jolly man himself. But its additions to the Christmas table are highly unique delicacies: mattak—made from whale blubber—and kiviak—made by wrapping an auk (a small Arctic bird) in seal skin and fermenting it underground for months.

Laufabrauð, Iceland

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The decoration of this treat, which originated as early as the beginning of the 18th century, is often a family activity during the holiday season. Rolled super thin and made to look like the paper snowflakes you might have crafted in elementary school, leaf bread is a very thin and crispy bread served in Iceland during Christmas.

Bûche de Noël, France

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Also known as a Yule Log, this chocolate cake is rolled into a log shape around a layer of cream. To give it an extra jolt of holiday cheer, it is sometimes topped with meringue mushrooms and powdered sugar to resemble snow.

Jansson's Temptation, Sweden

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Said to have gotten its name from a famous opera singer in the early 1900s, this recipe did not become popular until later in the 20th century. Made out of potato, onions and anchovies, this casserole is typically served around Christmas time.

Kutia, Ukraine

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Traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve, this sweet pudding is made out of wheatberries or other grains, sugar, honey, nuts, plums and other ingredients. Variants on the dish are served in Poland, Russia and elsewhere, but its essence is usually the same.

Sufganiyot, Israel

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Hanukkah is known as the Festival of Lights and lasts eight days, during which it is traditional to eat fried foods, including these tasty, doughy treats, and the more well-known latkes, or potato pancakes. Sufganiyot are sweet, jelly-filled doughnuts, often sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Banh Chung, Vietnam

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According to legend, these traditional rice cakes served around the Lunar New Year were created in the 17th century when the king of the Sixth Hung Dynasty issued a challenge to his sons. The one who created the most delicious dish would succeed him. The poorest one, using only local ingredients, created this one—made of rice, peas and pork, wrapped in a banana leaf—and became king.

Tang Yuan, China

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If you've ever had the chance to try the tasty Chinese dessert, mochi, Tang Yuan is not too different. Made in celebration of the Lunar New Year, these small balls of rice flour can be filled with black sesame, red bean or peanut paste and are usually served in a bowl of sugary broth.

Osechi Ryori, Japan

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Japan is said to have a few unique traditions around the holidays, one being KFC for Christmas dinner. Another, more traditional one would be these dishes, served inside multi-tiered lacquer boxes, like bento boxes, served in celebration of the New Year and filled with various delicacies, each symbolizing a different wish for the coming year.