Across the globe, from the snow-covered landscapes of Scandinavia to the tropical locale of the Philippines, many festive tables don’t feel complete without traditional Christmas dishes featuring seafood.
Perhaps the most well-known example is the Italian-American Christmas Eve tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes, but seafood also takes center stage at other holiday celebrations around the world. Read on to learn about other Christmas fish dishes that, in addition to showcasing the delicious flavors of the sea, serve as critical cultural touchstones that bring loved ones together during the holiday season.
Bacalhau da Consoada | Portugal
In the Middle Ages, the Portuguese embraced fish, especially easily accessible dried cod, to adhere to Catholic fasting and meat consumption rules. Today, Christmas Eve in Portugal isn’t complete without rich and flaky salted cod, or bacalhau, on the table. Every year, families come together to enjoy this humble dish of potatoes, cabbage, and hard-boiled eggs that showcases the country’s historical connection to exploration, fishing, and the sea.
Janssons frestelse | Sweden
Swedes cherish this creamy delight (also known as janssoninkiusaus in Finland) during the holiday season, drawing on the tradition of savoring hearty, comforting fare as winter blankets the country. This creamy potato casserole is traditionally served at Christmastime, typically appearing on the holiday buffet. The simple dish, which is similar to a potato gratin, features a unique twist — canned sprats. However, anchovies will do in a pinch.
Pickled herring | Eastern Europe
Christmas wouldn’t be complete in Eastern European countries like Poland, Lithuania, and Ukraine without pickled herring, one of the traditional foods served during the 12-dish Christmas Eve supper enjoyed in this region. Besides herring, the meal usually also includes mushroom soup, sauerkraut, dumplings with various fillings, and desserts like doughnuts filled with jam. The herring, marinated in a tangy brine, adds a distinctive sweet and sour touch to holiday tables, and symbolizes prosperity and good fortune for the coming year.
Feast of the Seven Fishes | Italy
Introduced to the United States by Italian immigrants in the early 1900s, this seafood feast would later receive its name due to the significance of the number “7” in Catholic symbolism. While most Italian-American families opt for seven courses, others prefer 12, showcasing various fish types or preparations, such as baccalà (salt cod) dishes or malloreddus, a gnocchi-shaped pasta from Sardinia. The traditional sauce is made with sausage, but you can swap it out for bottarga (tuna fish roe) or clams. Other customary dishes include pasta con le sarde (with sardines) from Sicily and minestra di pesce (a soup made from fish broth) from Rome.
Pancit Malabon | Singapore
This flavorful noodle dish, which originated in Malabon City, a coastal area known for its abundance of fresh seafood, is often served during Christmas in the Philippines. It’s a thick, savory, yellow-colored dish made with wide rice noodles, hard-boiled eggs, pork crackling, a shrimp-infused sauce, and seafood toppings like squid, mussels, and dried fish flakes. With so many ingredients, pancit Malabon is somewhat elaborate, so it’s usually reserved for special gatherings, such as holidays.