When you move country, do you embrace new food traditions or create your own at Christmas? We asked four food experts, who have moved to Ireland, what a Christmas feast looks like in their homes.
Christmas In Ireland With a Foreign Twist
Sascha Viertel, from New Zealand to Sligo
Sascha grew up in Rotorua, in the North Island’s Bay of Plenty, spending many years in Auckland. He lived on the South Island, before moving to Ireland with Ceara, his Irish wife, in 2015. They run Koha Street Kitchen in Sligo.
“We usually spend Christmas at the in-laws in Limavady, County Derry. The day starts with bubbles for breakfast as the children see what Santa has brought, followed by a light brunch, such as ham and cheese croissants or pancakes. The main meal is served at about 3 pm, with a starter of seafood, such as a classic prawn cocktail or salmon.
My Welsh brother-in-law, Rob, is in charge of preparing and cooking the turkey, which he lathers in herb butter and bacon but he leaves it to me to carve and present it! I usually prepare a seafood dish too and the veggies including roast veggies sauteed brussel sprouts with bacon and French beans dressed with pine nuts, feta and balsamic vinaigrette, a recipe borrowed from my sister Cushla in New Zealand.
We both do a dessert each. Rob makes an awesome key lime cheesecake and I usually make a pavlova/meringue Christmas wreath. Another brother-in-law, Paul, is always in charge of the trifle. There is usually some Christmas cake, brandy pudding and mince pies later on too.
Christmas dinners in New Zealand were pretty varied and depended on whose house we were celebrating at. My Dad was German, so we often celebrated on December 24th with typical German dishes such as pork Kassler, dumplings and sauerkraut. We had hāngī at celebrations with my Uncle Ross in Taranaki, which is an earth oven where baskets of food (meat/veggies) are placed on hot stones in a pit and covered with earth for six hours. Seafood might include barbequed crayfish (lobster), blue cod and oysters and baked ham often featured at sunny Christmases in Auckland and Invercargill.
Seafood is always included in our Christmas celebration in Ireland either as a starter or as part of a St. Stephen’s Day buffet. Last Christmas I prepared roast Irish salmon with a pomegranate molasses glaze, cumin seeds, pickled red onions and herbed mayo. Traditional Kiwi pavlova featured in all our Kiwi Christmases and is always on the dessert menu in Ireland in some form!”
Birgitta Curtin, from Sweden to Clare
Born and raised in Sweden, as the fourth generation on their self-sustainable farm by the Baltic Sea, outside Nyköping, 100 km south of Stockholm, Birgitta arrived in Ireland in 1981. She married Peter Curtin 32 years ago, the same year that they founded the Burren Smokehouse.
“Last Christmas, we served oysters and lobsters from Flaggy Shore for starters. We always have ham and turkey as well as a nut roast for any vegetarian guests. We make roast potatoes and Hasselback potatoes, and it is all served in a smörgårdsbord style alongside lingonberry sauce, apple sauce and brussel sprouts roasted in the oven with walnuts. All the family helps out and takes responsibility for a dish or preparation. Peter, my husband, cooks the turkey, which he smoked last year on our barbecue.
In Sweden, Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve. My father cut the Christmas tree and juniper tree that morning from our forest. We decorated the tree during the day. Our Christmas dinner started around 6 pm with a smörgåsbord of smoked eel, smoked herring (böckling), juniper-smoked roe deer (from a neighbour), eggs, Jansson’s Temptation (anchovy and potato bake), local cheeses, rye crispbread and more. For mains, we would have ham, peas and mashed potato, apple sauce from our orchards and lingonberry sauce foraged from our forest.
We would sing hymns, dance around the Christmas tree and receive our Christmas gifts that were stored in our juniper chest. My father would read a Christmas story and we would be lit in total candlelight. We would finish the evening with marzipan dipped with chocolate and made into Tomtar Santa figures and crack open almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts. There were blood oranges from Spain too and our own apples from our orchards. Boxes of green marmalade jellies from Fazer were always traditional and my mother would make an almond meringue with cream filling.”
Shiva Gautum, from Nepal to Dublin
Born in the small village in Ramechap, east of Kathmandu, in Nepal, Shiva arrived in Ireland over 24 years ago, moving here from England to open Monty’s of Kathmandu in Dublin.
“Being Hindus, we don’t celebrate Christmas in a religious way, but we make up for it in every other way; meeting family and enjoying plenty of eating and drinking.
Our Christmas Day always starts with me glazing the ham before the family gets up. Once everyone is up, we exchange presents and have our breakfast which is always the traditional full Irish. Then around one o’clock, we visit our Irish family to exchange presents and enjoy a few G&T’s. Around three o’clock we return home to cook and get ready to receive my cousins and their families. With four cousins and their families, there’s 18 of us for dinner. Everyone stays over in the house that night which means they can have a few drinks.
We always have our Christmas Day dinner around 6 pm and we always have three types of meat; a free-range bird of some sort (we used to have turkey but not anymore), Irish lamb chops marinated with Lina’s blend of masala, and glazed Irish ham. We get all our meats from my meat supplier [for Monty’s of Kathmandu], Doyle meats. We try to use our homegrown herbs too, which we grow in our polytunnel. Then there are at least three different vegetables, roasted homemade stuffing, relish and dessert of some sorts.
For the last few years, my children decided they would do Christmas Day desserts, so we leave them to it. Sticky Toffee Pudding has made an appearance on more than one occasion. (It’s never Christmas pudding as nobody is a fan in our household.) As for wine, we always start with a couple of bottles of Champagne – or a magnum, if I have it in the house – and plenty of red wine.”
João Mota, from Portugal to Galway
Lisbon-native João and his Brazilian wife, Márcia, moved to Ireland in 2018 after falling in love with the country on numerous holidays here. They sold their restaurant in Lisbon and opened Apoema Bistro in Galway City in 2019.
“Despite being quite a small country, the Portuguese culinary tradition is a vast one, drawing on so many cultural influences. One ingredient that is more or less ubiquitous on Christmas night is cured cod while almost every region has a special Christmas dish. In the Northern Highlands, where my parents are from, it’s octopus, which was so rare and expensive during the year that it was only served on special occasions.
More important than Christmas dinner is lunch on December 25th, usually a more extended family gathering, where Christmas Eve leftovers are served with fresh dishes like roasted pork loin, roasted piglet, lamb or veal.
We’ve only celebrated two Christmases since arriving in Ireland, and we tried to follow Portuguese tradition: cod confit in olive oil with rosemary, skin-on roasted potatoes, caramelised onions and red peppers and garlic-infused olive oil. Lunch was a simple leg of lamb, marinated the night before with smoked paprika, white wine, bay leaf, coriander and onions and then slow-roasted during the whole morning.
We have to import the cured cod, as there is nothing similar in Ireland, but we try to use the most local ingredients in everything we do. I will never tire of the high-quality lamb we find here, and living in Galway means I’ve access to some beautiful meat from farmers in Connemara.”
Explore & Book
Food & Drink Experiences
Luxury Overnight Stay and Afternoon Tea for Two at the Grand Central HotelWhat You’ll Get Luxury overnight accommodation for 2 in the Grand Central Hotel Belfast, including afternoon tea in the Observatory – ‘Irelands highest cocktail bar’ Stay in a Deluxe Bedroom with views over the city, and enjoy a full Irish...
Wild Atlantic Distillery Tour & TastingWhat You’ll Get Witness the magic of distilling with a visit to Wild Atlantic Distillery located in the north-west of Ireland. Brian and Jim, your hosts will give you a warm welcome with a complimentary drink waiting at your arrival. Following this,...
Wild Atlantic Distillery Cocktail ClassWhat You’ll Get You’ll be welcomed with a famous Wild Atlantic Irish Gin Bramble before being guided through the wonderful world of mixology with this fun and fantastic experience. You’ll learn how to make the perfect gin cocktail that...