By Erinn Callahan
Most Americans’ dining tables at Christmas are practically indistinguishable from the Thanksgiving menu a month earlier. Turkey, ham, mashed potatoes — all the staples are there, most pulling double duty.
In areas such as Colorado Springs, however, the lineup may look slightly different. Several military installations and a proximity to Denver means a veritable potluck of cultural comfort food during the holiday season — recalling everything from the Caribbean shores to the forests of the Pacific Islands.
While “halo-halo” — Tagalong for “mix mix” — is not served exclusively during this time of year, Gregg Savage is promoting the popular Filipino cold dessert for anyone looking for a change of pace this winter.
“It’s very unique only to the Philippines,” said Savage, owner of You-Ka Café on Bloomington Street in Colorado Springs. “How it’s made and presented is something you can’t get in other countries.”
Traditionally served in layers in a cup or bowl, halo-halo includes a hodgepodge of ingredients highly unlikely to show up alongside one another anywhere else — sweet red beans, cocoa, dried fruit and a scoop of shaved ice.
The dish is topped with evaporated milk, leche flan, ube — purple yam — ice cream, caramelized plantains, and strands of macapuno, or coconut. The unusual combinations of texture and taste keep customers coming back, Savage said. “You mix it all together and enjoy the textures. Once you try it it’s hard to get away from it.”
A popular holiday tradition in Mexico, according to a December 2016 National Geographic article, involves a twist on the traditional Christmas bird. Pavo relleno de Navidad, or stuffed turkey, dates back all the way to the Aztecs. Today, the turkey is commonly stuffed with an eclectic mix similar to the halo-halo ingredients — ground pork, raisins, apples, almonds and jalapenos.
South Koreans will celebrate Seollal, the Korean Lunar New Year, Feb. 5 this year, and one of the most important meals is the one that begins the festivities, according to National Geographic. Tteokguk is a soup prepared with thinly sliced rice cakes, egg, beef, vegetables, and sometimes kimchi mandu, or dumplings. Believed to bring health and longevity, Tteokguk also functions as a birthday soup for Koreans, who traditionally turn one year older at the New Year, according to the article.
A similar dish is popular in China for the Lantern Festival, which is celebrated in late February or early March to mark the end of the Chinese New Year. Tangyuan — round dumplings of glutinous rice typically filled with sweetened black sesame paste or red bean paste — is often served in the water it was boiled in, which is usually sweetened with ginger. Tangyuan also is associated with the winter solstice, according to Reader’s Digest.
Fried potato pancakes — called latkes — are perhaps the most visible staple of Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish Festival of Lights celebrated in late November or early December. While there are non-potato variations of latkes, the tradition really lies in the cooking method. Food fried in oil commemorates a miracle in the Jewish tradition, when oil burning during the purification and rededication of the temple in Jerusalem burned for eight days.
Fish soup — commonly carp — doesn’t typically conjure up images of fir trees and twinkling lights, but the dish is a holiday staple in the Czech Republic, according to Reader’s Digest. The meal traditionally begins when the first star appears in the sky the night of Christmas Eve — called “Generous Day in Czech.
Hallaca, the traditional Christmas food in Venezuela, is somewhat labor intensive — multiple family members often convene to make a batch that will last the entire season, according to Reader’s Digest. Hallacas are made with corn dough wrapped inside a plantain leaf, with a mixture of meats — commonly pork, beef, chicken or pork rinds — inside, as well as raisins and olives. The leaf wrap is tied shut with string and the hallaca is cooked in boiling water.
Thelocal.com reports that roasted poultry is common in Germany, although Germans tend to prefer goose to America’s mainstay, turkey. Roasted goose is traditionally eaten with dumplings, red cabbage and kale stew — minced and cooked in stock with cream, spices and random meat or sausages for a few days. Often accompanying this meal is gluhwein — the German version of mulled wine, made with cinnamon, vanilla, cloves and citrus — or egg liqueur, similar to eggnog and made with a blend of egg yolks, varied spirits, sugar, brandy, vanilla and sometimes cream.