No matter where you are for the holidays, unless it is in your hometown, the food just doesn’t taste as good as it should. As travel gluttons, we are often somewhere else for our Christmas meal but that doesn’t stop us from dreaming about food from home. Here are our favourites, all the way from Canada, Northern Ireland, and the United States of America – plus a few tips on what not to miss in our hometowns.
I can’t remember ever having Christmas dinner without roast turkey. It just wouldn’t feel right and it wouldn’t feel like a traditional Canadian Christmas meal.
I grew up in the countryside near a small town called Ponoka. It’s located in the Canadian province of Alberta, a place where we use the word ‘dinner’ when we mean lunch. The winters and Christmases of my youth bring back memories of deep snow and biting cold.
I also remember my mom in our farmhouse kitchen on Christmas morning, even before we opened presents, firing up the oven and wrestling a big turkey into a black speckled roasting pan. A few onions, carrots, and celery stalks were added and lent their flavour to the turkey’s juices.
The smell of roast turkey wafted from our open kitchen, filled the house, and enveloped my brother and I as we played with our new toys. But it was the moment the turkey came out of the oven that we anxiously waited for.
Its skin was always crispy and a deep, nutty brown colour. As children we only liked the breast meat, and as our extended family played musical chairs while looking for a seat at the table, my father cut ample slices off the steaming bird.
As good as the turkey was, it wouldn’t have been complete without my mother’s thick, brown gravy. She used the reserved turkey juices and after a few moments of furious whisking at the stove, the gravy boat completed our Christmas dinner table.
Winters in central Alberta can be bitterly cold or pleasantly mild – they’re unpredictable. Err on the side of caution and expect it to be very cold - at least then you won’t be disappointed.
Alberta lies in the Mountain Time Zone and in standard time is GMT-7. You’ll need colourful Canadian dollars (CAD) to buy coffee to keep you warm.
Calgary International Airport (YYC) offers direct flights and better connections to Europe, the United States, and Asian countries than Edmonton International Airport (YEG). Public transport outside of Alberta’s main cities is almost non-existent. If you plan to see the frosty rolling plains and vast farmland of the province then you’ll need to rent a car.
At home in Northern Ireland, we have a Christmas dinner in the evening rather than at lunchtime like many British people. You just have a bit more time to get a nice meal ready instead of rushing about before lunchtime (no one enjoys that!).
The type of Christmas fare that I’m used to at home is the typical British turkey-and-stuffing kind, but I look forward to the side dishes the most! The best part is most certainly the roast vegetables. We usually roast potatoes, carrots, and parsnips with a sprinkling of fresh herbs. We serve pork and herb stuffing alongside the turkey, the more the better, and it disappears quickly. For some reason, we almost never eat Brussels sprouts except at Christmas – even though everyone enjoys eating them – so I usually tuck in.
Last but not least, my absolute favourite part of Christmas dinner is chocolate fudge Yule log, which is like a Swiss roll but generously coated with chocolate fudge ganache to make it look like a tree log. A nice dusting of icing sugar together with typical holly and red robins completes the Christmassy look. I could easily eat a whole one – in fact, I have been known to work through a log by myself throughout the Christmas period because we don’t always find them every year. At Christmas, normal food rules just don’t apply!
Located on the island of Ireland, Northern Ireland is officially a part of the United Kingdom but it maintains strong links to the Republic of Ireland. The currency is the British Pound (whereas over the border in Ireland, it is the Euro) and it shares the GMT time zone with the UK. Northern Ireland enjoys mild summers and winters, with extremes of temperature occurring rarely. The abundance of rain, however, is a result of this mild maritime climate.
There are a range of options to reach Northern Ireland: by car from mainland UK via sea ports at Larne and Belfast; by air to George Best Belfast City Airport, Belfast International, and Derry Airport for the west; and a combination of the two if you travel to the Republic of Ireland. The border between Northern Ireland and Ireland is freely passable for everyone.
Christmas at the Titanic and Boxing Day at the Races are just some of the events taking place this year during the festive season. Check out Discover NI’s Christmas Countdown for more events happening nationwide.
The Discover Northern Ireland website provides a wealth of information of events, top tips, places to stay, and more.
While my Christmas dinners centered around the traditional turkey, mashed potato, and stuffing combination, there are two dishes that I remember with great fondness. The first is a turkey side-dish in the form of a sweet, sweet potato dish. No, that wasn’t a typing error. Despite sweet potatoes already being relatively sweet by nature, this dish made them even sweeter – mainly with the help of some brown sugar, cinnamon, and chopped pecans on top. This mashed sweet potato dish was how I first got to know this humble root vegetable and I still like them to this day.
The second item, also a sweet one, probably rouses such positive memories both because of the time spent with my mum making them and for their flavour. Cookies are a Christmas requirement in our family and during the cookie making process we would stand in the kitchen rolling up small balls of dough. They would then be baked before being tossed, still warm, in powdered sugar. I always knew these cookies by the name Mexican Wedding Cakes but I have since learned that they are also known as Russian Teacakes (and probably a few other names as well).
While my actual hometown, Crown Point, is located in Northwest Indiana, it is close enough to Chicago, Illinois to have similar weather. Four seasons with hot summers and cold, snowy winters are what you can expect.
Crown Point lies in the Central Time Zone and in standard time is GMT-6. You’ll need the boring green American dollars (USD) if you plan to buy anything.
Crown Point has two main claims to fame – that it is the town from which FBI-wanted John Dillinger escaped from the local prison using a gun he had carved out of wood and dyed with shoe polish; and that Rudolph Valentino got married here because there was no waiting time for marriage licenses. While there is not much left of either event, you can walk the streets of Crown Point knowing you are walking where history (and parts of the film Public Enemies) was made.
Not quite the tourist destination, the City of Crown Point website is well worth checking to see what is going on during your visit.