Christmas dinner abroad

If you live overseas, or go away for Christmas, which festive fare do you crave? Or are you happy to be far from turkey, sprouts and all the trimmings?


Whether you long for mince pies, figgy pudding, pigs-in-blankets or roast turkey, festive cravings are a powerful thing – particularly when you are spending Christmas overseas. Honor Marks, Simon Woods and their 12-year-old daughter Holly Woods have lived near the Mediterranean coast of south-west France for eight years. Marks says: “Christmas is a huge deal for expats.” The family runs the Maison de la Roche gite in the village of Ferrals-les-Corbières and, after much trial and error, they have now perfected a British “turkey and all the trimmings” Christmas among the vineyards.

“When we first came, it was a lot more difficult to get Christmassy things,” says Marks. “These days it is easier; we have friends that send us stuff, or bring it out for us, and there are more and more Christmas markets where there is often a British stall selling the essentials such as mince pies and crackers.”

A number of online shops help provide that festive fix, too. British Corner Shop, which delivers all over the world, says its top Christmas sellers are Walkers Luxury Mincemeat Pies, Mr Kipling Mince Pies and Robertson’s Classic Mincemeat, followed by the Cadbury Snowman Selection Pack, while British Essentials says it sees a rise in sales of Bird’s Custard, apple sauce, cranberry sauce and British chocolate.

Marks and family will be tucking in to their slap-up lunch on Christmas Day, but Helen Saks, originally from London and now in France, says she had a “rude awakening” regarding French traditions when she first visited family in Toulouse for Christmas. “We had this huge fish dinner on Christmas Eve, which is the French way. The next day I was expecting all those lovely smells of roast potatoes and Christmas dinner cooking, but there was nothing. I asked what we’d be eating, and they said: ‘We’ll just have leftovers.’ I was so disappointed – it felt all wrong!”

Berlin-based singer Simone Ogunbunmi (also known by her artist name, Mama) is from London and is making sure all home comforts are present by cooking Christmas dinner for friends for the first time since she moved to Germany. “I’m hoping to make an indulgent Christmas roast dinner with a large turkey, roast goose and all the trimmings,” she says. “But I will incorporate German side dishes such as sauerkraut, sausages, potato salads and red cabbage. My mother is from Martinique and my father is Nigerian, so I will also include jollof rice and spicy Caribbean seasoned fish to add a little sunshine to the menu.”

Daisy Lumley, a British graphic designer also based in Berlin, loves the way her adopted home celebrates Christmas, and doesn’t feel the need to import much from home. “From my experience, Germans know how to do Christmas food very, very well. From the cooking, to the family socialising, to decoration – everything,” she says. “I think the national cuisine naturally comes into its own at Christmas time: expertly cooked goose, sweet and orangey red cabbage, crisp potatoes, cinnamon fig cake, ginger cakes, gluhwein. All very hearty, warming and traditional.” But there is one thing she can’t do without: “I find my mum’s mince pies are a hugely nostalgic, and crucial, Christmas food,” she says.

Catherine Jordan, from London, will be cooking an “entirely British Christmas – with the works” for her family in their new home in Brooklyn. But she too has a mince pie-shaped gap in her life. “By now in the UK, you’ve already had about 100 as they are everywhere, and here they don’t exist,” she says.

It is a common problem – Lucy and Guy Russell miss them too. They moved to Sydney from London with their four daughters and are planning a hybrid Anglo-Australian Christmas. “We are going for stuffed, rolled turkey breast wrapped in prosciutto, plus trimmings, on Christmas Eve,” says Lucy. “But on Christmas Day, if the weather is good, we will be on the beach in the morning after opening stockings. We won’t want to spend hours cooking, so we’ll opt for a traditional Aussie lunch, which is a seafood barbecue, with some steaks too for the kids.” Sunshine and sand is marvellous, but, she adds: “We do miss coming in from the cold to a good pub with roaring fires, full of people, pints and mulled wine – British friends of ours who have been here for years and years all agree that they’ll never have that kind of festive feeling while living down under.”

Back in the UK, Daniela Riley has a taste of her native Germany delivered to her Winchester home every year. “My mother always sends me stollen for Christmas – my parcel arrived yesterday,” she says. “The postage costs much more if it’s over 2kg, so if it’s too heavy, she has to cut slices off in the post office. I can get stollen in places such as Aldi, but it’s not the same quality … We are meant to wait until the third day of Advent to start it, but in our family we don’t have that kind of willpower, so we start on the first.”

Spending Christmas overseas can mean an opportunity to celebrate in new ways and mix up the festive menu. But sometimes, no matter how good local food and holiday traditions are, you need Christmas dinner to taste the way it should. Which foods are essential for your own Christmas feast?