Christmas is coming and so is – for many of us – the ultimate feast. But while many of us will be tucking into ham, turkey or roast pork a la the great English tradition, have your ever stopped to ask what other people might be eating on Christmas Day? The variety might surprise you. After all, not everyone likes a big steaming bird still hot from the oven on a humid Australian day. Given the multicultural roots that Australia what it is, perhaps it’s time to explore more diverse horizons for the holiday feast.
“I’m actually going to spend Christmas with my boyfriend’s family in New Zealand. So they’ll have the ham and the roast – but well be bringing our own dishes to include,” says Maz Pugoy of Sadhana Kitchen in Newtown, renowned for its vegan and raw food. “We’re taking a crumbed portobello mushroom nut roast. I firmly believe that raw food doesn’t have to mimic cooked food for it to be wonderful, but if I'm trying to entice people to step away from what they know, then it sometimes helps. This is a raw version of a nut loaf. It uses walnuts and almonds, olive oil, fresh thyme and sage, and tamari. I crumb it and dehydrate it so it’s just warm – the outside is crunchy and inside is moist. It’s going be so good.”
For Nahji Chu of Misschu, Christmas fare is a celebration of her cultural roots. “I use a turkey as a door stop to let the hordes in,” quips the queen of rice paper rolls. “If I’m with family, we eat Laotian food. We have Mieng – it’s a traditional dish that my mum loves to make. It’s very much finger food, grazing. A bit like a make-your-own sang choi bau. There’s lettuce, lots of Asian herbs – holy basil, dill, shiso – shaved banana flower, an exotic type of watercress and water spinach. Then there’s dried chilli, pork crackling and long Thai eggplant roasted and pounded up.”
But another dish allows Chu’s family to really keep their heritage alive for the younger generations. “It’s called Khao Phoon. It’s a fresh vermicelli noodle soup, with blood tofu, chicken feet and chicken. Traditionally – because of the farm and the rural Laotian environment – there’s always chicken around.” This is where things get really hands-on. “Here in Australia, we’ve been buying a live chook and letting it run in the backyard. Then we do a re-enactment for the second generation of what it used to be like. We catch the chicken and show the nieces and nephews how to prepare it.” The preparation includes a humane dispatch of the chicken, collecting the blood to use for the blood tofu and scalding and plucking the chicken carcass. “Of course they say it’s gross, but we tell them that this is what they’ve always eaten and then they understand,” says Chu.
But elsewhere, there’s still a place for the roast on Christmas day. “Showing my European roots, we have rack of venison,” says German-born Michaela Wagner, who has lived in Australia for the past 14 years. ‘Pass the Rudolf’ might not be an appropriate joke, but it’s certainly a tasty centrepiece. “We serve it with cherry relish as the Australian element. That’s for Christmas Eve. And yes, there is seafood as a starter.”
Back at Sadhana Kitchen, dessert is (of course) of the raw and vegan variety. “This year we’ve got Christmas pudding with raw vegan custard. The pudding is nuts processed into flour and mixed with fruits soaked in cold pressed apple juice, spices and cloves, kneaded and pressed into pudding bowls. For the custard we use coconut flesh blended and with vanilla and a little turmeric for colour.” It’s enough to make you renounce the ham forever.