The traditions of the holiday season may diverge greatly across the globe, but when it comes to the dinner table, there seems to be a few things we all share in common.
For Laurence Gagnon, who's owned and operated Crêpe Montagne in the village with her husband Michel for the past 16 years, Christmastime growing up was always about opulence, eating things her family wouldn't serve at any other time of the year, like smoked salmon, oysters, foie gras and escargots — all before the main course even hit the table. It was her family's typical holiday spread that inspired her submitted recipe for the iconic French dish, escargots in garlic, butter and topped with cheese.
"At Christmas we eat luxuriously, we don't eat like that every day," she said, recalling one holiday as a teenager when she and her father decided to see who could eat the most escargots. She managed to down 36.
And while land snails may not sound like the most appetizing dish to the Canadian palate, Gagnon said escargots has been one of her restaurant's most popular dishes since putting it on the menu two years ago. The appetizer even converted the ever-fickle taste buds of her daughter's 15-year-old classmates.
Italy, a country rich in culinary tradition if there ever was one, shares a lot in common with its European counterpart when it comes to Christmas, and for Quattro's Executive Chef, Jeremy Trottier, that means one word: overindulgence.
"It's just an overindulgence of multiple courses," Trottier said of the average Italian Christmas meal. "A lot of times with Canadian Thanksgiving, you sit down, have some turkey dinner, some pumpkin pie and the meal's pretty much over. (In the Italian tradition) food just keeps coming as far as the eye can see."
Trottier is usually tasked with helping out at Quattro owner Antonio Corsi's annual Christmas Eve feast, a veritable smorgasbord of epicurean delights.
"It is an overabundance of food, from antipasti, multiple pasta courses and roasted meats," he said. "I would say it's overindulgent, making sure there's more than enough, Italian-style, so no one goes hungry."
While Trottier's appetizer of smoked chicken and corn jalapeño chowder is by no means Italian in origin, he recommended it because it's simple, and satisfying during the cold winter chill.
One country that is quite familiar with the jalapeño — and an array of different chile peppers for that matter — is Mexico, where Christmas is, like so many other places, centered around family.
Typically the whole extended family gathers on Nochebuena, or Christmas Eve, at a grandmother's house, said Mexican Corner Executive Chef Edgar Navarro, for a party like no other that spills into the next day.
The preparations start early after a visit to the market. In Navarro's family, the typical Christmas Eve meal would start with a shrimp dish served in a special black molé sauce made with a hard-to-find delicate herb, called romaritos. This is followed with a dried Biscayne cod dish that draws on Mexico's colonial past.
The main course resembles our North American holiday custom, with a stuffed roasted turkey served with a whole lot of fixings. But the similarities largely end there, Navarro said, as the bird is traditionally stuffed with ground beef, raisins, carrots, onions, leeks and almonds, and is smothered not in cranberry sauce, but apple cider.
After an abundance of food, plenty of liquor and maybe some rompope, Mexico's version of eggnog, the party goes into the night, before everyone returns home to rest before a feast of leftovers on Christmas Day, called the recalentado, which literally means "reheated." But, it's not just leftovers on the menu, assured Navarro.
"We usually prepare for a hangover with posole soup or birria (Mexican stew)," he said. "Then you go to sleep early, and the next day is another party."
A noche buena indeed.
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