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15 Unique Holiday Foods From Around the World

Health + Wellness
Spiced hot chocolate. Lilechka75 / iStock / Getty Images

By Katey Davidson, MScFN, RD

Food is the cornerstone of the holiday season. It brings friends and family together to share memories, cultural traditions, and great flavors.


From figgy pudding to fruit cake, many foods may bring on the holiday cheer — or a foul taste in your mouth. Depending on where you live, foods that are considered a normal part of the holiday feast to some may seem downright strange to others.

Here are 15 unique holiday foods enjoyed around the world.

1. Bûche de Noël (France)

Also known as Yule log, bûche de Noël is a sweet dessert served in France during the Christmas season.

Though there are many variations, one of the most common types is made with heavy cream, cocoa powder, eggs, sugar, and vanilla extract. It's commonly decorated with icing sugar and fruit.

Bûche de Noël commemorates the tradition of cutting and burning a specially selected log known as the Yule log. This pagan tradition was introduced to the Christian holiday many centuries ago.

Most enjoy this dessert between Christmas Eve (December 24th) and New Year (January 1st).

2. Shuba (Russia)

While most countries celebrate Christmas on December 25th, Russia is one of the few countries that celebrates this holiday on January 7th in accordance with the Orthodox Julian calendar.

Colloquially known as "herring under a fur coat," shuba is a popular dish served during the holiday season in Russia. Its main ingredients include pickled herring, hard-boiled eggs, mayonnaise, and grated vegetables like carrots, beets, potatoes, and onions.

The dish gets its name from its top layer, which is usually made of mayonnaise or a beet dressing that resembles a warm winter coat.

While this may seem like an unconventional dish, it's an excellent source of protein, potassium, antioxidants, and vitamins A and B.

3. Yebeg Wot (Ethiopia)

Similarly to Ethiopia's national dish, doro wat (chicken stew), yebeg wot is a popular lamb stew served during the holiday season.

Weeks prior to the holidays, farmers feed lambs a high calorie diet. This leads to fatty, tender meat, which is added to a stew made of onions, tomatoes, garlic, kibbeh (Ethiopian butter), berbere spice mix, and various spices.

Many serve yebeg wot with injera, a popular flatbread.

This dish is a rich source of protein, carbs, and antioxidants.

4. Spiced Hot Chocolate (Peru)

If you think you know how to make the best hot chocolate, you may want to give Peru's spiced hot chocolate a try.

This creamy hot chocolate with a kick is made with chocolate, condensed or evaporated milk, and a combination of spices, such as cinnamon, chili powder, cloves, and nutmeg.

In fact, this beverage is so popular that it has its own event known as la Chocolatadas, during which people gather and serve spiced hot chocolate with a popular cake known as panetón.

5. Mince Pie (England)

Also known as mincemeat or Christmas pie, mince pie is a widely popular and historical holiday dessert.

Despite its name, most modern mincemeat pies are meatless. Traditionally, mince pies were made of shredded beef or mutton, suet, dried fruit, and spices.

However, most varieties today simply consist of pastry dough, dried apples and raisins, distilled spirits, vegetable shortening, and a spice mixture containing nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon.

Interestingly, the pies used to be oblongly shaped to represent a manger, although most mince pies served today are circular.

6. Bibingka (Philippines)

During the holiday season, bibingka is a common breakfast item in the Philippines.

Bibingka consists of rice flour or sticky rice, coconut milk, sugar, and water wrapped and cooked in banana leaves. Eggs, cheese, and coconut flakes are sometimes added as a garnish.

This dish is usually served for breakfast or after Simbáng Gabi — a nine-day series of Filipino Catholic masses leading up to Christmas.

In fact, it's common to have food stations set up outside of church for churchgoers to buy bibingka and other popular sweets, such as steamed rice cakes known as puto bumbong. Many enjoy these treats with a hot cup of tea or coffee.

7. Butter Tarts (Canada)

While a typical Canadian diet is similar to that of a typical U.S. diet, it has a few classic treats of its own.

Butter tarts are a Canadian dessert that's served during many holidays, but mostly during Thanksgiving and Christmas.

They're small pastries with a sweet filling made of butter, sugar, maple or corn syrup, eggs, and sometimes walnuts and raisins. Enjoy these tarts with a cup of coffee for the ultimate treat.

 8. Latkes (Israel)

During Hanukkah, latkes are a delicious staple on most dinner plates. In Hebrew, the dish is known as levivot.

Fried in hot oil, latkes are symbolic of the oil that, according to a text that serves as the central source of Jewish religious law, lit the menorah for 8 days despite only having enough oil for 1 day.

Made of the simplest of ingredients, you can make latkes with shredded potato and onion, eggs, and breadcrumbs or matzo. Deep fry it in hot oil, and you have yourself some delicious latkes.

Other popular Hanukkah treats include sufganiyot (jelly donuts), challah (braided bread), and beef brisket.

9. Hangikjöt (Iceland)

Served during Christmas, hangikjöt is one of the most popular Icelandic holiday foods.

It translates to "hung meat" and involves smoked lamb or mutton. Its name originates from the traditional practice of hanging smoked meats in a smoking shed for weeks to develop a smoky, salty flavor.

Hangikjöt is commonly served with green beans, potatoes that are coated in a white béchamel sauce, and side of pickled red cabbage.

10. Bahn Chung (Vietnam)

Bahn chung is a beloved rice cake enjoyed during Tết (Vietnamese New Year).

This dish is made using sticky rice, pork, mung beans, green onions, fish sauce, and spices like salt and pepper.

In addition to its great flavor, it's placed in front of family altars to pay tribute to ancestors and prayers for the upcoming year.

11. Pasteles (Puerto Rico)

Pasteles are a classic Christmas dish in Puerto Rico.

Making pasteles requires time and patience. The inner portion of the pasteles consists of a mixture of ground pork and an adobo blended spice sauce. The outer portion is made using a special masa dough made of grated green bananas, yautía, and spices.

After allowing the dough to sit for a few hours, the masa is placed on banana leaves, the pork filling is added, and it's wrapped.

Traditional Puertorican pasteles are boiled in hot water and served with rice, meat, fish, pigeon peas, and hot sauce for a delicious holiday feast.

12. Eggnog (United States)

Eggnog isn't a holiday treat around the world. In fact, it's mostly enjoyed in the United States and Canada.

This drink is made from milk, cream, whipped egg whites, egg yolks, and sugar, resulting in a creamy, smooth texture.

Most people enjoy eggnog as an alcoholic beverage by adding rum, bourbon, or brandy.

13. Kutia (Ukraine)

Kutia is a traditional Christmas Eve dish that is popular among members of the Ukranian Orthodox Church. As part of the Julian calendar, Christmas Eve falls on January 6th.

It's usually the first dish served as part of Sviata Vecheria — a 12-dish vegetarian feast to commemorate the 12 apostles.

Made from cooked wheat berries, poppy seeds, dried fruit, and honey, this dish is packed with nutrition, which is an important focus of this Ukranian feast. In fact, this dish is so important to the meal that all guests are expected to have at least one spoonful.

However, it's customary to wait until the first star in the sky appears before digging in.

14. Janssons Frestelse (Sweden)

Also known as Jansson's Temptation, this casserole dish is made from potatoes, onions, heavy cream, breadcrumbs, and sprats — a small, oily fish similar to sardines.

It's usually accompanied by a smorgasbord of food known as the "julbord," which translates to "Yule table" or "Christmas table." It's enjoyed with foods like baked ham, meatballs, fish, boiled potatoes, cheeses, and various cooked vegetables.

The origin of its name is controversial, though many believe it originated from a popular opera singer known as Pelle Janzon.

15. Christmas Cake (Global)

Christmas cake is a popular dessert around the world.

It's a type of fruit cake made of flour, eggs, sugar, spices, candied cherries, dried fruit, and brandy. Traditional Christmas cake is made at least 2 months ahead to allow adequate time to slowly "feed" the cake with brandy every 2 weeks. Finally, it's topped with a marzipan icing.

While it's mostly known as a British dessert, many countries serve Christmas cake during the holiday season. In fact, South Koreans are well-known for their beautiful, artistic Christmas cake decorations.

The Bottom Line

Many cultures celebrate the holiday season for different reasons. Whether it's Christmas, Hanukkah, or New Year, food plays a central role in celebrations around the world.

From savory main dishes to sweet desserts, each culture brings a unique twist to this jolly season.

With the holidays just around the corner, remember to enjoy all the delicious food and memories they will bring.

Reposted with permission from Healthline. For detailed source information, please view the original article on Healthline.

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Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Niq Steele / Getty Images

By Sherry H-Y. Chou, Aarti Sarwal and Neha S. Dangayach

The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.

When a neurologist examined him, Tom was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes abnormal sensation and weakness due to delays in sending signals through the nerves. Usually reversible, in severe cases it can cause prolonged paralysis involving breathing muscles, require ventilator support and sometimes leave permanent neurological deficits. Early recognition by expert neurologists is key to proper treatment.

We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.

Some patients may not seek timely medical care for neurological symptoms like prolonged headache, vision loss and new muscle weakness due to fear of getting exposed to virus in the emergency setting. People need to know that medical facilities have taken full precautions to protect patients. Seeking timely medical evaluation for neurological symptoms can help treat many of these diseases.

What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.

Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.

To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.

Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.

The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.

Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.

The first reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in COVID-19 pandemic originated from Italy, Spain and China, where the pandemic surged before the U.S. crisis.

Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?

The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.

Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.

It is certainly possible that there are other cases that have not been reported. The Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunctions in COVID-19 is actively underway to find out how often neurological problems like Guillain-Barre Syndrome is seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Also, just because Guillain-Barre Syndrome occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19, that does not imply that it was caused by the virus; this still may be a coincident occurrence. More research is needed to understand how the two events are related.

Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.

Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.

Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.