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Five Unique Holiday Foods From Around the World

Zongzi

Zongzi | Max Pixel


With the holidays coming up, many Americans will be looking forward to dinner staples like mashed potatoes and gravy, turkey and stuffing. In other countries, holiday food varies widely. Here are five-holiday foods that are eaten around the world. 

China: zongzi

Zongzi is made by wrapping bamboo leaves around sticky rice stuffed with a filling, generally meat. They are difficult to make, requiring several hours to boil and to be carefully folded in the bamboo leaves. 

The food is eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival, a holiday occurring on the fifth day of the fifth month using the lunar calendar. One story that explains the importance of zongzi is the legend of Qu Yuan, the creator of zongzi. 

Qu Yuan was a well-liked government official who was exiled and eventually threw himself into the Miluo River. Later many people threw zongzi into the river to stop fish from eating his body. 

Later stories say the zongzi stopped a flood dragon from eating his body because of the bamboo leaves and five color strings. Supposedly, if the zongzi had those materials, Qu Yuan’s body would be protected. 

Greece: melomakarona

Melomakarona is another traditional holiday food. It originates from Greece and is common at Christmas dinners. Dipped in honey and sometimes topped with crushed walnuts and cinnamon, it is a sweet, oval-shaped desert. 

It has roots in Greece coming from the word makaria, meaning ‘pie for the soul.’ Melomakarona was offered at funerals and briefly after to bless the dead. 

It is unclear how melomakarona became a holiday food, though now it is a common Christmas sight in Greece. 

Vietnam: Bánh chưng

Bánh chưng, or Square Sticky Rice Cake, is a Vietnamese dish eaten during Lunar New Year. A sticky rice layer wraps around a mung bean and pork filling. 

Like China’s zongzi, bánh chưng has its own story. A Viet king held a competition to see which of his sons could bring the best dish for the Lunar New Year. 

The one with the most delicious dish would become king. 

The king’s poorest son created bánh chưng, using a square shape and green outer layer to symbolize Earth. His father was impressed and passed the throne to him, and bánh chưng has been a Lunar New Year dish since.