From Chicagoans: Holiday Foods From Around the World (Part 1)

Chicago is a true melting pot of people, neighborhoods and cultures. Throughout the year, Chicagoans come together to celebrate their different holidays and traditions. And, at the center of so many of those celebrations is food. So, with the holiday season upon us, I reached out to my fellow Chicagoans to uncover some of the holiday celebrations and foods that are enjoyed across the Windy City at this special time of the year. And, of course, I just had to share them with all of you.

Here are a few multicultural holiday foods enjoyed by families in Chicago and the surrounding area:

1) Hawaiian and Danish Holiday Dishes:

The holidays are always a multicultural affair for Kristin Rakstang Schmidt‘s family. Kristin’s side of her family is Japanese (from Hawaii) and Caucasian American, and her husband’s side of the family is from Denmark. For Christmas, Kristin usually makes a holiday meal that includes a unique fusion of Hawaiian and Japanese foods, featuring dishes like chow mein with her Grandma Helen’s teriyaki sauce, a Hawaiian-influenced recipe; Spam musubmi, which features the canned meat introduced to Hawaii by the American military during WWI; and andagi, small Hawaiian donuts.


Andagi photo courtesy of Kristin Rakstang Schmidt.

When Kristin and her huband dine at his family’s house for the holidays, they enjoy Danish dishes like Risalamande, a traditional Danish rice dessert made of rice, cream and almonds and served with hot cherry sauce; Æbleskiver, Danish pancake balls; and Pebernødder, Danish pepper nuts often served in woven paper baskets.

Æbleskiver. Photo Credit:

You can find the recipes for Grandma Helen’s teriyaki sauce, which can be used to marinate chicken or in a stir fry sauce, here.

Traditional Danish recipes can be found here.

2) Indian Holiday Dishes:

I was first introduced to Kaveli at the Dose Market held at Chicago’s River East Arts Center in October. Since then, I learned that the small, Wisconsin-based company is a true family affair. Started by a son, his wife and his mother, the Indian foods company is sharing their treasured family recipes so we can experience the taste of home-cooked Indian foods for ourselves. For Christmas, Elizabeth Chawla and her husband, Kavi, celebrate the holiday with her family – and share the Indian foods and traditions of Kavi’s family with all of them. Each year, on Christmas Eve, their family returns home after church, lights a fire in the fireplace, and savors snacks prepared by each member of the family. Since their first Christmas together, Elizabeth and Kavi have prepared and shared Vijay’s (Kavi’s mother) Spinach and Potato Pakora, delicious, crispy fritters often sold by street vendors in India. According to Elizabeth, her whole family enjoys the dish and, by making them each year, it has been a way for her and her husband to combine a little bit of Kavi’s culture with Elizabeth’s family traditions.

The recipe for Kaveli’s Spinach and Potato Pakora (using the company’s prepared mix) can be found here. You can find information on other Kaveli products here.

Photo Credit: Kaveli.

3) An Irish Holiday Dish:

Anne Owens is an Irish woman and a foodie at heart. For the holidays Anne always cooks up traditional Irish mashed potatoes with a modern, gourmet twist – goat cheese. Her goat cheese mashed potatoes gets rave reviews each and every time she serves them up to her family and friends. This go-to dish has become a great way for Anne to infuse her Irish heritage into any holiday – and a guaranteed way to be sure each and every guest is happy, satisfied, and stuffed!

The recipe for Anne’s goat cheese mashed potatoes can be found here.

Photo Credit: Food Network/Rachel Ray.

4) Israeli Holiday Dishes

During her time living in Isreal, Carmel Bank was introduced to a Hanukkah treat popular with children throughout the country – Krembo. The small, individual-sized desserts are chocolate-coated marshmallows with a thin cookie at the bottom. Krembo are only sold in Israel during the winter so Israeli children wisely know to savor them before they’re gone. Personally, I’m on the hunt for them in Chicago where they seem to be practically impossible to find. Lucky for me, Krembo fans (like Carmel), and anyone else who wants to sample the popular Israeli Hanukkah treat, can order them from Amazon in vanilla and mocha flavors. And, anyone daring enough to want to make them on their own can find a recipe for a few different verisons of Krembo here.

Photo Credit:

At Hannukah time, Carmel, her Israeli husband, and their two sons enjoy chicken schnitzel, an Israeli-inspired dish that honors the holiday since it’s fried in oil. According to Carmel, the secret to really good schnitzel is to pound the chicken breast as thin as possible. You then dip it in egg and seasoned bread crumbs, and then fry them up in the all-important oil. To round out this Israeli meal, be sure to serve the chicken schnitzel with hummus and french fries (also fried in oil of course!).

You can find a recipe for chicken schnitzel here.

Chicken schnitzel photo courtesy of Carmel Bank.

5) Jamaican Holiday Dishes:

Sheila Bridge, a Jamaican native who now calls Chicago home, first celebrated Thanksgiving when she came to the U.S. more than 30 years ago. Today, Sheila celebrates the holiday with traditional dishes and plenty of Jamaican ones too. Her holiday table usually features traditional turkey along with curry shrimp, curry goat and rice and peas. At Christmastime, Sheila’s family enjoys jerk chicken, escoveitched (poached or fried) fish, sweet potato pudding, and other delectable Jamaican foods.

According to Sheila, in Jamaica, people open their homes and welcome guests into it throughout the entire holiday season. A welcome treat served to visiting guests is a Sorrel holiday drink and Jamaican fruit cake. Both are made right before the start of the season to ensure an ample supply is available for all guests to enjoy throughout the holidays.

The recipes for many traditional Jamaican dishes, including jerk chicken, escoveitched fish, curry shrimp, and rice and peas can be found here. You can find the recipe to make the Sorrel holiday drink here.



Photos of Sweet Potato Pudding, Curry Goat with Rice and Peas, and Escoveitched Fish are courtesy of Sheila Bridge.

6) Korean Holiday Dishes:

In addition to sharing her Japanese and Hawaiian roots with her family and friends, Kristin Rakstang Schmidt also works with the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Chicago to help raise the profile of Korean foods across Chicago. In September, Koreans celebrate Chuseok (also referred to as Korean Thanksgiving). The holiday, which is observed for three days, celebrates the fall harvest and honors your ancestors. For the holiday, families traditionally use newly harvested grains to make foods for all to enjoy. Songpyeon, a popular food served during Chuseok, is a rice cake prepared with rice powder, kneaded into small balls, and then filled with seasame seeds, red beans, chestnuts or other ingredients.

Kristin is proud to have introduced Korean cuisine to the Danish side of her family (as noted above) and, as a result, has got them hooked on the unique flavors and ingredients of traditional Korean foods. Now, when her mother-in-law travels to Denmark, she prepares Korean-inspired meals for her family there, helping to introduce new foods and traditions – and building new Korean food fans along the way.

Recipes for traditional Korean dishes (in a video format) can be found here.

Songpyeon. Photo Credit: Korean Tourism Organization.

7) Russian Holiday Dishes:

Yelena Spector and her husband, Vlad, came to the U.S. from Russia when they were young children. Today, their family enjoys celebrating Hannukah with lots and lots of latkes. Yelena usually starts out the holiday by making potato latkes, but will also make versions with zucchini and apple (instead of just potatoes) to keep her family happy – and full! To make her latkes, Yelena shreds the potatoes (or zucchini or apple), squeezes out the extra moisture, adds matzo meal and egg for binding, and then fries them up in oil until they are nice and golden brown. To enjoy them in true Russian style, Yelena serves the latkes with the always popular herring fish.

A recipe for traditional potato latkes can be found here. And, if you’re looking to shake things up a bit for Hannukah this year, you can try your hand at versions featuring zucchini and apple – Yelena style!

Potato latkes. Photo credit:

For holiday celebrations, Anya Lempert always serves Russian beet salad, a popular appetizer enjoyed throughout Eastern Europe. Traditionally, the dish is served cold with a variety of pickled vegetables, making for a bright, festive and veggie-packed meal. And, it’s become the perfect accompaniment to the Irish goat cheese mashed potatoes prepared by her wife, Anne Owens, and a guaranteed way to celebrate any holiday in a joyous, multicultural family meal.

The recipe for Anya’s Russian beet salad can be found here.

Photo Credit:

8) A Spanish Holiday Dish (with a French Twist):

Spain is a special place for Mélissa Wittmeier. It’s the country where her daughters were born and also the place of origin of one of her family’s favorite holiday recipes – Spanish wedding cookies. Each year, Mélissa and her family bake up a batch of the cookies – with a French twist. Having always been intrigued by the French pièce montée, decorative sculptures often created for weddings and baptisms in France, Mélissa created her own holiday cookie tree adorned with Spanish wedding cookies sprinkled with confectioners sugar “snow.” Each Thanksgiving, one of Mélissa’s daughters makes a batch and they all pin the “snow balls” to a large styrofoam cone, making for a beautifully decorated – and absolutely delicious – holiday table.

The recipe for Mélissa’s Spanish wedding cookies can be found here.

Photo Credit:

9) Swedish Holiday Dishes:

Each Christmas, Angela Deppe’s dad, Anders Johanson, bakes traditional Swedish Spritz cookies for their whole family to enjoy. And, much to the delight of Angela’s daughters, he also makes them each time he visits them at their home in Chicago. Angela likes that the cookies, like most Swedish dishes, only use a few ingredients, making them a simple treat to bake up during the holidays or for any family-filled visit.

Swedish Spritz Cookies made by Angela Deppe.

For festive holiday breakfasts, Angela also likes to make Swedish pancakes for her husband and two daughters. This year her family feasted on the light pancakes, which Angela likes to say are basically crepes without the sugar, the morning after Thanksgiving and they can count on enjoying more Swedish pancakes – and cookies – all holiday season long.

Swedish Pancakes. Photo Credit: Swedish Pancake Recipe.

The recipe for Angela Deppe and Anders Johanson’s Swedish Spritz cookies can be found here. You can a variety of Swedish pancake recipes here.

For the holidays, Kristina Paschall always likes to whip up a batch or two of her mother’s Pepparkakor (Swedish Spice) cookies. According to the A Cookie for Every Country blog, the cookies, an integral part of any Swedish Christmas feast, are similar to gingersnaps in the U.S., but generally more heavily spiced, a bit thinner and have a smoother finish. Kristina’s family recipe, affectionately referred to as Mormor’s (grandmother) Pepparkakor cookies, has been passed down throughout the generations and enjoyed by all.

The recipe for Mormor’s Pepparkakor can be found here.

Pepparkakor. Photo Credit:

Keep the Multicultural Holiday Food Recipes Coming…

These holiday dishes and recipes represent just a few of the cultural and ethnic groups that make Chicago such a wonderful, diverse and vibrant city. Do you and your family make other dishes to celebrate the holidays in your own traditional way? If so, please include your favorite dish and/or recipe in the comments below or send it to me via email at raisingworldcitzens (at) I will add them to the “Holiday Dishes” page on the blog. And, if I get more recipes (and I hope I do!), I’ll share a second post in the coming weeks.

Happy cooking, eating and celebrating!

Here’s to world citizens – and all of the multicultural celebrations happening throughout Chicago!


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