Multi-Cultural Tasting Party: A Very Canadian New Year’s Fete
We are the world! Here, how to host a family gathering or a New Year’s fete with a multi-cultural tasting party menu.
When Jolanta Petrycha remembers her childhood Christmases in Poland, she recalls the scent of a freshly cut tree set up and decorated on Dec. 24, an extra place setting at the table in case an unexpected friend or stranger showed up and a large carp swimming in the bathtub.
The latter, she explains, would eventually find its way onto the table as part of Wigilia, the Polish Christmas Eve feast, but to ensure freshness, the fish had to be kept alive as long as possible. “My parents, grandmother, brother and I all lived in an apartment, so there was no other place to put it,” laughs the 58-year-old Torontonian who, along with her husband and children, immigrated to Canada in 1983.
Like most Canadians, Petrycha’s present-day celebrations include a blend of old and new traditions with strict adherence to some rules, the bending or obliteration of others. She’s maintained the custom of serving 12 meatless dishes – one for each Apostle – and while her husband’s homemade uszka, dumplings, are a must, she sometimes cheats and includes bread as a serving. Regrettably, the Polish tradition of serving dinner only after someone spots the first star in the evening sky was lost, but, on the upside, says Petrycha, so too was the carp.
“Food satisfies a longing for the things we had … or wish we had,” she says. “We can’t change our families or our history but making traditional dishes gives us a sense of control over the holidays, the feeling that this time we can get it right.”
Interestingly, breaking tradition can be a no-no as Filipino-Canadian, Patricia Candido, 68, of Kingston, Ont., found out. “I’ve lived in Canada for almost 45 years, and my children were born and raised here. One year, I decided to replace what has become our customary turkey with the Filipino tradition of lechon, a whole, stuffed and roasted pig. The kids were upset – they said it didn’t ‘taste like Christmas.'”
Thankfully, Candido has always prepared several of her homeland’s favourites to go along with the bird. Lumpia Shanghai, deep-fried spring rolls; quezo de bola, an Edam-like cheese; and leche flan, a dessert similar to crème brûlée, take her back to Christmas Eves past when, after midnight mass, she and about 55 members of her extended family would sit down to a massive Noche Buena meal.
Although culinary customs vary greatly around the world, in his travels, the one thing celeb chef Michael Smith has noted all cultures have in common is the willingness to put time and effort into their holiday – any holiday – fare. In Smith’s P.E.I. household, holiday baking is the big thing. “Every weekend, starting at the beginning of December, the whole family bakes, creating baskets of goodies to give to family and friends.” It’s his way, he says, of trying to instill in his children that the holidays are about giving and not just getting.
“Food is not just about eating. It’s about the journey, not just the destination,” the Food Network star says. His mother, he points out, spends six months making their traditional plum pudding. “Even I’m not allowed to make it. Yet.”
Although it may be not be a good idea to change up your own holiday menu on the big day, the entertaining season presents the perfect opportunity to host a tasting party celebrating different cultures’ holiday fare. The idea here is to create a communal feast, cocktail-party style, so to add to the table as well as the conversation, ask guests to bring along a hot or cold dish that symbolizes what the holidays taste like to them. Don’t be surprised that those of Italian descent show up with a dish from their feast of seven fishes tradition, that the French bring seafood – or Quebecois, tourtière – mainstays of réveillon, a lavish Christmas Eve affair; and Latin Americans share their take on tamales, pasteles and rice and peas.
On your end, go with your own customary dishes or expand your culinary repertoire to include the following authentic recipes: Polish Uszka; Filipino Lumpia Shanghai; and Ethiopian Tibbs. The first two can be assembled (and even frozen) ahead of time. And yes, you’re allowed to cheat and tap into the ethnic resources in your communities to have a dish or two prepared.
What You’ll Need
– 2 platters for the uszka and the lumpia plus one earthenware bowl for the tibbs
– small bowls for plum sauce and guests’ sauces one basket of different types of bread
Set-Up and Ambience
– Set place cards next to dish with name of dish and country listed; have extra place cards for guests to use to describe their contributions.
Recipe: Uszka (pronounced oosh-kah)
Contributed by home chef Pavel Petrychi
dried boletus mushrooms (available at Polish delicatessens and gourmet grocery stores but you can substitute any aromatic mushroom)
3 small onions, chopped
2 tsp butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tsp breadcrumbs
2 cups wheat flour, sifted
3 drops sunflower oil
Warm water, previously boiled
Recipe: Lumpia Shanghai
Contributed by home chef Patricia Candido
Lumpia (spring roll) wrappers (medium)
Cooking oil for deep frying
1 lb ground pork
½ lb minced raw shrimp
¼ cup chopped green onion
⅓ cup roughly chopped
1 small carrot, grated
2 drops sesame oil
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp salt
pinch ground pepper
Recipe: Ye Tibbs Wott
By chef Maritu Asnakaw, East Africa Restaurant, Montreal
2 tsp oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp ginger, chopped
2 tbsp berbere (African spice mix available in international section of some grocery stores and specialty food boutiques)
¼ tsp cumin
¼ tsp salt
1 lb sirloin beef, cut in ½-inch cubes