December is here and even though it’s the most wonderful time of the year for most, it feels bittersweet for me, because of the inevitable feeling of homesickness that comes along with it.
Christmas in Chile, where I am originally from, is quite a different experience from that in Bristol. December is summertime in Chile, so we have lots of garden parties, barbecues, and cocktails in the sunshine. But we still adopt some of the European traditions including snow frosted Christmas trees, snowflake decorations and Father Christmas impersonators, except they are wearing heavy coats in 30°C weather, poor them!
Like here, the holidays are a time to share with family eating delicious food. In Chile, it is customary to have large family gatherings on Christmas Eve. These often include extended family, so big parties are common. Most stores and offices work a half-day so that people can make it home to their families (or to the busy supermarkets on their way home!).
The most traditional Christmas dinner is roast turkey, my grandmother cooked this every year when I was growing up. My aunts, uncles and cousins would come to her house and she would spend all day in the kitchen getting things ready. Come dinner time there would easily be 25-30 family members around the table trying to fill their plates before the favourites ran out.
Potato salad, celery with avocado salad, and sweet corn with harts of palms are what I remember the most. Not everyone likes turkey, beef is more popular in Chile, so lots of people choose to have barbecues instead.
One of my favourite things to have around this time of the year is ‘Cola de mono’, a traditional drink we only have in December. The name means ‘Monkey tail’, a silly name for a seriously delicious cocktail made with “aguardiente” (a spirit popular in South America), mixed with milk, sugar, coffee, and spices. You can find this drink in the shops early in the season, but it can also be easily made at home, which is what I do here in Bristol.
The nibble of choice to accompany this drink is ‘Pan de Pascua’, a Chilean take on the German stollen. Most families have their own secret recipe for this loaded fruit bread, usually containing candied fruits, raisins, walnuts, peanuts, and almonds mixed to form a cake batter and then flavoured with honey, coffee, cinnamon and ginger. There really is nothing better than getting home after a long day at work to the smell of a ‘Pan de Pascua’ in the oven. That’s what I call instant Christmas! Come 1st December I’ll be sure to have one ready to bake.
As much as I miss the summertime Christmas fun in Chile, I must admit, there’s a special kind of cosiness about having Christmas during a cold winter. Snuggly jumpers, mulled wine and roasted chestnuts by the fire have all become an unmissable part of our celebrations in the northern hemisphere. Not to mention the gingerbread houses! My kids loved them, and it has become an adopted tradition in our family to build them every year. I can’t believe they haven’t made their way to Chile – they’re so much fun to make!
Last year I sold ready-to-make kits. I had lots of happy customers, so I decided to do the same this year.
I wish you all have a warm and wonderful holiday season, even a snowy one if we’re lucky.
Trung Trinh’s journey from cooking Vietnamese family recipes at home in Horfield, to opening his first restaurant.