Holiday Meals Around The World: Sharing Family Recipes And Cultural Traditions

. November 30, 2019.

Food is the ingredient that binds us together, and that is especially true during the holidays. No matter the celebration, religion, region or culture, food is always at the center. Local Toledo families share how their special holiday meals bring them together, creating memories, traditions and full bellies. Ramadan with the Alagha family

Ramadan with the Alagha family

Abdelraof and Eman with their children Ibrahim, Yousef and Juan.

Abdelraof and Eman with their children Ibrahim, Yousef and Juan.

Food is love, and that truth is evident in the Arab culture. Ramadan, a holy month of fasting, introspection and prayer for Muslims, has changing dates every year. Fasting, abstaining from food or drink during daylight hours, is coupled with doing good deeds and not gossiping. Over this period of time, the Alagha family decorates their house with laterns and crescents as the “new moon” marks the start of Ramadan. They also invite people over to their house to break the fast, pray at the mosque (Taraweeh), and give to families in need, following the principle of Zakat, one of the five pilars of Islam.

The first pre-dawn meal of the day during Ramadan is called “suhoor.” Usually very early in the morning, the meal is typically something light like yogurt, vegetables or fruits. Each day’s fast is broken with a meal known as “iftar.” Traditionally, a date is eaten to break the fast. It is followed by sides of soup, salad and samosas and several main dishes. Many Palestinians stick to traditional dishes such as molukhiyah and Qidra rice, which consists of rice, spices, and either chicken or beef. Finally, Ramadan desserts include: Qatayif, a sweet mini pancake filled with cream and nuts; Kanafe, fine semolina dough topped with cheese and sugar syrup; baklava, layers of filo dough, butter, chopped nuts and sweet sugar syrup; and rice pudding.

For the Alagha qidra, a meat and rice dish recipe, go to Ramadan for the year 2020 starts at sunset on April 23 and ends at sundown on May 23.

Diwali with the Brown family

Dr. Aparna and Chris Brown with daughters Tara and Nora.

Dr. Aparna and Chris Brown with daughters Tara and Nora.

Celebrating the triumph of good over evil and light overcoming darkness, Diwali is a five-day festival of lights observed by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and some Buddhists around the world. It marks the beginning of the Hindu New Year with quite a celebration! Dr. Aparna Brown, who grew up in India, experienced all the festivities as a child: women in colorful attire, henna on hands and feet, homes decorated with oil lamps and sidewalks with “rangoli,” ancient colorful art from natural substances.

Aparna shares this tradition with her community by helping to host a Diwali party at the elementary school every year. The celebration is centered around partaking in a feast of mainly traditional Indian foods, like biryani, naan and curry, with one of her favorite dishes, pongal (a popular rice dish made with milk and sugar). They finish the meal with sweets or “mithai.” Another favorite activity is lighting the fireworks after dark!

Dr. Brown’s favorite dish, pongal or lentils and rice, is available online at Diwali 2020 will be on November 14.

Binding Families Together

Holidays around the world create lasting memories and traditions, while binding families together and giving solace and comfort with fellowship and food. While each of these families have different beliefs, they all honor their beliefs and their loved ones through tradition. Celebrating tradition blends the past with the present and the future. Regardless of what specific foods you eat or customs you observe, let your holidays be a time for special moments of tenderness with the important people in your life.

Traditional American Christmas with the Joyce Family

Jeff, Tracey, Molly, Jamie, Ryan Joyce and Nicole Ebersole in the San Juan Island

Jeff, Tracey, Molly, Jamie, Ryan Joyce and Nicole Ebersole in the San Juan Island

Christmas Eve starts around 3pm at a relative’s house, and everyone brings part of the meal, including ham, turkey, sweet potato casserole, roasted Brussels sprouts, cranberry relish and some family favorites: holiday ribbon gelatin (red white and green) and Uncle Mike’s cashew salad.

Cousins exchange presents, handmade gifts are passed around (matching t-shirts for all 14 grandchildren), Christmas cookies are gobbled by the handfuls and everyone enjoys a family tradition: cinnamon rolls from a recipe passed down through generations.

The evening ends with mass at 9PM, as their faith is central to the celebration. On Christmas day, the celebrating happens all over again, switching to the other side of their extended family, where the Joyces enjoy more food, presents, and love.

For the recipe to the famous Joyce family cinnamon rolls, visit us at! Christmas is celebrated on December 25.

Hanukkah with the Chernow family

David and Rachel Chernow with daughters Hannah and Sophia.

David and Rachel Chernow with daughters Hannah and Sophia.

Rachel Chernow is a trained chef and cooking instructor and her husband, David, is executive chef at Zia’s and soon will be making the move to Real Seafood. Rachel explains the meaning of Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights: “In our house, we light the Chanukiah, which is a menorah with nine places to hold candles. Each night the main candle helps to light a new candle. We say two blessings each night. The holiday is celebrated for eight nights.”

Frying foods in oil is symbolic because, historically, the Jews had to fight to reclaim their religion and their temple in Jerusalem, and after winning the fight, there was only enough oil to light the eternal flame for one night. The small amount of oil lasted for eight days and eight nights— a miracle.

Potato pancakes (“latkes” in Yiddish), eaten with sour cream or applesauce, are a traditional Hanukkah meal, and the Chernow family tries to make potato latkes at least twice during the holiday (with busy schedules, they sometimes use hash browns to save time instead of grating the potatoes). Another traditional dish is “sufganiyot,” a classic jelly donut.

The Chernow potato latke recipe is simple: grate potatoes (about two cups), add 3 eggs, salt to taste, and flour to thicken. Blend all ingredients, make patties, and fry them in a pan with oil. Hanukkah is December 22-30, 2019.