British Columbia·Photos

Elk burgers anyone? Holiday dinners beyond turkey and ham

No matter where in the world you're from, Christmas is about more than just presents and tradition. It’s also about food, lots of it, surrounded by family. What's served for Christmas dinner varies from country to country, and family to family.

No matter where you're from, Christmas is about food

What does your holiday dinner like? Perhaps some delicious sev? (Tamara Baluja/CBC)

No matter where in the world you're from, Christmas is about more than just presents and tradition. It's also about food, lots of it, surrounded by family.

What's served for Christmas dinner varies from country to country, and family to family. And not everyone is fond of turkey and ham.

Take my family for example: We're originally from India but we've lived in England for a few generations now. I would say we're pretty well integrated, but one thing that's absolutely not British is our taste buds.

There's no way my dad is eating "white people food" when he can have something with, you know, spice.

Here's what our family does: stuffed turkey is replaced with butter chicken. Instead of glazed ham, we do lamb kebabs. And we have appys like the delicious sev puri, a savory snack made of chickpea flour and topped with potatoes, onions and chutneys, which is pictured above. And it's just brilliant. 

The one Christmas we attempted a turkey didn't go so well. My dad's mournful face as he contemplated a bland turkey with cranberry sauce was priceless. So was the look of annoyance on my aunt's face when he asked for Tabasco sauce.

So I asked other people how they celebrate holiday dinners.

Elk burgers, stuffed fish and ooligan grease

Mandy Nahanee's grandparents helped build the first church on Mission Reserve in North Vancouver. She recalls fondly how the community would gather for a big feast on Christmas Eve.

"Back then, we were pretty poor so we relied on being able to live off the land by getting fish, salmon, deer and elk from our territory."

For her holiday dinner, Nahanee takes inspiration from a traditional Indigenous diet and creates a fusion. 

"One of my favourite nationality food groups is the Japanese, and I really love the flavours of miso, so I'll bake arctic char or salmon and sablefish," she said.

"You can stuff a turkey, so why not a fish."

(Mandy Nahanee)

She also likes to share dishes that "you'd never find in a grocery store."

Like this blubbery sea lion flipper. 

(Tamara Baluja/CBC)

Nahanee says this year's elk burgers will be special because her son learned to skin and prepare the meat for the first time in a traditional way. 

(Mandy Nahanee)

Perhaps the most popular course would be dessert made from ooligan grease, a fatty traditional food made from these fish.

Mandy Nahanee eats some ooligan — which sort of tastes like a fishy french fry. (Tamara Baluja/CBC)

Nahanee mashes up blueberries and raspberries, and adds the ooligan grease to it, along with a pinch of sugar. 

(Tamara Baluja/CBC)

Malaysian curry chicken and mango mousse cake

(Queenie Choo)

Queenie Choo's family has gone back and forth between having a turkey and ham dinner and a holiday dinner that's closer to their Chinese and Malaysian roots. Now they compromise and have the best of both worlds with everyone in the family responsible for their own dishes, she says. 

"My daughter loves Brussels sprouts and she knows the good way to roast it with rosemary. 

My husband will do curry chicken and I'll do barbecued pork," Choo says. "And we do tons of vegetables like bok choy with a little ginger and stir fry." 

The dessert is usually store bought — like a mango mousse cake from T&T supermarket.

A Japanese and British blend

Friends dinners

What if you love cooking and want to try something new? That's what Taylor Johnson and her friends do. Christmas Day is the traditional dinner, but on Christmas Eve she and her friends cook a different style of cuisine. 

"The first year we did southern — pulled pork, dirty rice, biscuits and gravy," Johnson says.

(Taylor Johnson)

"It's great getting to spend time researching different cuisines and ingredients, and using foods and techniques we haven't used much or at all before," she said. "Plus, it's a fun way to celebrate."

Last year, the group tried their hand at French cuisine — oil-poached duck, ratatouille, and a mini croquembouche for dessert. And this year, they're aiming for a Hanukkah-style dinner of brisket, latkes, challah bread.

Tandoori turkey and East African samosas

Zameer Karim's family is big into food — his words. They've made the turkey and roast many a time, but they wanted to find a way to make the holiday dinner culturally relevant. 

"Add some spice to it literally," Karim says.

So they made a tandoori turkey — which Karim described as "the best turkey I've ever had."

Another highlight for him is East African samosas, which are crispier than Indian ones and filled with meat.

(Tasneem Premji)

Persian-style turkey stuffing

For Persian families like Armita Alikhani, Christmas coincides with an important holiday called Yalda. Marked on the winter solstice, it recognizes the symbolic victory of light over darkness as daylight hours grow longer and nights become shorter.

They celebrate by having one big celebration with lots of food like saffron rice, ghormeh sabzi (a tangy dish of lamb, herbs and beans) and a turkey stuffed with pomegranate sauce, walnuts and other spices.

Sorry, they were too busy eating all the glorious food to take photos. 

But they also have many desserts shown in this photo from Iran. 

Iranian customers buy sweets and nuts in at a shop for the Yalda feast in Tehran, Iran. (The Associated Press)

"We're as much Canadian as we're Persian, and this is just a great way to celebrate that."

What does your holiday dinner look like? Please send your photos to