What The World Eats For Winter Solstice
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Patjuk: South Korea's Dongji

The South Korean dish consumed on Dongji (winter solstice) serves a dual purpose: it is meant to both nourish the eater, and protect them from evil spirits. Some families even place bowls of patjuk in all the rooms of their house before sitting down to a meal of it themselves. Patjuk comprises three main ingredients: red bean, which is boiled, then mashed by passing through a sieve so the skins can be discarded; the liquid reserved from the beans is used to cook rice, then the bean-mash is added back into the pot. Lastly, small rice cake balls (made of glutinous rice flour, and known as "saealsim", meaning "bird's eggs") are added to individual bowls. The number of saealsim in the bowl corresponds to each person's age. Patjuk is usually seasoned with salt, but not everyone is fond of the taste, and may prefer to add sugar to sweeten their bowl. 

Gløgg: Norway's Mørketid

Mørketid is the Norweigian term for the time with the longest nights of the year, around the winter solstice. In the everpresent darkness, a glass of gløgg goes a long way in maintaining a cheery disposition. Gløgg is a mulled, spiced drink made of wine, although spirits like rum, brandy or cognac can substitute perfectly well. Ginger, cinnamon, cloves, orange/lemon peel and raisins intensify the flavours of the alcohol, although gløgg can also be made in a non-alocoholic version, with berry or fruit juices.

Lutefisk: Finland's Midwinter

The edible part of winter solstice celebrations in Finland traditionally involve ham, and on fasting days, lutefisk. Lutefisk is made of dried cod (or dried ling and saithe); it is rehydrated in cold water and a strong alkaline solution (like lye) until it is soft and jelly-like. The fish is then rinsed and soaked in water once more, before being baked, poached or steamed. While the smell of dried fish is not to everyone's liking, the dish itself has a mild flavour, quite similar to fresh fish. Boiled potatoes and green peas serve as the typical Finnish accompaniment.

Ash Reshteh: Iran's Yalda/Shab-e Yalda

Aush, i.e. thick soups, feature prominently in Iranian cuisine; there are believed to be as many as 50 variants that are commonly prepared and consumed. On the night of Yalda, or Shab-e Yalda (the winter solstice), Iranians eat a specific type known as ash reshteh. Reshteh is a thin noodle eaten in Iran, but it isn't the only ingredient that goes into this aush. There is also kashk, a whey-like substance made from cooked or dried yoghurt. To make the ash reshteh hearty, some families may add chickpeas, or other lentils and beans. Herbs and spices impart flavour to the dish, which is always vegetarian. Iranians also eat pomegranate as a matter of ritual during Yalda.

Bilili: Pakistan's Chawmos

The people of the Kalash Valley in Pakistan set great store by the festival of Chawmos, their version of the winter solstice. Entire communities get together to sing, dance and participate in longstanding rituals (including the finding of bridegrooms!). Feasting is an essential element of the festival as well, although there is little documentation of what the most typical dish might be. It's safe to assume, however, that the Kalash Valley's mainstays such as walnuts and grapes (both harvested over September-October) or apricots (sun-dried for use in the winters) feature heavily on the menu. For instance, the traditional breads of the Kalash people use walnuts in a variety of ways: whole or crushed kernels, or ground into a fine/coarse meal. Among these walnut breads is the bilili: batter mixed with nuts, then fried in a pan. Another staple is the jã'u, a thick bread stuffed with walnuts and cheese, baked beside a fire.

Chiri Uchu: Peru's Inti Raymi

While pomp, pageantry and paying obeisance to the Sun God take centre stage during the Inti Raymi festivities in Peru, food isn't far behind either. And for a festival this important, nothing less than the Chiri Uchu will do. Chiri Uchu is made of produce and meat from across the Peruvian terrain: roasted guinea pig, chicken, dried meat (beef jerky), sausages, cacao, cheese, roasted corn, rocoto peppers, seaweed, fish roe and so on. The preparation begins a day earlier as it can take time to individually cook the meats, poultry and seafood before combining them with the other ingredients. The accompanying corn cake is cooked on the day of the festival. Inti Raymi celebrations also feature dishes like chicharrones (pork rinds) and anticucho (spiced/marinated meat that is grilled).

Yule Bread: Scotland's Grian-stad Geamhraidh

The yule bread is instantly recognisable because of its distinctive appearance: a circular loaf (or bannock) made of three plaited strands of dough, with a hole in the centre in which a lit candle is placed overnight to mark the winter solstice. The loaf's notched edges are meant to represent the rays of the sun, while the use of caraway seeds and honey in the recipe are meant to be auspicious. In olden times, a cheese known as yule kebbuck would be had with ale, or if you had a ken for something a whole lot more decadent, whipkull. The recipe for whipkull calls for "a dozen egg yolks, a pound of sugar, half a pint of rum and a quart of fresh cream".

Tangyuan: China's Dongzhi

Dumplings and tangyuan are the two foods no Dongzhi (winter solstice in China) celebration would be complete without. We wrote about tangyuan, the Indian rosogolla's doppelganger, just last week.