Christmas feast from 5 cultures in the UAE

Christmas feast from 5 cultures in the UAE

We asked five of the country’s top chefs how they celebrate the festive season


Thorsten Killian, Chef de Cuisine, Al Muntaha, Burj Al Arab | German

My earliest Christmas food memories: “For all kids in Germany, Christmas started with an Advent Calendar, counting down the days in anticipation of Christmas. Every day during the Advent season, I would open a new door on the calendar that revealed a sweet chocolate. I will also never forget baking traditional German cookies, Vanillakipfer, with my Granny. The kitchen in our house smelled like vanilla, cinnamon and orange, bringing this exciting spirit of Christmas alive. On Christmas Day itself, we cooked traditional dishes like braised red cabbage with roasted duck and bread dumplings. At Al Muntaha, I always try to add traditional German dishes into the menu. I’ve given my grandmother’s roast duck a twist, and created red cabbage ketchup and confit duck leg.”

Typical Christmas meals: “We start Christmas day with a light breakfast of pumpernickel, pretzels with jam and cold cuts, then homemade cookies and lebkuchen (gingerbread) with tea in the afternoon. In the evening, after we exchange gifts, my mom and grandmother would serve a Christmas dinner of lamb’s lettuce salad with potato — a whole roasted duck stuffed with apple and orange, and stollen for dessert.”

A traditional Christmas: “The most important for me is a Christmas feeling — cherished moments with beloved people, the smell of cinnamon, mulled beverages, decorating a Christmas tree and watching the snow-covered earth. The last one is difficult to see in Dubai.”

A Christmas tip for the home chef: “Try to make a dish which is easy to cook, so you can spend more time with your friends and family. Make dumplings and marinate the roast a day before, so you only need to cook them on the day itself.”


Mark James Evans, NPD Manager, Spinneys | British

My earliest Christmas food memories: “Flaming Christmas Pudding and a rich heady sauce, hoping to get the piece with Halfpenny piece in it! And not breaking a tooth! Smells were of spices and savoury roast aromas.”

Traditions we follow: “Boxing Day is always times for Bubble and Squeak. And on Christmas Eve, my two sons — from when they were babies until now, aged 22 and 19 — still decorate a Gingerbread House together!”

Five unmissable elements for a traditional Christmas for me: “Family, friends, Christmas decorations and lights, great food and drink, and a new Tommy Cooper Joke Book to read out loud and annoy everyone.”

A Christmas tip for the home chef: “Take time to look at how many will be coming and the age ranges. Think about your own kitchen ovens and refrigeration capacities. Then think about how you can use both convenient pre-prepared products such as Smoked Salmon and Salads to balance and accompany carved hot or cold cuts such as beef rib eye that you can cook and serve together. Encourage family and friends to bring desserts with them, taking one more pressure off. Most of all relax and enjoy yourself. And remember, the first rule of management is always delegation!”


John Martho C. Buenaventura, CEO and Culinary Director, Cuisinero Uno | Filipino

My earliest Christmas food memories: “As a child, it was all about gifts, vacation, family gatherings and lots and lots of food. It was a smorgasbord of a wide variety of local dishes that each and every different family member brings. We tend to do sort of like a pot luck party where everyone cooks their own signature dish and brings it to the party for everyone to share and taste. The food tastes like home and it’s so good because you know that it is made with love.”

Typical Christmas meals: “Hot Chocolate Tablea, a local bitter chocolate, Pandesal, a traditional Filipino milk bread roll, Queso de bola, Edam cheese covered in red wax, fresh grapes and Christmas ham. Lunch is steamed oysters, chicken and beef barbecue, macaroni salad, ox tongue in mushroom sauce, Adobong alimango or mud crab adobo, sautéed king prawns in garlic, rice (of course, we are Filipino) and fruit salad. Dinner is pretty much leftovers from lunch and bibingka, a traditional Filipino rice cake with coconut and salted egg, Puto bumbong (a purple steamed rice dessert), leche flan and buko pandan (fresh coconut in cream and pandan jelly). People from other cultures don’t understand why we have to have rice on the table!”

Christmas tips for the home chef: “Don’t overdo stuff. Simple and tasty is always the best. A simple lasagna can be done in 1 hour, roast chicken, pan-seared steak (as long as you get good quality beef), even a hearty potato or pumpkin soup will do. It’s all about the love you put in cooking the food for the people who matter most. Also, don’t be afraid to buy ready-made sauces and some items; if you don’t have the facility to make your own, then source it out! It’s totally fine! It might end up tasting better! And less hassle!”


Nigel Lobo, Chef de Cuisine, Eloquent Elephant, Taj Dubai | Indian

My earliest Christmas food memory: “I remember standing on the window ledge peeping into my friend’s house waiting for him to come out and play. His mom (Aunty Gretta) handed over freshly fried kuswaar, or Christmas sweets — every day was different. My mom never made anything like that, so I’d run back and tell her about them and ask her why she didn’t make them! The very next year we began the tradition of making kuswaar at home which has continued till date. Every sweet has uniquely crafted with love — the entire box is very varied, and is vibrant and colourful with different textures. The best part of the season was baking the Christmas cake which had the whole house smelling of spice and soaked fruits.”

Typical Christmas meals: “Breakfast is ideally Indian masala chai and a turkey salami sandwich, normally skip Christmas lunch, but dinner is a grand Manglorean feast with sannas (rice cakes), ross curry, sorpotel (a spicy meat curry) and of course kuswaar.”

Five unmissable elements for a traditional Christmas for me: “Going to church on Christmas, Mom’s kuswaar, the Christmas tree at home, Secret Santa and cooking turkey.”

A traditional Christmas: “The most important for me is a Christmas feeling — cherished moments with beloved people, the smell of cinnamon, mulled beverages, decorating a Christmas tree and watching the snow-covered earth. The last one is difficult to see in Dubai.”

A Christmas tip for the home chef: “Do one new dish, but put your heart and soul in it! If you do one this year and one next year and so on, you’ll have a Christmas tradition by the end of it. Not to forget, a wide repertoire of dishes to share with family and friends. Remember to always season well and put a lot of love in what you are making!”


PJ Russouw, Chef de Cuisine, Jones The Grocer, Dusit Thani | South African

My earliest Christmas memories: “At Christmas, South Africans enjoy their Christmas at the sea, mostly during the December months. Hordes of people flood from the northern parts of the country down to the south in convoys of cars, caravans and trucks to do their little holiday at the beach. At their arrival the locals are trampled by many feet of outsiders and soon this small beach area becomes an infestation of loud music, fast cars, the smell of meat cooking on the braai, Snoek fish and sun cream. It’s like a Baywatch movie. But the aroma of food and open fires cooking in the camp sites are thick in the air.”

A traditional Christmas: “In South Africa, it’s all about travelling, food, family yearly gatherings, beach time and living in small spaces of overcrowded camp sites and religious recreational activities and gatherings. For our family, Christmas was mostly hosted at our house, where both sides of my father and mothers close relatives came to visit — “sponge” in other words — for the December holidays. But it was all in the name of fun and well, great eating.”

Typical Christmas meals: “As it is summer time in December, the food is prepared a day in advance and served in buffet style on cold platters and served chilled or room temperature. Breakfast is a fast snack of leftovers from the previous night’s braai. After beach activities at high noon, the feast starts — with a fight over who gets the turkey leg. Christmas lunch is cold, with plenty of cold beverages as the sun is hotter than in Dubai! Cold boiled beef tongue, with honey and mustard sauce, Slap hakskeentjies or pickled onions, carrot and pineapple in aspic, cucumber and yoghurt aspic, roasted leg of Karoo lamb, stuffed turkey, cape snoek (fish), curry pickled fish, prawns and seafood, Russian salad, cream cheese and pea salad and any kind of potatoes! Who cares about diabetes and heart disease? And don’t forget the pumpkin fritters with cinnamon and sweet butterscotch sauce and other desserts like Koeksisters (a sort of fried bread), Melk tart and Malva pudding! We go big on a Christmas day feast! And enormous amounts of heart burn pills.”

A Christmas tip for the home chef: “Just do everything with love, care about your people and what will be giving will show in your work. The secret tip of food and family gatherings is love. We do all of these insane things in abundance because we love each other as family and friends above anything else in this world. Eat, because food is life and life is love.”

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