Food plays a big role in Christmas celebrations. Together with the festive vibe—family gatherings and gift exchanges—and the original religious meaning of the holiday, food seals the Christmas package. Given that there are huge variations from area to area in Italy (regione che vai, Natale che trovi), these are the top eight Christmas dishes in Italy:

  1. Every Italian mom in Italy has said at some point during a Christmas meal: Non mangiare troppi antipasti che poi non mangi più! (Don’t eat too many appetizers or you won’t eat any more!), but over-eating with antipasto is a great classic. Fried fish, cold cuts, vegetables, and any types of finger food: There’s no limit to antipasti variety.
  2. Tortellini in brodo. Homemade tortellini cooked and served with beef broth are traditionally from Emilia-Romagna but are now a common first course in other regions, though differently named (cappelletti, for instance).
  3. As with the tortellini above, lasagne are an Emilia-Romagna specialty but are now served virtually everywhere in the country, with a few regional variation but, astonishingly, called the same thing.
  4. Cappone ripieno. Capon is one of the key ingredients of the tortellini broth, and so as not to waste the meat used to cook the broth, the chicken itself is then stuffed with herbs, or served with salsa verde (made with parsley, olive oil, and garlic).
  5. Baccalà. This salted codfish is fried in Lazio and Campania, stewed in Puglia, poached in Basilicata, and served with polenta in Veneto. No matter how it is prepared, baccalà is a steady guest of fish-based dinners on Christmas Eve.
  6. Roasted beef is an easy alternative to cappone, normally served with roasted potatoes, or vegetables. Any kind of meat-based second course would do, actually; In some areas they bravely go for cotechino, a fresh sausage made with pork, lard, and pork rind and requiring slow cooking.
  7. Pandoro and panettone. These two Christmas treats are originally from the North (Verona and Milano, respectively), but are now ubiquitous during this time of the year—the only time they are made and eaten. The decision whether to have one or the other is strictly personal for each family and is made after endless discussions.
  8. Mandarini e frutta secca. To end the apparently endless Christmas meal, fruit is needed, and the choice is always tangerines and dried fruits and nuts: walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, figs, apricots, and dates. Some say that the custom of serving frutta secca is a seasonal thing (since not much fresh fruit is available in the winter) but, according to others, it comes from the Ancient Romans, who considered it a fine dessert, as well as a delicious good luck charm.

By Claudia Quesito

Also read: Top 8 Italian Destinations

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