December 18th, 2020 JoAnne

A Common Ground Christmas

It comes as no surprise that we’re all REALLY hanging out for Christmas this year. Kicking back, relaxing and doing nothing is probably on everyone’s agenda. 

Wait. Not quite doing “nothing”. Because, obviously, EATING is going to be a huge part of the collective Christmas strategy. 

This year during Visa Wellington On a Plate, our festival theme was Common Ground, which saw many Welly chefs feature culinary elements from their home countries and cultures, and combining these with Kiwi culinary elements in Dine dishes, Burger Wellington burgers and Cocktail Wellington cocktails.

In a diverse, multicultural country like New Zealand, there’s now a variety of ways we’re seeing Christmas celebrated. So we chatted to four Wellington restaurateurs and chefs, who originally hail from other parts of the globe, and asked them how they spend Christmas in a way that unites both their heritage with their Kiwi roots.

A Kamayan or "boodle fight" where food is placed on a long banana leaf-lined table and diners eat with their hands, standing shoulder to shoulder on each side of the table.

Rupert Palaroan, Executive Chef at Master Kong

 

Rupert Palaroan, Executive Chef at Master Kong

 

Where are you originally from? 

I’m from Manila in the Philippines.

Where will you be celebrating Christmas this year and what are you doing to celebrate? 

I'll be spending Christmas in Wellington as the rest of my family just moved back to New Zealand this year, so it'll be nice to celebrate together as we're not often in the same country during the holiday season. 


What are some of the Filipino Christmas traditions you do, as well as any traditional Filipino Christmas dishes you cook? 

One of my favourite Filipino Christmas traditions is Noche Buena, which happens on Christmas Eve. My family prepares a big feast and we have it at midnight to welcome Christmas. I do this every year, no matter where I am and who I'm with. Some of the traditional Filipino Christmas dishes I cook would be roast chicken, Filipino (sweet-style) spaghetti, lumpia (pork spring rolls) and leche flan (caramel flan). This year I am planning to make a Kamayan (Filipino for "eating with the hands") or "Boodle Fight" for my friends and family with the Christmas dishes we usually eat.

Kiwi Christmases are quite different from traditional northern hemisphere Christmases - have you adopted any Kiwi Christmas elements into your celebrations? 

Over the years, I’ve also been able to spend Christmas with my Kiwi friends and relatives. One of the Kiwi Christmas elements I particularly enjoyed is being able to celebrate it in the sun and have some pavlova and ice cream after the main meal. I like incorporating some Kiwi elements to our Christmas meal, like ham on the bone and desserts (pavlova, ambrosia, trifle) into our celebrations as it really goes well with the warm weather over Christmas. 

What do you enjoy most about a Kiwi Christmas?   

I really enjoy the laid back and relaxed casual vibe of a Kiwi Christmas. I like that it's not too stressful and everyone has a great time as we all get to enjoy some sunshine and warmth. I also enjoy being able to have a barbecue at Christmas as often it's too warm to use the oven, so it's a great opportunity to dine al fresco and maybe play some games and drink in the backyard afterwards.

 

Tee Phee, Owner / Operator Little Penang Restaurants

 

Kerabu Bihun, refreshing Malaysian rice noodles mixed with lots of herbs and spices to combat the “heaviness” of meat dishes!

Tee Phee, Owner/Operator Little Penang Restaurants

Where are you originally from?

Born and bred in Penang, Malaysia and migrated to New Zealand more than 12 years ago. 

Where will you be celebrating Christmas this year and what are you doing to celebrate? 

Traveling with my husband to Auckland on Christmas Day itself as Little Penang is open until Christmas Eve. Spending Christmas and New Year with both our children, Julian and Rachel. Taking a road trip up north all the way to Cape Reinga. Meeting and catching up with family and friends along the way. We have gone all the way south to Stewart Island so this time around, we’re going all the way north! Lots of fishing hopefully on the way - hubby and son are fishing freaks!

What are some of the Malaysian Christmas traditions you do, as well as any traditional Malaysian Christmas dishes you cook? 

Usually we attend church services and have lavish dinners in hotels on Christmas Eve back in Kuala Lumpur - a very popular way of having reunion dinners with family and friends. Since we moved to New Zealand, Christmas dinners are home-cooked, and - this may sound surprising to you - traditional Christmas fare such as baked glazed ham. 

However, we also have our Asian take on roast meats, such as chicken à la Nyonya style with five spice powder and minus the stuffing inside. Roast pork is a must-have, as well as lamb but with spices such as cumin, chilli, lemongrass. We also have a couple of seafood dishes such as steamed fish and salted baked king prawns. Back in Malaysia, a definite must-have is a crab dish - either baked swimmer crabs or chilli mud crabs - but because we can’t get fresh ones here, we’ve done without over the years! There’s the compulsory “healthy” stir fried vegetables to eliminate the too-much-meat guilt, as well as Kerabu Bihun, a refreshing Malaysian rice noodle dish mixed with lots of herbs and spices to combat the “heaviness” of meat dishes. We also usually have a lavish cheese platter as it’s a family favorite.

One very traditional dessert back home is the fruit cake, which is glazed with brandy and lit up before serving. But now our desserts are mainly chilled Asian drinks such as iced longan with jelly. Definitely end the night with a hot cuppa of Malaysian coffee with condensed milk. Yummm.




Kiwi Christmases are quite different from traditional northern hemisphere Christmases - have you adopted any Kiwi Christmas elements into your celebrations? 

Yes, we most certainly have. Back home in Malaysia when we get together for Christmas dinners with family and friends, we are dressed to the hilt but here, everyone is casual and relaxed. So good to just chill out in t-shirts, shorts and jandals, and just enjoy the company! But the most significant element we adopted since moving here, is the must-have annual Christmas barbie we host for family, friends and staff. Love Kiwi barbies.

What do you enjoy most about a Kiwi Christmas?

The relaxed atmosphere and, because this is the time we have our annual shutdown, the chance to catch up with family and friends, lots of fishing and just lazing around.




Rodrigo Quirarte, Owner & Director of Viva Mexico Left Bank

Where are you originally from? 

I am originally from Guadalajara, which is Mexico's second-biggest city and the birthplace of Tequila and Mariachi! 

Where will you be celebrating Christmas this year and what are you doing to celebrate? Family! Here as immigrants we adopt each other as siblings. Even though most of us are not blood-related, we have found a lovely group of people that we consider family. All of us are from different parts of Latin America. My brothers (real ones) also live here in Wellington so they will be joining us too! We found a great lake house near Palmerston North and we're gonna cook a massive feast and spend some much-needed quality time together.


Rodrigo and his cousins during Christmas '96 in Mexico (or maybe '97?! He's unsure. Pretty cute tho!). 

What are some of the Mexican Christmas traditions you do, as well as any traditional Mexican Christmas dishes you cook? 

Mexican Christmas is almost a four-week celebration. It kicks off the 12 December with the Virgin of Guadalupe day and we do 12 days of posadas, which are parties that are supposed to get you ready for the birth of Jesus Christ. Whether you’re religious or not (I'm certainly not), we all get together with friends and family and attend as many posadas as your body can take. Posadas include piñatas, traditional Mexican food, games, activities, song, and a whole lotta drinking.

Then on the 24th, we gather for a massive Christmas Eve feast, normally spent with ALL the family, which in most cases means a gathering of over 20 people. We eat and drink until we drop and then we wake up on the 25th for gift giving and leftovers lunch. 

After Christmas Day, we take a little break from feasting and spend New Year's with family and friends. In my case, my brothers and I would spend New Years at my grandparents' but as soon as the clock hits 12am and we were done with the hugs and kisses and New Year's best wishes, we would be off with our friends to some bar or party. 

Christmas celebrations end with the Day of the Wise Men (those three dudes that gave Baby J some neat presents). We get together with our families and eat a massive oval-shaped sweet pastry and drink hot chocolate. This one is a fun one because in the pastry there are little plastic babies hidden inside, and if you get one of those in your slice, then you are forced to pay for the tamales on 2 February. We just like linking our holidays together in any form possible! On 2nd February we have a feast of tamales, sponsored by everyone who was unlucky enough to find a baby inside their pastry.

Mexican culture is about sharing with family. And we take that VERY seriously.

Kiwi Christmases are quite different from traditional northern hemisphere Christmases - have you adopted any Kiwi Christmas elements into your celebrations? 

We have happily adjusted to a warm Christmas - not that the Mexican one is very cold, it's just a bit less warmer than usual - so we are way into the barbecues and sunbathing.

 What do you enjoy most about a Kiwi Christmas?  

Time off from work, definitely! But apart from that, it’s very cool to see the whole city committing to "holiday mode". People know, understand and expect everyone is taking a break and the whole city sorta calms down for a bit. 

In Mexico, especially in a HUGE city like Guadalajara, if you're lucky enough to have some time off from work, you can still feel the city's buzz. It’s a metropolis that just won't stop.

 

Adam enjoys traditional roasts at Christmas in Ireland, but roast lab in New Zealand, which he says would be considered very strange in Ireland!

Adam Brack-Sinnott, Head Chef at Egmont Street Eatery

 
 

Where are you originally from?  

I'm from Bray, County Wicklow in Ireland. 

Where will you be celebrating Christmas this year and what are you doing to celebrate? 

My fiancée and I are spending Christmas on Kāpiti Coast with friends (our New Zealand family), and we're having a potluck dinner and barbecue.

What are some of the Irish Christmas traditions you do, as well as any traditional Irish Christmas dishes you cook? 

In New Zealand, we take part in the 12 Pubs of Christmas! But not this year, as I'm currently travelling around New Zealand in a camper.

At home we have a traditional Christmas roast, turkey, ham, potatoes (roast and mash) and veg. My favourite part of the dinner is the sausage stuffing and gravy - I make them every year. My partner makes soda bread for breakfast, which is also great with leftover ham.

Kiwi Christmases are quite different from traditional northern hemisphere Christmases - have you adopted any Kiwi Christmas elements into your celebrations? 

For the last couple of years we've included a barbecue on Christmas day, accepting that summer is not the best time for a heavy roast. We've also started adding lamb to the menu, which would be considered very strange in Ireland.

What do you enjoy most about a Kiwi Christmas?   

I think the best part about Kiwi Christmases is the summer holidays, and it doesn't get dark until late so more time to enjoy the sun. I do like how relaxed Christmas is in New Zealand - it seems a lot less commercialised over here. I wish sometimes it was cold enough for an open fire on the day though!

 

THANK YOU for taking part in Visa Wellington On a Plate and supporting local in 2020 - see you at Visa Wellington On a Plate 2021! 

Enjoy your summer holidays, New Zealand - you’ve earned it. Have a wonderful, safe, restful Christmas!