Unexpected Holiday Dishes Around the World – with recipes

By: Gina Bang, Director of Marketing, Avanti Destinations

One of the best-loved parts of any holiday is the special food we celebrate with, both savory and sweet. Here, we present 12 holiday specialties – with links to recipes – from countries as diverse as Morocco, Japan, Peru, and Croatia. Interested in sampling them in their native lands? We have suggestions for where to go – usually beyond the capital city to make it even more authentic.  

Sponge Donuts (Morocco)

Hanukkah is traditionally celebrated with deep fried foods to commemorate the miracle of one day’s worth of oil lasting eight days. These fluffy ring donuts, “Sfenj” (meaning sponge) have a crispy friend outer layer with a delicate, airy interior, and they are usually dusted with sugar or soaked in honey. Experience them in Casablanca, especially in Jewish communities during Hanukkah. Try this 100-year old family recipe.

Lechon (the Philippines)

Christmas in the Philippines is a grand affair, with Lechon, a whole roasted pig, at the center of festivities. Try it in Cebu, the region known for its distinctive “cebuchon” stuffed with lemongrass, scallions, garlic, and basil. Using a boneless, pork-belly roll instead of a whole pig is easier for most cooks Recipe

Honey Cookies (Greece)

“Melomakarona” are eggless, dairy-free cookies, akin to baklava, enjoyed during the fasting period of Orthodox Christians. Thessaloniki is the ideal place to taste these honey and walnut delights. Recipe

Tamales Criolles (Peru)

Traditional Peruvian Tamales differ from Mexican tamales, using fresh white corn and banana leaves. Another Peruvian Christmas custom called “Chocolatadas” is to distribute gifts and hot chocolate to less fortunate people in early December. Cuzco is the place to go. Recipe

Bûche de Noël (France, Belgium, Switzerland)

This Christmas dessert, symbolizing the Yule log, originated in France’s Brittany. Made with sponge cake, chocolate and heavy cream. Try it in Rennes, capital of Brittany, a city filled with medieval half-timbered houses or Lausanne, Switzerland. Recipe

Mochi Soup (Japan)

“Ozoni,” a New Year’s breakfast soup. Each family has their own special way of making it – with chicken, fish cakes, carrots, taro root, regional spices – but it always features mochi rice cakes. Try it in Kanazawa, known for its traditional districts. Recipe

Fruitcake (Chile)

“Pan de Pascua,” reminiscent of German stollen, is a Christmas staple, rich with spices, cherries, raisins, strong coffee and rum, brandy or pisco for a kick. Enjoy it in Chile’s picturesque Lake District. Recipe

Cabbage Rolls (Croatia)

Croatian “sarma” consists of meat-filled cabbage leaves, a winter comfort food best enjoyed in the gastronomic region of Istria. Recipe

Rice Pudding (Sweden)

“Risgrynsgröt” is a Christmas Eve essential, often a breakfast item on Christmas Day. It comes with a fun tradition of hiding one almond for good luck. On Sweden’s west coast, Gothenburg is a recommended destination for this treat. Recipe

Farofa (Brazil)

This crunchy side dish, made from cassava flour and flavorful additions such as bacon, onions, garlic, parsley and chives, is also commonly used as a stuffing for poultry. A great accompaniment for Brazilian Christmas barbecues. Salvador de Bahia offers an authentic cultural backdrop for this dish. Recipe

Feast of Seven Fishes (Italy)

This Southern Italian tradition involves a meatless Christmas Eve meal. It remains a much-loved custom among many Italian American families. Whether in Sorrento, Palermo, or Lecce, you’ll find various fish dishes to commemorate the occasion. Recipe

Rice Cake Soup (South Korea)

“Tteokguk,” a rice cake soup, is eaten during the lunar New Year, symbolizes purity and good fortune. Toppings for the soup can include beef or other meat, seafood, eggs, nori, and vegetables. Busan, known for its early sunrise, is the perfect place to enjoy this dish and welcome the new year. Recipe

Each of these foods offers a taste of the world’s diverse cultures and festivities, inviting you to explore traditions through culinary delights. Whether you’re cooking at home or planning your next journey, these dishes deliver a connection to global celebrations. For a whole host of holiday recipes, check Avanti’s holiday party e-cookbook: https://www.flipsnack.com/779977E569B/christmas-recipes-2022/full-view.html

About Avanti Destinations

Since 1981, Avanti Destinations has been selling custom-crafted independent travel vacations in Europe, Asia, North Africa/the Middle East, the South Pacific, and Central and South America. The Portland, Oregon-based wholesale tour operator offers a wide range of FIT components to travel advisors only, including air, rail, rental cars, hotels, sightseeing/attractions, transfers and hard-to-find experiential travel options.  Avanti specializes in hand-picked, locally-owned hotels in both large and small cities and in connecting all the pieces of complex or multi-destination itineraries. The company also creates complete packages for custom groups of 15 or more passengers. For more information: https://book.avantidestinations.com.


With more than 7,000 islands, the Philippines has become a bucket list tropical destination in 2018. The Southeast Asian country boasts more than 22,000 miles of coastline with pristine beaches, cosmopolitan cities, rich history, and welcoming locals ready to share Filipino culture with visitors.

(credit Pixabay) beach-74755Credit: Asia Answers

Here is a sample of USTOA member itineraries to inspire a hassle-free vacation to the Philippines with exclusive local access. For more USTOA member packaged travel to the Philippines, visit: https://ustoa.com/why-we-travel/philippines.


SITA World Tours’ “Manila & Boracay Sojourn” itinerary mixes the history and modern energy of Manila with one of the world’s most beautiful beaches on Boracay Island. During the six-day tour, guests will enjoy a half-day tour of Old Manila before traveling to the paradise of Boracay. Whether it’s a massage or yoga lesson on the beach or a boat ride through the crystal-clear waters, Boracay is the ideal place to disconnect and enjoy the untouched beaches. Available throughout 2018 from $695 per person. www.sitatours.com

Intrepid Travel’s “Philippines Palawan Island Getaway” is a nine-day adventure of island hopping and snorkeling among the coral and tropical fish. Guests will interact with the Batak tribe in their village to witness their daily life with a local guide. The package includes two nights on a private beach, sleeping in beach cottages, and will enjoy local cuisine at Kainato, a local restaurant which supports the community and employs people with disabilities. Departures available bi-weekly from December to May in 2018 and 2019 from $1,630 per person. www.intredpidtravel.com

Philippines_El_Nido_AvantiCredit: Avanti Destinations

New for 2018, Avanti Destinations’ “Philippines Escapes” itinerary is an eight-day vacation to some of the island’s most alluring beaches. With year-round accessibility, the islands feature stunning tropical waters, otherworldly rock formations and coves. The trip includes four nights at the Miniloc Resort located in the remote Bacuit archipelago. In addition to snorkeling and other water activities, guests can participate in a private tour with tribal foot massage and choice of massage treatment at the Nurture Spa Village in Tagatay, and all meals at the Miniloc Resort. Prices from $2,475 per person, double occupancy (land only). www.avantidestinations.com

Goway Travel’s “Palawan El Nido” four-day itinerary to the Philippines provides the flexibility of an individual worry-free vacation with a tour operator. Travelers will spend the trip relaxing in El Nido, an almost untouched site with white sand beaches, clear waters, and stunning cliffs. Considered “The Philippines’ Last Frontier,” the waters are full of marine life and dive sites for adventurous travelers to experience. Available through October 2018 from $961 per person. www.goway.com

(credit Pixabay) manila-1709394Credit: Asia Answers

Discover a diverse vacation of the Philippines’ city life and spectacular beaches during Asia Answers’ “A Perfect Week in the Philippines” itinerary. The first part of the week includes a tour of Old Manila rich in history and mixed with contemporary skyscrapers or an optional day trip to Pagsanjan Falls. End the trip at one of the world’s most serene beaches with two days of leisure time in Boracay. Departures are available daily from $1,449 per person. www.asiaanswers.com


Find your dream island vacation to the Philippines here.



The Philippines is an archipelago of over 7,000 islands offering a unique blend of natural beauty, history, cultural attractions, white sandy beaches, bustling metropolises and so much more. Join Modern Day Explorer Louise Shumbris as she scouts experiences, activities and inclusions for Abercrombie & Kent’s first-ever itineraries to the Philippines.

Modern Day Explorers: Nature in the Philippines

The Philippines offers lush beaches, river trips, jungle explorations, and much more. Go behind the scenes with Modern Day Explorer Louise Shumbris of USTOA tour operator member Abercrombie & Kent as she discovers nature reserves, caves and ocean activities to include in new itineraries to the Philippines.

 Modern Day Explorers: Cuisine in the Philippines

Curious how tour operators find the most memorable, enriching experiences for travelers to book? Watch as USTOA’s Modern Day Explorer Louise Shumbris eats her way through the diverse, fresh and organic cuisines of The Philippines with the goal of designing enriching itineraries for Abercrombie & Kent guests.

Modern Day Explorers: Luxury in the Philippines

USTOA tour operator member Abercrombie & Kent is a luxury brand. Get an insider look at how five star resorts, private transfers and unparalleled access are arranged for guests as Modern Day Explorer Louise Shumbris discovers the best of the Philippines.

Discover even more at www.ustoa.com/blog/category/philippines and www.ustoa.com/modern-day-explorers.

 Ready to visit? Visit www.abercrombiekent.com/travel-destinations/asia-luxury-travel/southeast/philippines/ for details on traveling to the Philippines with A&K.

 Louise A. Shumbris joined A&K two years ago, bringing with her decades of experience in product development, tour design, contracting and operations. Louise has worked for the top U.S.-based tour operators, developing and managing travel programs around the world. Her specialty is designing luxury group journeys, but she has also created FIT, incentive and even sport group programs.

By Louise A. Shumbris, Vice President, Product Development & Operations, Abercrombie & Kent USA

Behind every great tour experience is a phenomenal product manager – these “Modern Day Explorers” scout undiscovered experiences in new, emerging destinations, rediscover what’s new in beloved places, and get to know the community with the single goal to design enriching itineraries for you to book.

How do these explorers find the most memorable, culturally rich experiences you ask? Well, in 2016, USTOA is taking you behind-the-scenes with a handful of these Modern Day Explorers to find out. First up? Louise Shumbris of Abercrombie & Kent reveals her experience in the Philippines. So, in her words… 

Batangas Coastline, Manila

When considering new destinations for Abercrombie & Kent (A&K), I begin with an open mind and ask lots of questions. A lot of due diligence is required as well. While many places on earth might qualify as a potential Tailor Made destination, the requirements are different for an A&K luxury small group journey. We not only look at what’s hot and what’s emerging, we also verify the state of the infrastructure required to handle a group of 18 discerning travelers who tend to define acceptable service, quality and consistency by top American standards. Delivering luxury in unexpected places is an A&K hallmark that applies to everything from bedding to bathroom facilities, as well as to opportunities for insider access and exclusive activities, such as our Ride Like a Local, Chef’s Table and Scenic Sundowner experiences.

Lagoon, El Nido

The Philippines had been popping up on A&K’s new destination radar for a number of reasons, but a turning point was a compelling presentation given by the Philippines Tourism Bureau at the most recent USTOA Annual Conference. I was intrigued to learn that the Philippines had achieved economic stability, and I was reminded of the country’s strong cultural ties to the United States. The islands became a U.S. possession following the Spanish-American War, and Filipino and American troops fought side by side in World War II. What’s more, English is one of the two main languages spoken in this predominantly Catholic country, so there is a relatively high degree of cultural familiarity between visitors and locals.

Street Scene, Manila

So armed with months of research, maps, and local contacts I departed for the Philippines — to evaluate whether it should become a new destination for a luxury small group journey from Abercrombie & Kent. And though I appreciate the importance of advance research, as a passionate, lifelong traveler myself, I also know the value of luck and personal instincts.

One case of serendipity was during my search to find a lunch stop after visiting Corregidor. There was the obvious choice — a highly recommended fine-dining restaurant in a prime location, but alas, it was closed the only day I had to visit the area. My local contact apologetically set up a lunch elsewhere which led me to discover a hidden culinary gem. With its al fresco, yet elegant, dining atmosphere, incredible organic gardens, and even a spa, it offered exactly the kind of experience A&K seeks out on behalf of our guests. Had I not actually been there to see for myself, I might have simply settled for the “recommended” option. That is why, at A&K, we make a point of evaluating a destination in person, in depth and leaving room for luck.

Local Cuisine, Manila

As for trusting my personal instincts or passion — in the Philippines it led me to discover the heart of the Filipino personae. I love unusual works of art, especially if they tell a story, a true story. When visiting Manila’s Rizal Park, we were led to a side entrance. Passing through the entrance shed and walking behind the seven-foot stone wall, I was intrigued to see larger-than-life bronze statues depicting the firing squad execution of Filipino hero José Rizal. Rizal was a nationalist living during the country’s Spanish colonial period who used his novels and poetry to advocate for political reforms. Our wonderful local guide explained the meaning of each statue and diorama as he told the tale of this colorful 19th-century playboy ophthalmologist, researcher and writer and how, after being executed for rebellion by the Spanish colonial government, his death made him a national hero. Rizal’s writings helped usher in eventual independence for the Philippines and his influences can be found throughout the nation. He was the Filipino Michelangelo, Galileo and George Washington all rolled into one.

Jose Rizal National Monument, Manila

Throughout my trip, every time I saw a reference to Rizal, and there are plenty, I thought of those imposing bronze statues and how, though depicting an execution, they are a wonderful visual testament of respect and honor to a country filled with national pride — and how an open mind can lead visitors to discover the heart of this wonderful nation and culture.

Hacienda Maria, Family, Boracay

Interested in learning more about Louise’s journey to the Philippines? Go behind-the-scenes with Louise this summer with our video series, A Modern Day Explorer’s Quest to the Philippines, launching this June.

Ready to visit? Visit www.abercrombiekent.com/travel-destinations/asia-luxury-travel/southeast/philippines/ for details on traveling to the Philippines with A&K.

Louise A. Shumbris joined A&K two years ago, bringing with her decades of experience in product development, tour design, contracting and operations. Louise has worked for the top U.S.-based tour operators, developing and managing travel programs around the world. Her specialty is designing luxury group journeys, but she has also created FIT, incentive and even sport group programs.