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How Christmas dinner changes depending where you are in Italy

How Christmas dinner changes depending where you are in Italy
Italian antipasti. Photo: DepositPhotos
What do Italians eat for Christmas dinner? As with so many things in this country, there are big regional differences.

You might know that each of Italy's 20 regions has its own culinary specialties and traditions. And at Christmas, this is no different.

READ ALSO: Six quirky Italian Christmas traditions you should know about

While many people in countries such as the US and UK will traditionally have turkey (or possibly some other kind of roasted meat) with all the trimmings, things are a lot more varied in Italy, and the Christmas meal you'll eat depends on the region (as well as province, town, and family) you're visiting over the holidays.

With the help of The Local's readers in Italy, we took a closer look at typical menus for Christmas dinner across the country.

The feast of the (many) fishes

On Christmas eve, or La Vigilia di Natale, many people in overwhelmingly Catholic Italy will avoid meat, feasting on fish and seafood instead.

The menu on the evening of December 24th will often feature baccalà (salted cod), oysters, clams and king prawns. White wine, particularly bollicine, or sparkling wines, are a popular accompaniment.

Eels are often in pride of place on Christmas eve tables, especially in southern Italy and along the Adriatic coast. They must be as fresh as possible, which is why you'll often see tanks of live eels wriggling in fishmongers' windows or on market stalls at this time of year.

Freshly caught eels for sale. Photo: Stefano Mortellaro/Flickr

You might have heard this meal referred to as the “feast of the seven fishes”. This is thought to be an American-Italian adaptation of old traditions. In Italy you're unlikely to hear it called that – and seven plates won't be enough. Traditions vary, but many families insist that thirteen diishes is traditional, while others are satisifed with nine.

Either way, there's going to be plenty of food. But make sure you save space for lunch the next day.

Il Cenone: “the big dinner”

When they call the meal on December 25th il cenone, Italians aren't joking – it's huge, and you can expect to be sat at the table for three or four hours. Possibly even longer, especially in the south.

This is one occasion when you'll have all the courses, from antipasti to dolce, and of course a digestivo and/or caffe.

Stocking up on panettone ahead of Christmas day. Photo: AFP

But what can you expect to see on the table?

While some countries associate lamb with Easter, here in Italy it's a popular Christmas dish, usually roasted and served as a secondo (second course) with potatoes.

But it doesn't have to be lamb, and that certainly won't be all you have.

Readers around the country told our Facebook group they usually have everything from pizza fritta (fried pizza) to polpettone (meatballs) with their Italian friends and family members on Christmas day.

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

Christmas lasagne is all you need.

A post shared by Clare Samantha (@clarespeak) on

Here in Puglia, the Christmas meal usually begins with a dozen antipasti, then lasagne (or perhaps baked pancakes filled with cheese, or macaroni al forno), followed by roast lamb and potatoes, fruit, and finally a big wedge of panettone.

However, that's in an inland area – half an hour away on the coast, you're more likely to be enjoying a seafood feast (again).

In Piemonte, Claudia Pessarelli says agnolotti con il sugo di stufato (a typical kind of pasta filled with meat) are a must-have. “Everything else can change each year, but those need to be on the table “

In Veneto, Chiara Fava tells us the meal on Christmas Day includes “baccalà (salted cod), faraona (guinea fowl), polenta, radicchio (chicory), bigoli in salsa (a type of whole-wheat pasta with onion and salt-cured fish), salmon; and to drink, Prosecco and red wine.”

But one thing's for sure: wherever you're spending Christmas in Italy, you're going to eat very well indeed.

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