Some dishes are so complicated to make, or perhaps so indulgent, that they only come out on rare occasions. These 10 dishes are served up at some of the best-loved festivals around the world.
Moon Cakes, China’s Mid-Autumn Festival
During the mid-autumn Zhongqiu Festival, moon fans come out to worship the mythical moon goddess of immortality from Chinese legend. But if you’re just in it for the food, you’ll worship these golden pastries filled with lotus-seed paste that are said to bring good fortune. The four-inch-wide cakes symbolize the shining moon, and have imprints of characters that represent longevity and harmony.
Hamantaschen, Jewish Purim
This is one of the largest feasts in the Jewish faith, marked by festive dishes generously shared with the poor. Purim honors the escape of the Jewish people from extermination in the Persian Empire during the fourth century B.C. At this celebration, people enjoy triangular pastries called hamantaschen, which are sweet cookies filled with poppy seeds, fruit preserves, prunes, nuts, dates, apricots and chocolate.
King Cake, Mardi Gras
This pastry, festive enough in appearance alone, is eaten during pre-Lenten bacchanalia, the celebration of the Roman mysterious cults of the wine god and seer Bacchus. The pastries are twisted brioche, covered in icing and colorful Mardi Gras sprinkles. In traditional versions, a tiny porcelain trinket is baked into the dough such as a crowned king or baby doll, meant to bring good luck.
Besan Burfi, India’s Diwali
Sweets are the main event at India’s five-day Diwali festival of lights, observed between October and November in Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism. Attendees get together and enjoy a rainbow of pastries and treats, including Besan burfi – fudge-like biscuits made from chickpea flour, ghee, sugar and cardamom topped with pistachios and other nuts.
Kahk, Egyptian Eid al-Fitr
Eid al-Fitr is a three-day Muslim festival that signals the end of Ramadan, a month of daytime fasting. Families put on enormous feasts to break the fast, and at these you’ll always find kahk, simple powdered sugar-topped nutty cookies. Other Islamic and Arab nations make their own varieties of the pastry and bring them as celebratory gifts to parties.
Haggis, Scotland’s Burns Night
This annual dinner celebrates the life and works of bard Robert Burns, and is held on his birthday, Jan. 25. During the celebration, attendees can hear readings of his poetry, including “Address to a Haggis,” and enjoy the savory pudding made of sheep’s heart, liver and lungs minced with onion, oatmeal and spices, simmered in sheep stomach. It’s best enjoyed with scotch and whiskey.
Pastelitos del 25 de Mayo, Argentina’s May Revolution
On May 25, 1810, a series of political events set Argentina on the path to independence from Spain. Each year, the country gets together to celebrate its freedom, and it’s not a day for calorie restriction. You’ll find mountains of pastelitos, wonton-like puff pastries that are wrapped around a core of quince paste, then fried, drizzled with sweet syrup and sprinkled with multicolored nonpareils of sugar.
Banh Chung or Banh Day, Vietnamese Lunar New Year
Tet, or the Lunar New Year, signals the arrival of spring and is meant to bring on a strong appetite. During Tet, families get together for massive feasts with lots of small appetizers like roasted watermelon seeds and candied fruit, but the main food attraction is banh chung, rolls of sticky rice and meat or bean fillings wrapped in leaves. The square varieties are meant to symbolize the Earth and the round ones, the sky.