Creamy cheese fondue and mulled wine warm up a “Fröhliche Weihnachten” in southern Germany. A “Feliz Navidad” feast in Veracruz features tamales, fruit punch and sugary fried dough. In Sparta, “Kala Xristougenna” means Greek lamb and flaky-phyllo desserts.
In any language — and in Greenville’s robust ethnic-food scene — Christmas serves up a world of tasty delights. On a recent chilly afternoon downtown, the proprietors of Mexican, Greek and German restaurants dished on Yuletide meals, which each culture traditionally serves on Dec. 24.
Harald Schmidt remembers simple dinners in Stuttgart, Germany, just before opening the presents. “As a child, you were much more interested in what’s under the tree,” he says with a chuckle as he sits outside his Prost! kitchen at Gather GVL.
Schmidt grew up about 100 miles from the Swiss border, where raclette, a cheese fondue, is a holiday favorite.
Then cookies. “Our mom used to make, oh, my God, probably 30 varieties, and she’ll make probably a thousand of them,” he says.
Among those, “springerle” includes anise, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves. “It gets very hot, very fast, you break every tooth in your mouth,” he says of the rock-hard treat.
“Glühwein” — red wine simmered with cinnamon sticks, cloves, star aniseed, orange zest and sugar — is ever-present, he says.
At Cantinflas Mexican and Vegetarian Cuisine on Main Street, owner Ruben Montalvo glows like a luminaria when he talks about Christmas Eve cuisine, which varies widely in Mexico’s 32 states.
In his native Veracruz, tamales fill holiday plates; the masa-filled chicken or pork delicacies, typically wrapped in corn husks, are said to represent the pregnant Virgin Mary.
“Ponche” (punch) is a key Christmas ingredient. Usually a non-alcoholic fruit punch, the Veracruz version features “nanche,” a fragrant yellow fruit that tastes like pear and banana, often served as a cocktail before the meal, which starts around 10 p.m.
Next: “atole,” a warm, heavy drink made with masa (corn flour), sugar cane, cinnamon, vanilla and, sometimes, chocolate or fruits. For dessert: sugar-coated, fried-dough deliciousness of “buñuelos” and “churros.”
Sitting across from Montalvo, Mariela Romeo, a server, also from Veracruz, says wistfully, “My family makes a lot of food for Christmas.”
“It’s all about food, it really is,” says Taki Kourlas, working alongside his father, Mike, at their Greektown Grille at McBee Station.
Mike’s 88-year-old mother, Kalliopi, holds on to her family’s secret recipes — aptly, her name comes from Greek mythology’s sylvan-voiced “chief of the Muses.”
Before Christmas Eve service at Saint George Greek Orthodox Cathedral, the family feasts on the must-have entrée, leg of lamb, along with “spanakopita” (phyllo stuffed with spinach and feta cheese) and Greek oven potatoes, among others.
While ingredients for some of the dishes mentioned in this story may be hard to come by in Greenville, preparing them can be equally challenging.
For instance, as Mike says of making “galaktoboureko,” a phyllo-and-custard pastry: “Impossible. My sister-in-law does that; my mom doesn’t even mess with it. That’s really intense, a lot going on with that. That’s my favorite one.”
Greenville has come into a world of its own in terms of multicultural dining. Sushi restaurants, taquerias and Chinese joints are all over town. Here is a minuscule sampling of others, culled from experience, friends’ recommendations and mouthwatering internet searches.
Afghan: Aryana Afghan Cuisine
Caribbean: Jamaican Mi Irie
Indian: Swad Restaurant & Store
Korean: Bulgogi Korean Grill
Mediterranean: Pita House
Thai: Thai Jing
Vietnamese: Saigon Fast Food
NOTE: Given COVID-19 restrictions, please check with the restaurants first before you go.
Honey-Glazed Greek Roast Lamb with Potatoes
1 leg of lamb, 1.2 kg (45 ounces) or more
1.5 kg potatoes (50 ounces)
4 cloves of garlic
Salt and freshly ground pepper
100g mild mustard (3.5 ounces)
100g honey (3.5 ounces)
Juice of half a lemon
1 teaspoon black sugar (optional)
1½ glass of dry white wine
4–5 tablespoons olive oil
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pace the lamb in a large baking tray and scar the surface of the meat with a knife. Use a sharp knife to make 8-9 small holes on the surface of the lamb.
Chop each garlic clove into 3-4 pieces. Fill each hole on the lamb with some garlic and some rosemary. Drizzle with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Into the baking tray, pour the wine and cover with aluminum foil. Cook for 1½ hours.
After cooking, unwrap the aluminum foil and add the potatoes (cut into wedges and seasoned well with salt and pepper). Drizzle with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil. Cover with foil and roast for 1 hour.
Prepare the glaze. In a microwave, heat the hone, until it becomes liquid. Blend with the mustard and lemon juice. Brush the lamb and the potatoes with glaze. Sprinkle with some black sugar (optional) to add more crunch.
Place back into the oven (uncovered) and bake for 20-25 more minutes until the lamb is nicely colored. Let the meat rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Source: Adapted from mygreekdish.com
2 cups water
1 cup orange juice
½ cups sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
8 whole allspice berries
1 star anise pod
2 oranges, halved
10 cloves, whole
8 juniper berries
1 lemon, halved
1½ bottles cabernet sauvignon
Orange twists, for garnish
Cinnamon stick, for garnish
Combine water, orange juice, sugar, cinnamon sticks, allspice and star anise in a pot over high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then reduce to a mild simmer.
Juice the orange halves into the simmering liquid. Stud the remaining rinds with the cloves and gently place into the pot. Add juniper berries. Next, juice the lemon into the simmering liquid, and place the halves into the pot.
Reduce the mixture to half of its original volume, add the Cabernet Sauvignon and heat until just below simmering. Ladle into glass mugs. Garnish with orange twist and cinnamon stick. Serves 8.