Feast & Travel


By Jess Goulart

Photo courtesy of Ann.

Every year, every publication writes the same boring top 10 holiday destinations list: most Christmasy cities, cheapest, beachiest, snowiest, etc.

Well, we here at BTR are going to do you one better. We’ve crafted a one-of-a-kind winter destinations guide based on the birthplace of some of your (and our!) favorite holiday dishes. That way while all the tourists are stuck in their traps, you’ll be traveling like a food-loving local.

Mulled Wine – Portsmouth, England

Charles Dickens was not the inventor of mulled wine (it is dated back to Roman antiquity) but he did write it into Christmas stardom by featuring it as the favorite drink of A Christmas Carol. Pay tribute to Dickens’ beverage brilliance by traveling to the island of his birthplace: Portsmouth, England.

While there, you can check out a museum built in his honor, cycle around the island’s rainy coast, or cozy up at the Still & West pub, which overlooks the harbor and is positively brimming with old English charm.

Gingerbread – Tatev Monastery, Armenia

Photo courtesy of ogannes.

Though the gingerbread house came from Germany, gingerbread itself predates that by a few hundred years. Legend has it an Armenian monk traveled into Germany with the recipe, though his name is lost to the ages.

Armenia was one of the first countries in Europe to adopt Christianity, and as a result, it is home to some of the most beautiful monasteries in the world. Our favorite is the 9th century Tatev Monastery, which sits on a cliff overlooking a forested gorge. Just as good as the view from the top is the view from the “Wings of Tatev,” a cable car that you have to take to get there.

Tourtiere – Quebec, Canada

For those unfamiliar, tourtiere is a double-crusted meat pie and French-Canadian holiday tradition. Inside the pie is a savory free-for-all of fillings ranging from duck to heritage breed pork to lamb to bison. The dish hails from southern Canada, in what is now Quebec.

For the best of Quebec, BTR sat down with travel guide author and expert Hilary Nangle, who wrote Moon Coastal Maine, Moon Acadia National Park, and Moon Maine. Nangle says that the Vieux Marche (Old Market) is an especially “delectable” Quebec destination during the holidays.

“The year-round food market is filled with nibbles and bites… the cheese market at its center is a must for Quebec’s renowned cheeses,” she says. “Go hungry, and bring cash.”

Cranberry Sauce – Cape Cod Bay, MA

It’s unclear whether or not this sweet(ish) berry relish was actually present at the first Thanksgiving. Honestly, it’s unclear whether there even was a “first Thanksgiving”, or if there was just mass genocide, BUT, Mental Floss says that records from the Plymouth Colony contain descriptions close to today’s cranberry sauce. If you have forgotten first grade history, Plymouth Colony was the first village set up by the pilgrims, and it was on what is now Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts.

In 2009, The New York Times named Cape Cod as one of the most peaceful winter getaways. Sounds of seagulls and shifting tides take the place of constant traffic honking, and the beaches are cold, but empty. Like any vacation spot in off-peak, prices drop dramatically, making the Cape a serene escape for both you and your wallet.

The Turducken – New Orleans, LA

Take a de-boned chicken stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a turkey and BAM! Christmas dinner. Not to be confused with How I Met Your Mother’s TurTurkeyKey (though it was the inspiration), this roasted meat legend is rumored to be the brainchild of a mysterious unnamed chef who headed up a restaurant called Corinne Dunbar’s in New Orleans, Louisiana. So says a 1971 piece in American Cooking: Creole and Acadian, and so say we.

Even without the beads and drunken hordes, New Orleans is a blast. The downtown area lights up like Times Square, except that New Orleans is still a balmy 60 to 70 degrees in December, while New York turns into the arctic. There’s a citywide Christmas New Orleans Style program that knocks hotel prices down by up to half, 50 free holiday events revolving around the famous music and food scene, and (most importantly) there’s no “open container” law. Hello Bourbon Street!

Sugar Plums – Moscow, Russia

Photo courtesy of kishjar?.

As a brilliant article in The Atlantic points out, no one seems to be exactly sure of what a sugar plum is, including the Oxford Dictionary which simply deems it obsolete. What we’re positive of is that it in no way resembles a plum, today or ever.

In lieu of knowing the exact origins of the food, we’re settling for the origins of the story the food helped to inspire: The Nutcracker. A longstanding Christmas tradition, the ballet music was composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and premiered in Moscow just before Christmas in 1892.

Unlike New Orleans, Moscow resembles the inside of an ice sculpture in December, but if you’re a sucker for a white Christmas there’s no better place on earth to be. Russia actually celebrates Christmas on January 7 rather than December 25, but lights, decorations, and feet of fresh powder already turn the city into a holiday fairyland by the time it rolls around. Get a view of the imperial Red Square from the Bosco Bar while thawing out your fingers.

No, but seriously, wear gloves, it gets really effing cold.

Champagne – Champagne, France

You probably know that for a sparkling wine to be labeled “champagne” it has to come from the Champagne region of France, a very small appellation in the Northeast of the country. Sparkling wine, however, was invented in 1531 by Benedictine monks living near a village called Carcassonne.

The city is now a UNESCO World Heritage site because of a restored medieval fortress at its center. During the holidays the town decks itself with boughs of holly (fa la la la la) and sets up an ice skating rink around a gorgeous fountain in the main square.

Honey Baked Ham – Cheboygan, Michigan

That magically sliced glazed ham that spirals off the bone with a fork was actually invented by someone! John Harry Hoenselaar founded HoneyBaked Hams in 1957, after he failed to sell his newly designed spiral slicer at the 1939 World’s Fair, which was fashioned out of a tire jack, a pie tin, a washing machine motor, and a knife. You can see the original patent here (if you’re into that sort of thing). Though Detroit is technically the birthplace of the dish, we fear it might be a tad depressing due to the economic depression that has befallen the city of late, so we’re suggesting you go to Hoenselaar’s birthplace instead.

Cheboygan, Michigan, rests on Lake Huron, giving it an average high of zero degrees in December. Chilly though it may be, the Cheboygan Crib is one of dozens of beautiful lighthouses in the area protected by the state, and the city sits just outside the Cheboygan State Park, which has miles of shoreline running along the Great Lakes.

Candy Cane – Cologne, Germany

Photo courtesy of Carlos Andres Reyes.

The first mention of candy canes dates back to 1670, when a choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany apparently bent the ends of sugar sticks to resemble a shepherd’s staff, then gave them to kids to keep them quiet during the nativity sermons. Shockingly, there were children worldwide who had a hard time sitting silently through a two-hour long mass and the idea quickly spread.

Germany in general is famous for its bustling Christmas markets that peddle homemade wares and, of course, beer. Munich and Berlin are popular tourist destinations, but Cologne (in the northwest) flies under the radar even though it boasts an equally rich nightlife. At the city center you’ll find the famous Cologne Cathedral–one of the tallest monuments in the world–surrounded by a square that in the winter months is one of the countries best (you guessed it) Christmas markets.

Chocolates – Teotihuacan, Mexico

Photo courtesy of Luke Peterson.

Whether it’s in an Advent calendar or an after-dinner cake, there’s no doubt chocolate holds a special place in our stomachs during the holidays–hence the New Year’s diet resolutions. Chocolate originated in the Mayan and Aztec civilizations in central Mexico, who believed the cacao seeds were a gift from the Gods. Rightly so, because dark chocolate is indeed rich in minerals your body craves, chock full of antioxidants, and may lower blood pressure by improving blood flow. Also, it’s delicious.

The Aztecs built around and revered the ruins of a once great city, which historians later named Teotihuacan. (Try saying that five times fast. Or at all.) A highlight of the ancient world, no one knows what people built Teotihuacan but it’s thought to have once held about 200,000 people. The archeological site includes awe-worthy monuments like the Pyramid of the Moon, the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, and the Palace of Quetzalpapalotl. To our knowledge there’s no Holiday extravaganza at the site (lest it anger the Gods), but Mexico City is only an hour away and has huge holiday parades with pinatas! And tacos! Nothing says Christmas quite like tacos.