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Commentary: Holidays are different on other side of the pond

December 29, 2012|By Liana Aghajanian

Next to my love of Middle Eastern, Latin and Asian dishes sits an unexpected and grossly underrated culinary cuisine I adore: British food.

On the surface, it might seem like our friends across the pond offer only fish and chips and combinations like bangers and mash (sausage and mashed potato), but there's more to British cuisine than meets the eye. That's especially true during the winter holidays, when the days are completely saturated with mince pies, glasses of mulled wine and more dips and sauces than one knows what to do with.

One particular holiday food of interest is Christmas pudding, a dessert so rich and grand it will take you a year to recover before you can tolerate the sight of it again.

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Just so we're clear, the British concept of "pudding" isn't exactly in line with the American one. It has less to do with custards and mousse and more to do with a burst of flavor packed tightly in a dense spongy mass. This one in particular must be made weeks before the 25th, with the time used to cure and lock in flavor.

Christmas pudding, a Victorian dish, consists of dried fruit, candied peel, spices, dark sugar and black treacle — a type of syrup common in British baking. It's also doused in a healthy dose of spirits, like brandy or rum. Though it sounds similar to American fruit cake, the British counterpart isn't as strongly ridiculed and carries more weight, both literally and figuratively speaking.

According to Andrea Broomfield's book, "Food and Cooking in Victorian England: A History," Christmas pudding was an edible representation of all things holy, said to be prepared with 13 ingredients to represent Christ and the 12 apostles, "and that every family member stir it in turn from east to west to honor the Magi and their supposed journey in that direction."

It was at one point even banned by the Puritans in the 1660s for being too rich.

I'm spending the holidays in London this year, where Christmas pudding, stuffings, soup and brandy butter are just days away. Whenever I'm here, I revel in the food the city has to offer while wondering why so many people grimace when I mention just how delicious British food really is. We Americans love "Downton Abbey," Colin Firth and have been enamored with British music since the '60s. But we're apathetic and downright grossed out when it comes to food from the land of double-decker buses and politeness.

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