Unusual festive food traditions around the world, from star pie in Cornwall to a Nobel feast in Sweden

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The Nobel Prize banquet hall, Sweden

The Stadshuskällaren hosts the annual Nobel Prize banquet (Photo: Holger Ellgaard)

The Stadshuskällaren, or Town Hall Cellars, is the location of the Nobel Banquet, which takes place every December 10. Every other day of the year you can visit the restaurant and eat a banquet of past ceremonies.

Every banquet, of every year, is available. The 2017 Nobel banquet, for example, with its crispy saddle of lamb and frosted blueberry Bavarian, is plated over the bespoke green and gold Nobel porcelain used at the banquets.

For a unique historical experience, visitors can have a Nobel Year Banquet which celebrated one of their cultural heroes.

Fans of author Gabriel García Márquez can have the 1982 banquet (with arctic char in a dill cream sauce and Nobel ice cream), and Marie Curie devotees can drink to his chemistry prize of 1911 by dining on duchess artichoke bottoms and farm chicken (“duchess style” artichoke bottoms and farm chicken).

Unfortunately, Nobel banquets don’t come cheap. The price of the previous year’s banquet is currently 1,865 Swedish kronor (£ 155). Vintage menus (anything older than the previous year) have varying prices, require a party of 10 or more, and must be reserved at least a week in advance. If that sounds too lavish, you can always stop by the restaurant for lunch and admire the vaulted ceilings and lush decor of the Stadshuskällaren.

How to try it: The Stadshuskällaren (stadshuskallarensthlm.se/en) is open for lunch Monday to Friday and for dinner Wednesday to Saturday.

Snowmobile Cafe in Hugging Tree Forest, Finland

The cozy Campfire Barista in HaliPuu Forest, Finland (Photo: Campfire Barista / Atlas Obscura)

Campfire Barista, Steffan Wunderink’s unique café, offers exceptional drinks prepared over an open fire that he drags behind a snowmobile through a forest in the far north of Finland.
The forest, which is owned by his wife’s grandfather, was a gift from the Finnish state after the family lost their home in World War II.

Instead of using the forest for wood, the family decided to adopt the trees and invite tourists to come spend time with them. It was while working as a guide on this land – now known as the HaliPuu (Hugging Tree) Forest – that Wunderink became the Campfire Barista (CFB).

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Using an open fire as a pan, Wunderink has established a reputation for its wonderfully smoked espresso-based drinks, as well as a chai latte made from an indigenous antioxidant-rich mushroom called chaga.

When a local complained about having to walk in the forest for her daily dose of caffeine, the BFC went mobile. Wunderink bought a snowmobile and built a sled that could safely hold a wood-fired grill.

Then he teamed up with a friend linked to a biodynamic coffee farm on a single estate in India, who also operated a solar-powered roaster from a converted sea container in a city.

During the winter months, you can see Wunderink’s cafe in front of the downtown tourist office, in his family’s forest, or at many public events. During the warmer months, without a snowmobile to drive, it is limited to stationary events and festivals. Its menu has expanded beyond espresso-based drinks and chaga chai to organic teas, hot black currant juice, and lingonberry marshmallows that you can roast over its fire.

How to try it: HaliPuu Forest (halipuu.com) is a 25-minute drive from Kittilä Airport.

Manna bakery in Sicily, Italy

Manna drips from slits on trees into weighted fishing lines to form stalactites (Photo: Emiliano Ruprah / Atlas Obscura)

For centuries, scholars have debated the origins of manna, the mysterious substance that the Bible says God provided as food for the Israelites on their journey through the wilderness. But in Pollina, a region of the Madonie mountains in Sicily, there is no debate: the manna is the dried sap of Fraxinus angustifolia, the narrow-leaved ash.

A substance with ancient roots, manna has been cultivated in Sicily since around the 9th century, when the Arabs introduced the practice of collecting resin from ash. Today, the windfall is harvested by a small handful of growers, many over 70, during a fleeting harvest window in late summer.

With the advent of cheap sugar and modernization, it’s a waning tradition, but a local confectionery is working to put the windfall back on the map.

Fiasconaro is an artisan bakery in the city of Castelbuono. Among its specialties is panettone – the traditional Italian Christmas bread – dipped in manna icing. Sicilian manna has a delicate, natural sweetness that some describe as a cross between honey and maple syrup.

The substance, all obtained by hand from the region’s harvest, also perfumes bakery ice cream and a heavy cream spread that is well worth a culinary pilgrimage.

How to try it: Fiasconaro is located in Piazza Margherita de Castelbuono (fiasconaro.com). He ships his panettone all over the world, but those who can visit the bakery are handsomely rewarded with samples.

A legendary fish head pie, Cornwall

Christmas lights around Mousehole harbor in Cornwall

Tom Bawcock’s Eve, a Christmas festival held in the Cornish seaside village of Mousehole, celebrates the night Tom Bawcock, a 16th century Mousehole folk hero, sailed to fish despite dangerous storms.

According to the story, he returned with enough catches to end a local famine. In some versions of the tale, Bawcock brought his cat, which helped calm the storm.

To honor the brave fisherman, revelers relish a star pie, a classic savory fish pie made with potatoes, eggs and white sauce, plus intact fish heads (and sometimes tails) hanging out. neck through the crust, as if they were looking up to the stars.

The anchovy-like pilchard is generally used, but really any small fish will do, as long as it has a head.

How to try it: Tom Bawcock’s Eve takes place on December 23 every year. The Ship Inn (shipinnmousehole.co.uk), a historic pub perched on the edge of the harbor wall, gives out a free star pie to celebrate, often handed out by a local fisherman disguised as Tom Bawcock.

This is an edited excerpt from Gastro Obscura: Gastronomic Adventurer’s Guide by Cecily Wong and Dylan Thura, available now (Workman Publishing, £ 32)

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