It’s a (Culinary) Miracle: The Holiday-Party Hybrid
It’s that time of year again—holiday party time—and I can’t think of a better way to kick off a column on international food than a discussion of a delectable little phenomenon I like to call the holiday-party hybrid. Some years ago, inspired in part by an instant-cultural-phenomenon episode of The O.C., I decided to give Christmukkah a whirl. Sure enough, the combination of latkes and apple cider, jelly doughnuts and eggnog was so magical that I converted immediately.
Don’t get me wrong: I adore a Hanukkah brunch as much as ever (particularly when it features my friend Helena’s great-aunt Libby’s kugel), and I have yet to tear up an invitation to a Christmas cocktail party. But the Christmukkah hybrid elicits something in host and guest alike—a playfulness, a heightened sense of adventure—that nothing else can. Or so I thought until this past weekend, when I attended the world’s one and only Swedifilipino Christmas Party.
Frans Johansson grew up outside Göteborg, Sweden, son of a Swedish father and an African American–Cherokee mother from North Carolina; Sweet Joy Hachuela hails from Cebu, Philippines by way of San Jose, California. Not surprisingly, the couple have built their careers around the intersection of different fields, cultures, and industries (Frans is the best-selling author of The Medici Effect, a book on the nature of innovation). So when these two experts in cross-cultural creativity decide to throw a Christmas party at their home in Brooklyn, it’s the bacchanal to end all bacchanals—without a glazed ham or gingerbread cookie in sight.
Guests were greeted with glögg, the traditional Swedish Christmas drink of mulled, vodka-spiked red wine served with raisins and slivered almonds. Next, they were encouraged to lay waste to a modified version of the classic Swedish julbord, or Christmas buffet, piled high with herring and gravlax. Next to the knäckebröd lay heaping platters of lumpia, Filipino deep-fried egg rolls, which Sweet Joy served with tart-sweet lingonberry preserves. “One year I ran out of sweet-and-sour sauce, which is the usual dipping sauce for lumpia, so I just set out the lingonberry preserves and hoped for the best,” she recalls. “The pairing worked so well that there was no turning back.”
The fusion continued with Sweet Joy’s friend Dionne’s macaroni pie, a classic of the Trinidadian home kitchen. Instead of the usual cheddar, Dionne decided to make the dish with Västerbotten, the mild Northern Swedish cheese that’s a household staple throughout that country (and now, thanks to IKEA, widely available in the US as well). Dionne was also the power behind the Trinidadian eggnog (“The secret ingredient is a dash of Angostura bitters at the very end,” she confided shyly), which, together with the sour-cherry and cassis liqueurs Sweet Joy put up last summer from berries foraged from her in-laws’ garden, made for a delicious—not to say dangerous—cocktail bar.
There were honey-tinged Swedish meatballs, of course; creamed spinach in coconut milk; spicy, slow-cooked, falling-off-the-bone chicken adobo; potato salad with lashings of dill; pancit (rice noodles with carrots, cabbage, and shrimp); crisp-skinned lechon, or roasted suckling pig, the pièce de résistance of any Filipino fiesta; and, for dessert, leche flan. Looking at my plate, I saw that the lingonberry preserves had pooled against the adobo, which in turn had nestled up to the coconut spinach and potato salad like a particularly ardent lover. It was the Swedifilipino Christmas Miracle.
But don’t just take my word for it: superstar chef Marcus Samuelsson, himself no slouch in the intercultural department, is so smitten with Frans and Sweet Joy’s culinary partnership that he features them in his most recent cookbook, New American Table, an homage to the melting pot that is contemporary American cuisine.
Christmukkah, the gauntlet has been thrown down!
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