How do you celebrate Christmas? What do you eat and drink? It depends on who you ask. In a festive mini-series, we quizzed seven foodie Londoners from various cultural backgrounds about their festive food, drink, customs and traditions. Here’s what they had to say...
Owner of a business that specialises in creative and personalised cakes Delights By Cynthia, Cynthia Akinsanya also blogs about baked sweet treats under her business name. She’s an Islington resident whose family is from Sierra Leone. Like many Londoners, she follows a multitude of different traditions during Christmas.
“I was born here, but my family is from Sierra Leone. My husband is from Nigeria, but lived in Athens for nine years. So we follow a mixture of traditions from Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Greece and Britain during Christmas. On Christmas Day, we wake up with a breakfast of fried plantains — often with smoothies as my husband is a bit of a health freak. We always start Christmas lunch with a Greek salad with pita bread — feta cheese, tomatoes, cucumber and kalamata olives chosen by my husband. For the main course, we’ll have roast turkey with roast potatoes, pigs in blankets, brussels sprouts, carrots and parsnips: this is the quintessentially English element.
"Also on the table will be sweet potatoes and jollof rice. Nigerians cook it differently than us in Sierra Leone, so my husband and I always have a bit of a good-humoured rivalry going on. Our rice is cooked longer, so it’s sweeter and more caramelised, whereas the Nigerian version has a more tomato-ey taste. Also, our rice is plain, and we serve the meat and sauce separately; while Nigerians serve rice, meat and sauce mixed together. We sometimes have Greek lamb on Christmas Day, but if there are too many things on the table — as is usually the case — my husband will cook it on Boxing Day instead, and we’ll eat it with Greek salad. He marinates a leg of lamb in olive oil and some secret ingredients — I’m not allowed to know the recipe!
"I absolutely have to have Christmas pudding as it’s traditional, but my two daughters don’t like it, and they aren’t keen on mince pies. I’ve found that key lime pie keeps everyone happy — you can say it’s a tiny little American touch to our very multi-cultural celebration. My husband will have a bowl of fruit, Greek-style, such as melons and grapes. And we’ll drink a nice red wine, and there’ll be juices for the girls.
"When my mum was alive, she always had homemade ginger beer on hand, spiced with cinnamon and cloves. She also used to make rice pap, a speciality of Sierra Leone made by mixing ground rice with water, lemon juice and sugar, and eaten warm — like a cross between porridge and custard. People eat it before going to church, as it lines your stomach, keeps your body and soul together and sets you up for the day. My mum would have made a rich, moist fruit cake, too, with cinnamon, mixed spice and freshly grated nutmeg — and I make a smaller version. I start soaking the fruit in rum or brandy around June or July and make the cake in October or November, feeding it with more brandy in the weeks leading up to Christmas. It’s the only tradition of my mum’s that I’ve kept up.”
Try it yourself: West African eating and drinking in London
Modern West African food is served at both branches of 805, in Peckham and Hendon. Dishes include jollof rice, pounded yam, and grilled meat and seafood; creative chef’s specials sit alongside traditional options.
African Kitchen Gallery
This welcoming little Camden spot serves West African dishes with European flair. A high quality of ingredients — and cooking that respects this — sets it aside from many similar restaurants. Meaty stews and plantain are among the highlights.
This Camberwell restaurant serves hearty dishes from both Nigeria and Sierra Leone, including jollof rice and yam porridge.
Or go Greek
London’s traditional Greek tavernas include Atlantis in Ealing, The Four Lanterns in Fitzrovia and Lemonia near Chalk Farm. More recent openings include deli and eatery Ergon in Marylebone, Greek Grill 21 Bateman Street in Soho, and large new King’s Cross restaurant and food shop The Greek Larder.
Also in the series:
What’s A Russian Christmas In London Like?
What’s A Goan Christmas In London Like?
What’s An Italian Christmas In London Like?
What’s An Ethiopian Christmas In London Like?
What’s A Spanish Christmas In London Like?
What’s A German Christmas In London Like?