Dom Knight’s family has always been all about the turkey and ham. Can it be the same if you go out for a Cantonese banquet on December 25 instead?
By
Dom Knight

15 Dec 2016 - 11:07 AM  UPDATED 13 Mar 2017 - 12:23 PM

At Christmas, we roast a turkey. It’s put into the oven so early in the morning that it’s a wonder that whoever’s cooking it doesn’t catch Santa in the act.

On the side, there’s the usual array of roasted vegetables, and sometimes peas or salad as a token green option. There’s gravy, of course, and cranberry sauce, and then we also add a slice or two from a leg of ham, because why have one meat when you can have two?

For dessert, there’s Christmas pudding, prepared months in advance and served alight, with cream, ice-cream and the ingeniously decadent creation that is brandy butter. If you haven’t tried it, we’re talking alcohol, sugar and milk fat combined for a delicacy so indulgent that it’s a wonder Santa can fit through any chimney at all.

And then, because it’s also my brother’s birthday, we bring out a pavlova for him. It’s my favourite dessert, too, and so even though I can barely even bring myself to look at it by that point in the meal, I eat that as well, because it would be rude not to, wouldn’t it?

Find the recipe for Adam Liaw's Golden Pavlova here

 

Besides, there’s fruit on top, so next to the rest of Christmas lunch, pavlova is practically a health food.

Best of all, Christmas lunch is a meal you can enjoy twice – and no, not for that reason, although it’s not unprecedented. Cold turkey isn’t just a way to quit something but a legitimately delicious Christmas supper in its own right, especially alongside cold ham. You could have more carbs along with it, but you won’t be able to look any in the eye until well after Boxing Day, so cold meat on its own works well.

That’s what my English-Welsh-Scottish family always ate, and that’s what I assumed we would always eat until the end of our lives – or at least until Jesus’ second coming, after which I think it’d be entirely reasonable to shift to Middle Eastern food.

Roast turkey is a completely inappropriate meal for the middle of the Australian summer, and I’ve long admired those sensible souls (soles?) who stock up on fresh seafood instead. We sometimes have chilled prawns before tucking into the roastravaganza, and they always feel like the perfect thing to be eating on December 25 in the southern hemisphere.

But there’s something noble about the midsummer roast luncheon, too. It says: “Screw the climate – this is what we’ve always done, so bring it on!” And in a culture where there aren’t many traditions that make particular days special, perhaps there’s something in that.

Last year, though, was different. Last year we did something I’ve always wanted to try – we outsourced the entire production to a Chinese restaurant. It’s always worth bearing in mind that your nearest city’s Asian neighbourhood is probably the only place where you can get a good restaurant meal on Christmas Day. My personal tradition for the past decade or so has been to pop down to Sydney’s Dixon St for an al fresco beer and dumplings on Christmas night, just because you can. It’s very peaceful – hardly anyone’s out, and they have to stop serving alcohol by 10.

On December 25, 2015, we ate Christmas lunch upstairs at Old Town, a relatively new Hong Kong-style restaurant in a charming space with the exposed bricks that are de rigeur in whatever we’re calling this decade. We had the whole floor to ourselves, and 13 of us around a giant round table (it’s not an unlucky number in Chinese culture, fortunately), so we ordered up a storm – specifically a typhoon.

We had roast duck and Shandong chicken to tick the Christmas roasted poultry box, dumplings galore and a few vegetable dishes, including a ma po tofu that was even hotter than the weather. We also managed to deliver on my hopes of Christmas seafood, with prawns, salt and pepper calamari, and a whole steamed fish.

It was a big, indulgent, stomach-engorging banquet, with lots of family sharing a table. Some around the table had Chinese heritage, and the love of big meals is certainly a shared cultural value just about anywhere you go in the world. We got the meat and seafood, along with plenty of options for the vegetarians, and best of all, there was zero preparation or washing up. We walked in, ate, paid, and walked out.

Well, we did go and eat an entirely unnecessary pavlova back at my parents’ place, though, because some traditions can’t be abandoned completely. But if I’m totally honest, if I were forced to forsake one of the two meals for the rest of my life, I’d definitely ditch the roast turkey and stick with the Cantonese banquet. It’s a classic any day of the year.

This year, we’re returning to the turkey approach, and I’m looking forward to it. My mum’s side of the extended family is getting together for Christmas lunch, the way it always used to be. We haven’t got many family traditions, and this one’s worth preserving, especially because it’s a chance to remember those relatives who are no longer with us.

But if, at some point in the future, we end up switching permanently to a Chinese banquet, I think I’ll be fine with that. It’ll give us a chance to start a whole new tradition. Because no matter what we eat, what feels most important is getting together on Christmas Day for a meal that’s enormous in both volume and duration. Checking in on how everyone’s going, opening crackers and groaning at the jokes together. And presents, of course, although mainly for the kids, although if people get me stuff, hey, that’s fine too.

I’d hate not to have Christmas lunch with as many family members as we can get together. There are a lot of us, and as the years go by, we seem to spead even further afield. But it turns out the cuisine is very much negotiable.

 

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