Traditional Easter Foods from Around the World

Shop shelves are filling up with Easter eggs and hot cross buns and that means just one thing: Easter is coming. Those are two foods that we in South Africa, and much of the ‘Western’ world, link closely with Easter, but each country has its own way of celebrating this holiday. 

All these different sets of customs, traditions, and dishes make for a rich melting pot of foods and ideas. Like many other holidays, Easter is celebrated with plenty of unique and delicious food and so I have compiled a list of traditional foods from around the world for you to try out this Easter.

Baking it up in Britain

Much like all the Easter foods from around the world, the traditional foods from the UK are laden with symbolism. Starting with the more familiar, hot cross buns were first baked by British monks and have become a popular favourite, with their obvious symbolic link to the cross and the crucifixion of Jesus. 

These sweet, spiced buns are traditionally eaten on Good Friday to signify the end of Lent, and have been an Easter tradition for centuries. Currants or raisins dot the bun, and a glaze is used to make a cross on top, to symbolize Jesus’ crucifixion, and it’s said that the spices used in the buns represent the spices used to embalm Jesus at his funeral. Hot cross buns are one of my favourite Easter treats and if you fancy making them yourself this year you can find a traditional recipe here: Hot Cross Buns 

There’s also another traditional British Easter food that we’re less familiar with – Simnel cake. This is a fruit cake that was originally eaten on Sunday during Lent throughout the United Kingdom. The cake is topped with a layer of toasted marzipan and 12 marzipan balls, which represent the 12 apostles. 

Greece’s goodies 

The Greeks always have a flair for creating delicious cuisines and Easter time is no different. Lamb is the meat of choice for most Greek households at Easter. Jesus is known as the Lamb of God, and lamb is eaten in remembrance. Another country that’s big on symbolism, you will almost always find dyed eggs on the Easter table in Greece. Where they do it differently to us is that the eggs are only dyed red to symbolise the blood that Christ shed. 

It just wouldn’t be Easter without some traditional sweets too. Koulourakia cookies are the baked goodie of choice in Greece. These bite-sized cookies are light and crispy, with a bright citrus flavor. Koulourakia cookies can be shaped into a number of different shapes: spirals, braids, rings, but always made with three strands to symbolise the Holy Trinity.

When in Rome…

Being home to the head of the Catholic church, Easter is one of the most important holidays in Italy. This is reflected in the country’s food traditions, as illustrated by the many different foods that are consumed almost exclusively during that period of the year. Traditionally the main dish of the Easter meal consists of lamb. A traditional Easter dish in Rome and the surrounding Lazio region are crispy lamb ribs, known as Abbacchio a Scottadito (literally meaning “burnt finger”) and are almost always served along with fresh artichokes – yum! If you feel like trying these out for yourself get the recipe here: Abbacchio a Scottadito with red wine sauce

Colomba di Pasquas is another common Easter food in Italy. This sweet bread is shaped like a dove, a symbol for peace, and is stuffed with candied fruit and sprinkled with almonds and pearl sugar, the perfect sweet treat to round off your Easter meal.

Proudly ‘Ham’erican 

While much of the rest of the world is eating lamb, the USA does things a little differently at Easter by opting for pork instead. The US tradition of eating ham at Easter started before refrigeration existed. The animals were traditionally slaughtered in the autumn, and to make the meat last, it had to be cured. The curing process took so long that it wasn’t until Easter that the first hams were ready. The humble ham has since become a celebratory Easter dinner centerpiece, with many households in America still enjoying this tradition on Easter Sunday. 

Munching in Mexico

Heading down South from the US, Mexico has its own fabulous traditional Easter foods.  Capirotada is a bread pudding, usually made from bolillo (a type of bread similar to a baguette), which has been soaked in mulled syrup made from sugar, cinnamon sticks, and cloves. This was traditionally done as a way to make old stale bread more appetising. Nuts, dried fruit, and sprinkles are common toppings to add more flavour. This exotic bread pudding is a traditional dish made on Ash Wednesday in Mexico. 

All its ingredients are laden with symbolism to remember Christ’s suffering on the cross: The bread represents Jesus’ body, the syrup reminds us of his blood, the cloves are the nails on the cross, while the cinnamon sticks echo the wooden cross. 

Interestingly, this Mexican dish actually has some African roots thanks to the Moors, who in earlier centuries ruled parts of Spain and influenced their cuisine. One of these influences led to the Spanish making their early versions of Capirotada in the 15th Century. Years later, Spanish conquistadors in turn conquered much of Central and South America, bringing Catholicism and Capirotada to the region. The Mexicans then added some of their own local ingredients to sweeten the dish and broaden it to allow for a remarkable variety of ways that it can be prepared.

Origin of the Osterhase

It would be out of place to not mention one of the most popular traditional Easter foods from around the world – Easter eggs. While eggs are an ancient symbol of new life and have been associated with pagan festivals long before Christianity (see my article on Equinox traditions for on that), there’s only one guy who delivers them. Easter eggs are enjoyed all over the world, but the tradition of the Easter bunny originated in Germany.

The Easter bunny first arrived in Germany as a legend of an egg-laying hare called Osterhase or Oschter Haws. Children made nests in which this creature could lay its coloured eggs. Eventually, the custom spread across the globe and the fabled rabbit’s Easter morning deliveries expanded to include chocolate. After all it just wouldn’t be Easter without a good old fashioned Easter egg hunt!

I hope no matter where you live or what you believe, that you can celebrate this turning of the season with the most important things in life – beloved family, fabulous food and a whole lot of fun.

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