Christmas is supposedly the most wonderful time of the year. But for the 44 per cent of Edmontonians who don’t celebrate traditionally, it may be a day like any other. Add to that all those who’d rather skip the minefield of family drama, timing the turkey and scrubbing the guest bathroom, and it got me wondering how the other half dines on a day where most businesses close for the holiday season.
As a general rule of thumb, restaurants serving food from cultures that don’t celebrate Christmas are open and serve exotic treats to cheer up those suffering from the winter drear.
For a Persian feast, you can head to Sabzy Persian Grill at its new location. (9314 34 Ave.) The five-year-old family-run restaurant serves authentic, made-from-scratch dishes with ingredients it imports from Iran: The best pistachios, tea, saffron and barberries, which have a tartness similar to currants. Start with kashkeh bademjoon, a savoury appetizer of smoky, grilled eggplant topped with whey cream, caramelized onions and garlic. It is served with Persian flatbread. Next, dig into juicy beef and chicken kebabs that will transport you to the bustling streets of Tehran. Leave room for the most decadent dish of them all, fesenjoon, a saucy pomegranate and walnut dish with boneless chicken thighs served over the fluffiest saffron rice.
If you’re more in the mood for simple comfort food that will hug you from the inside, a steamy bowl of Vietnamese pho will do. King Noodle House is open on Christmas Day, and has been serving its famous brothy noodle soups for more than 15 years. “It’s not our holiday per se,” says Tin Hoang, the oldest of three kids who help their parents run the restaurant. Go with pho dac biet, otherwise known as “the special” because it has everything in it: Rare steak, tripe, brisket, tendon, beef ball, rice noodles and house-made beef broth, which is cooked low and slow overnight by Hoang’s mother. Want more protein? She’ll gently drop a raw egg yolk in the broth for you. Natural condiments that complement the soup, like basil, lemon, bean sprouts, red chili peppers and cilantro, come on the side. Hoang’s personal tip: “I like to squirt the hot sauce and oyster sauce not in the broth but in a side dish for dipping the meat.” That way, you don’t muddy the taste of the broth. Genius!
If the traditionalist in you insists on eating a roasted bird of some kind on Christmas Day, opt for the Peking duck at Golden Rice Bowl. The red skin not only signifies good luck, it’s also delicious. Book a day in advance and bring at least six people to feast on a whole duck. It’s served as two courses: The skin is part of the lettuce wraps, and the meat comes stir-fried with rice. You can also get a bonus course of duck soup, made from the bones, with veggies and tofu for a little extra.
If you crave a festive setting with turkey and the trimmings without any of the work, dining at the Westin will instantly fill you with holiday cheer. On Christmas Eve, the hotel will have a dinner buffet in its restaurant, Share. Start with a bowl of butternut squash soup, then check out the cold buffet station, which features bresaola, cantaloupe, grilled asparagus and arugula wrapped in pancetta, served with aged balsamic and pecorino, among other appetizers. There will be a carving station featuring mustard, herb and garlic rubbed prime rib with Yorkshire pudding, plus a hot buffet that includes maple glazed roasted turkey, buttermilk mashed potatoes and raisin, apricot and sage bread stuffing.
For a Christmas Eve dessert that bucks tradition, there’s an Italian doughnut counter and a chocolate fountain. Meanwhile, Christmas Day brunch features Asian noodle salad and a tangy potato salad with dried cranberry, bacon, Pommery mustard mayo and spring onion, AAA striploin, scrambled eggs, smoked bacon and sausage, hash browns and seared Atlantic salmon with fennel, sauted spinach and champagne cream sauce. Top off the meal with a fresh crepe Suzette.