New Jersey’s most popular Christmas dish
In many states around the country, Christmas dinner is a big deal. In New Jersey, Christmas Eve dinner seems to be the primary focus for many.
It could have something to do with a large immigrant population and generational immigrant traditions, while states like Kentucky favor Venison for Christmas dinner and in Iowa they prefer pulled pork and prime rib sliders.
It comes as no surprise that Maryland's favorite dinner on that special day is crab cakes and in Maine it's chowder. Most of the other states list side dishes or desserts as Christmas favorites. But according to the website Spooniversity.com, for New Jersey it's the Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes. Let me tell you a story about the Feast.
Growing up in a totally Italian-American household, we never even heard of the "Feast." It wasn't until I was grown did I read about such a tradition in a newspaper or magazine article. So I looked up the origin of the meal and the ingredients and started making it every Christmas Eve for my family.
About a dozen years later, I discovered my long-lost family back in Italy and we started visiting each other. After meeting them one summer, they decided to come and visit us here in New Jersey at Christmas time. I was so excited to prepare The Feast of the Seven Fishes for them. Imagine my shock when they told me THEY NEVER HEARD OF IT! My family was from the mountains of Calabria and Sicily, with little or no access to fresh seafood. The tradition started just south of Rome and in the Naples area along the coast.
It's mainly an Italian-American thing. A large majority of Italian-Americans in the New York/New Jersey area came from the Naples area and so it was widely known among these people, but not my "people." Many of the things we call "Italian" are actually very localized regional foods or traditions that have become widely accepted here as universally Italian. Since the largest ethnic group in New Jersey is Italian, this Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes makes sense. But not to my Italian cousins who are still amused by my attempt to impress them!