Decorated hard-boiled eggs may be the first Easter food that comes to mind, but there are many other delicacies that factor into traditional Easter meals around the world. From sweet breads and pastries to meat and egg dishes, even cakes and cookies, the foods that grace Easter tables across the globe vary by country and region.
Lamb is the one food that is common in the Easter celebrations of many cultures.
The roasted lamb dinner that many eat on Easter Sunday actually predates Easter—it is derived from the first Passover Seder of the Jewish people. The sacrificial lamb was roasted and eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs in hopes that the angel of God would pass over their homes and bring no harm.
As Hebrews converted to Christianity, they naturally brought their traditions with them. The Christians often refer to Jesus as The Lamb of God. Thus, the traditions merged.
In Poland, the Easter brunch buffet table is plentiful, showcasing some of the country's best dishes. You will find jajka faszerowany, stuffed eggs that are similar to deviled eggs, alongside żurek, a ryemeal soup with sausage. It will also include the family's own recipe for biała kiełbasa, or Polish sausage.
A white borscht soup, called either biały barszcz or żurek wielkanocny, is also a tradition. It is made of potatoes, garlic, sour cream, kielbasa, eggs, and rye bread.
Braised red cabbage, known as czerwona kapusta zasmażana, often accompanies the main dish, which can be almost any meat. Popular choices include roast leg of lamb, roast suckling pig, baked ham, and roasted turkey. A potato dish and horseradish are common, as is chałka, a braided egg bread that is slightly sweet and dotted with raisins.
The adorable lamb cake is not just an American tradition, it is part of the Polish Easter table as well. Other sweet treats include babka wielkanocna, a yeasty cake with 15 eggs, and mazurek królewski, a flat pastry often topped with almond paste, preserves, dried fruits, and nuts.
Italians also like to bake whole eggs in the shell into bread. Neapolitan casatiello, a meat-stuffed bread topped with eggs that are baked right into the dough, is a popular example of this. Similarly, the Taralli di Pasqua is a sweet bread with whole eggs nestled on top.
Italian wedding soup (minestra maritata) or minestra di Pasqua (a traditional Easter soup made with pork, beef, and kale) are commonly served at the holiday meal. Lamb is almost always the main dish, and artichokes are usually served on the side.
Dessert may include a colomba di Pasqua (translated to "Easter dove"), a sweet yeast cake shaped as a dove. The Neapolitan grain pie (Pastiera Napoletana), a ricotta cake flavored with orange-flower water, is another popular option.
After church on Easter morning, Lithuanian families return home to enjoy a special breakfast along with the foods from their blessed food basket. The family either shares an egg (a sign of unity) or each enjoys a hard-boiled egg to symbolize rebirth.
The main meal is dinner. Several traditional dishes are served to feature foods that were forbidden during Lent. The entree is either a roast pig, chicken, ham, or lamb.
You will also find vedarai (sausage made of potatoes that can be meatless or contain bacon), blynai (small pancakes), cepeliani dumplings (filled with meat or cheese), and a potato pudding called kugelis. The buffet table will also hold several salads and many dishes that include mushrooms. Lithuanians also serve a semi-sweet yeast bread with white raisins called velykos pyragas.
Desserts abound at a Lithuanian Easter celebration. You will likely see paska (literally meaning "Easter"), a molded cheese delicacy, as well as aguonu sausainiukai, traditional poppyseed cookies, among many other time-honored sweets.
Although the Greek Orthodox Easter falls on a different day from the Catholic Easter holiday, the food traditions include many delicious delicacies. The Greek Easter feast actually begins after the midnight church service, but the main event is held on Easter Sunday.
On every Greek household table, you will find lamb, red eggs, and tsoureki, an orange and spice scented braided bread with a red egg nestled on top. Cheese pastries—either made with phyllo (like tiropitas) or rolled dough (such as kalitsounia)—are traditional dishes to eat while the lamb is cooking. Other mezethes (appetizers) include olives, feta dip, tzatziki (a yogurt, garlic, cucumber dip), and Dolmathakia me kima (rice-stuffed grape leaves).
The main course can begin with avgolemono, a quintessential Greek chicken soup with orzo and a lemon-egg mixture that is quite unique. The lamb is often served with patates sto fourno, roasted potatoes with lemon and oregano, and spanakopita, a spinach pie with cheese, along with a salad and bread.
There is no shortage of dessert options, either. Galaktoboureko is a custard pie with phyllo and koulourakia are butter cookies with sesame seeds. These are often served with strong Greek coffee and Greek wine such as raki.
It seems that almost every Easter-celebrating country has its own special Easter bread or cake. And yet, hot cross buns are a favorite in many areas but especially in Britain. These individual yeast buns are spiced and filled with dried fruit and the lemon icing is drizzled in the form of a cross along the top.
The tradition supposedly derived from ancient Anglo-Saxons who baked small wheat cakes in honor of the springtime goddess, Eostre. After converting to Christianity, the church substituted those with sweetbreads blessed by the church.
An Easter lunch is the traditional meal in Britain. Along with a leg of lamb, you will often come across side dishes that include spring vegetables such as cabbage, and a recipe utilizing the prized Jersey royal potatoes. A gravy and a fresh mint sauce will typically accompany the meat.
A classic British cake for Easter is the simnel cake. It signals the end of Lent as it is filled with ingredients—spices, fruits, and marzipan—that are forbidden during that time of fasting. Chocolate makes an appearance in both egg-form as well as dessert treats. This can be anything from a chocolate cake to chocolate mousse.