Arts & Culture

6 Holiday Traditions by Charlotte Tastemakers

Charlotte has fast become an international city, boasting residents who represent a vast array of cultures from around the world. With the holiday season underway, a few influential Charlotte tastemakers have shared their own traditional meals and celebrations that remind them of home and have become family staples over the years.

Vidya Goplan

Charlotte Social Influencer

#CharlottesGotALot

What are your holiday traditions?

We are Hindu so we have a lot of festivities throughout the year. The one that my family celebrates every year is Diwali – which took place on November 14 this year. We focus on bringing new energy and light into the home, so we thoroughly clean the home. In India, it is the time that we exchange gifts – like Christmas in America – and we also have fireworks. Diwali falls between Halloween and Thanksgiving and doesn’t work with school schedules, so it’s usually easier for my family to get together for Thanksgiving. We didn’t get together this year though. In my family, we primarily exchange gifts at Christmas, but Diwali is when we wear new Indian clothes and have a prayer at home or at the temple.

Do you have a favorite family/cultural dish?

I’m from South India and it’s such a rich culture depending on where you’re from geographically. My mom makes a lot of traditional South Indian dishes like vada (lentils and spices, fried, round and puffy) and dosa (popular Indian pancake made with lentils and served with tomato chutney), which consists of a batter I can purchase and make at home. I also enjoy a dessert called galub jamun.

Photo courtesy of Vidya Goplan (@queencitytrends)

Recipe for Galub Jamun

  • 2 cups khoya finely grated or crumbled, about 6 oz.
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour (maida)
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • ¼ tsp. cardamom powder (elaichi)
  • 1 tbsp. ghee
  • 1/3 cup milk warm, add little at a time, use more if needed
  • Ghee or oil for frying
  • 1 tbsp. almonds or pistachios sliced, to garnish

For sugar syrup

  • 2 cups granulated sugar white refined
  • 3 cups water
  • 3 pods green cardamom (elaichi)
  • 1 pinch saffron (kesar)
  • 1 tsp. rose water
  • 1 tsp. lime juice

Directions for Galub Jamun can be found here.

What does it (dish/dishes) mean to you?

These dishes bring me closer to my culture – where I was born and how I was brought up. I am very much infused in American culture but it’s nice having these little chances of eating these foods and celebrating certain traditions.

Follow Vidya on Instagram@queencitytrends.

Dalton Espaillat

Owner of Raydal Hospitality (Sabor Latin Grill and Three Amigos Mexican Grill & Cantina)

Dalton Espaillat - Photo courtesy of Dalton Espaillat

Please describe your background and heritage.

My family is from the Dominican Republic. I was born in New York but was raised in the Dominican Republic until I was almost 16 years old. I actually had to take English as a Second Language (ESL) classes when I returned to the states.

What are your holiday traditions?

We definitely celebrate Thanksgiving, but we also celebrate on Christmas Eve rather than on Christmas Day, as well as New Year’s Eve.

Do you have a favorite family/cultural dish?

We’ve adopted the American culture, so we stick to a turkey but no matter what we end up doing roasted pork in addition to the turkey.

Dalton’s uncle serving Roast Pork in the Dominican Republic – Photo courtesy of Dalton Espaillat

What does it (dish/dishes) mean to you?

In my opinion, it’s not a real meal without the pork and rice. If there’s no roast pork, it’s like we didn’t eat. We basically throw all of the seasonings from the refrigerator together to season the pork, especially lots of garlic, oregano, and open bottles of wine, and let it marinate in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

Another family favorite in the Espaillat household is “panes con gallina,” or “chicken with bread,” a Salvadoran dish representing Dalton’s wife Miriam’s home of El Salvador. The dish consists of sandwiches made with stewed hen with Salvadorian French bread from a local shop, slaw, watercress, radish, beets and boiled eggs.

Follow Sabor Latin Street Grill on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebookor visit online them at saborcharlotte.com.

Follow Three Amigos Mexican Grill & Cantina on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebookor visit online.

Lindsey Williams

Owner of Davidson Wine Co.

Lindsey Williams and her family - Photography by Elena Rogers Photography

Please describe your background and heritage.

I grew up in Dublin, Ohio, but my parents are Southerners through and through. My dad is from Plantersville, Alabama, and my mom is from New Orleans, Louisiana. We always spent the holidays in Plantersville, so we have a lot of old Southern traditions rooted in food within my family. There were lots of large family gatherings with aunts, uncles, and cousins there.

Since my mom is from New Orleans, she is a really good cook. Most people enjoy her food over going to a restaurant.

What are your holiday traditions?

We definitely celebrate Thanksgiving and also Christmas. My husband and I grew up in neighboring towns, so we would bring the families together in Ohio. There would usually be about 14 of us celebrating together. Our meals are mostly Southern dishes like fried turkey, macaroni and cheese, dressing, green bean dish, sweet potato dish, collard greens, all sorts of desserts and pies with ingredients grown on the family farm.

Now that we’re in Davidson, our folks tend to come here around Thanksgiving because it’s much warmer. I’ve also created vegan-friendly versions of all the traditional dishes since I no longer eat meat. Unfortunately, we didn’t gather this year, but we are definitely planning for next year.

Do you have a favorite family/cultural dish? What does it mean to you?

Our family dressing is the favorite amongst everybody. When I first moved down here, I didn’t know that other people put oysters in dressing, but I’ve learned that it is a traditional Southern dish.

Photo courtesy of Lindsey Williams

Recipe for Lobster Mac and Cheese

  • ½ stick of butter
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 cups macaroni
  • 2 cans evaporated milk
  • 1/3 cup of milk
  • 2 eggs
  • Seasoned salt
  • Garlic powder
  • Lots of grated cheese (I use cheddar, Monterey jack, gruyere, parmesan and asiago)
  • Paprika
  • Old Bay Seasoning
  • 4 large lobster tails (broiled)

Step 1: Cook macaroni according to package, drain and return to warm pot. Add butter and coat the noodles until completely melted. Stir in two lobster tails chopped into bite size pieces.

Step 2: While macaroni is cooking, whisk together milk, eggs and all seasonings except paprika. Mix cheeses together in another large bowl.

Step 3: Butter the bottom of a large casserole dish. Layer macaroni mixture and cheese mixture – repeat until nothing is left. Pour the milk and spices over the entire dish. Top with a dusting of paprika and Old Bay Seasoning.

Step 4: Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes. Top with two remaining lobster tails 10 minutes before time is up.

Follow Davidson Wine Co on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook or visit them online.

Javier "QC Javi" Morales

Charlotte Content Creator

Photo of QC Javi in Tlaquepaque, Mexico – Image courtesy of Javier Morales

Please describe your background and heritage.

I am Hispanic/Latino. I was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and arrived in Charlotte at age 10.

What are your holiday traditions?

Most Mexicans celebrate Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) on November 1 and 2 instead of Halloween. The importance of the holiday is for the spirits of deceased loved ones to come back to celebrate with the living. It is a two-day celebration: November 1 is to remember deceased and unborn children, so the altars are adorned with their favorite meals and photos; November 2 is to remember deceased adults, so the altar is adorned with their meals, photos, candles and drinks. Altars are set up in the homes and also street side.

Photo of Pan de Muertos – Image courtesy of Javier Morales

Do you have a favorite family/cultural dish? What does it mean to you?

My favorite dish is pan de muertos (or pan de muerto). It’s a specialty sweet bread made with marigold flour and only served in the days leading up to Día de los Muertos. It’s made with cinnamon and powdered sugar on top – just the right amount of sweet, and it’s super soft. Día de los Muertos is one of the holidays I look forward to most because of the bread. It’s a big highlight of the holiday. We can buy it locally at El Buen Gusto bakery from the beginning of October through November 2.

Additionally, the Christmas season is super family-oriented and filled with special dishes such as ponche (warm punch made with guava, sugar cane juice, cinnamon, peaches, and other fruit), tamales (dish made with corn dough and corn husks/banana leaf), atole (warm cornmeal drink), and café de olla (coffee traditionally served in a clay pot). Corn is an important staple in Mexican cuisine, and we use every part of it.

Follow Javier on Instagram and Twitter @qcjavi.

Chef Andarrio Johnson

Owner of Cuzzo's Cuisine

Photo courtesy of Chef Andarrio

Please describe your background and heritage.

I am African American and was born in a small town in Hampton County, South Carolina. I lived in Hilton Head during high school and graduated there. Where I grew up is considered Low Country or the Gullah-Geechee area. Our ancestors are from West Africa and that’s why we have the broken Gullah accent.

What are your holiday traditions?

We celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas when I was growing up. We don’t celebrate the holidays as much now because we don’t believe in some of them, but we do like that they bring the family together. Our celebrations aren’t as big as in the past, and I do most of the cooking for our family and other families.

Do you have a favorite family/cultural dish?

That would be shrimp and grits or fish and grits and macaroni and cheese. We were raised on shrimp and grits – especially grits – because it’s really inexpensive, affordable and could stretch to feed the entire family. We were by the water, so it kept us fed. We ate LOTS of grits.

What does it (dish/dishes) mean to you?

These dishes made us who we are, so I always keep it on my menu.

#CharlottesGotALot

Recipe for Shrimp and Grits

4 servings

Shrimp and grits originated on the South Coast of South Carolina – from Hilton Head Island to Charleston. Traditionally it is cooked with bacon grease but not in this recipe. Most fishermen ate this dish during shrimp season, May through December. They once called it breakfast shrimp. Grits is South Carolina’s official food. You can’t have a breakfast without having grits in South Carolina.

  • 26/30 shrimp peeled and deveined
  • 1 cup quick grits
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 2 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 oz. lemon pepper
  • 2 oz. Old Bay Seasoning
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 oz. olive oil
  • 3 cups water

Step 1: Heat your water until it reaches its boiling point, then add your grits, butter, salt and stir constantly until your grits turn smooth. Be sure to turn your heat on low.

Step 2: Season shrimp with Old Bay, lemon pepper and mix well. Then heat your sauté pan with your olive oil until it reaches its smoking point. Add your shrimp and cook. Be sure to turn your heat on medium once your shrimp is halfway done.

Step 3: Add heavy cream to your shrimp cook until your sauce starts to thicken. Once your sauce thickens, take off heat.

Step 4: Once you’re done, place your grits on each plate, then layer five shrimp per person on each plate with a layer of sauce and cheese for garnish or flavor enjoy.

Recipe courtesy of Kick’n It in the Kitchen with Chef Andarrio Southern Cuisines Cookbook

Follow Chef Andarrio on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook or visit them online.

Look for the Cuzzo’s Cuisine Food Truck or visit his restaurant at 3418 Tuckaseegee Road.