Traditional Easter recipes from around the world are full of symbolism and indulgent ingredients. Learn about the the origins and meanings behind various Easter foods and get inspired to try one of these cultural Easter recipes this year!
Spring has sprung and Easter is just around the corner!
While Christmas tends to overshadow Easter in the secular world, Easter is the most important holiday in the Christian religion and the biggest feast day of the year. The biggest feast day, of course, means cooking and sharing lots of delicious foods.
The Easter meals I’ve seen in the Southeastern United States typically include things like deviled eggs, pigs in blankets, ham, and cornbread, but my sisters, mother, aunt, cousins and I always make a traditional Italian Easter pie (also known as pizza rustica or pizzagaina) as well — our family’s recipe passed down for generations from “the old country”.
Since my beloved Italian pizza rustica is such an important custom to me, I became interested in the traditional Easter recipes of other countries, passed down through families and imbued with meaning.
What foods are traditionally eaten on Easter varies depending on region and country, but many symbols and ingredients overlap. As I put together this article, here are the most common trends I’ve seen among traditional Easter recipes from around the world.
Recipes are either:
Full of foods that would have been abstained from during Lent,
Full of religious symbolism, or (very commonly),
Easter foods as indulgent post-Lenten celebration
Let’s start with foods abstained from during Lent.
In the year 604 Pope Gregory outlined the prohibition of meat and meat by-products, like dairy and eggs, for the entirety of the Lenten season. (This also gave rise to the tradition of Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Tuesday, as an easy way to use up all the eggs and milk before the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday.) Bread eaten during Lent was also commonly unleavened.
While modern Roman Catholicism now only prohibits meat on Fridays, the Orthodox Church still has the same strict fasting rules.
That means for Easter we see a lot of fluffy, yeasty, eggy breads, as well as lots of meats and cheese-based recipes. And who wouldn’t want to indulge after six weeks of abstinence from all our favorite foods?
Easter foods as religious symbols
From the ingredients in the foods to their colors to the shapes into which they are formed, Easter foods are full of symbolism! Here are a few of the symbols seen in the recipes below.
Eggs: Rebirth, the Resurrection of Christ (Related, egg shell: the tomb, breaking the egg shell: the empty tomb, and shiny egg wash: the light of Christ) Since eggs were also abstained from during Lent, is it any wonder Easter eggs are so ubiquitous?
Butter: The richness of salvation
Bread: The bread of life and the Eucharist
Sausage links: The chains of death, broken by Christ’s resurrection
Lamb: Jesus, the lamb of God
White (as in cheesecake): The purity of Christ
Red (as in dyed eggs): The blood of Christ
Three-stranded braid (for bread): The Holy Trinity
Ring: The crown of thorns, the unity of the family, and eternal life
Cross: Jesus’s crucifixion
Dove: The Holy Spirit
Traditional Easter recipes from around the world
While this is by no means a comprehensive list, here is a collection of traditional Easter recipes from many countries and cultures around the world and their significance on this religious holiday.
I hope you are inspired to try one of these cultural Easter recipes this year!
Torta Pascualina literally translates to "Eastertime tart." While this spinach ricotta pie originated in Liguria, Italy, in the 16th century, immigrants brought the custom with them to Argentina and Uruguay, where it is now a traditional Easter dish. Eggs, a common symbol for rebirth representing the resurrection of Christ, are cracked whole into the pie filling and are hard-cooked as the pie bakes in the oven.
Chorek (also spelled choreg, choereg, or cheoreg) is an Armenian sweet bread traditionally eaten at Easter or sometimes Christmas. It is frequently found braided with three strands to represent the Holy Trinity but can be made into other shapes as well!
The bread is uniquely flavored with mahleb, a middle eastern spice that comes from cherry stones. Mahleb's aroma is "reminiscent of cherry, almond, flowers, and rose water."
Kozunak is a sweet, eggy bread (similar to brioche or challah) often served on Easter morning in Bulgaria. It is flavored with vanilla and lemon zest and is often braided into a straight or ring-shaped loaf. Cozonac is the Romanian version of this bread.
Croatian Easter bread, called pinca, is normally formed into a round shape, but these Primorski Uskrsne Bebe (translated to "Easter babies from Primorje”) are a kid-friendly variation made from the same dough.
An egg, traditionally dyed red, is nestled into braided dough to form loaves resembling swaddled babies. Children can help make dough, dye eggs, place the eggs, or draw the faces in this fun tradition.
German egg liqueur, called eierlikör (or advocaat in the Netherlands) is similar to a custardy homemade eggnog so thick it's sometimes eaten with a spoon.
As the story goes, its origins date back to the 17th century, when Dutch explorers in Brazil were introduced to abacate, an avocado-based alcoholic beverage of the indigenous people. Since avocados did not grow in Northern Europe, they were replaced with egg yolks in an attempt to approximate the creamy texture of the original beverage.
Eierlikör is traditionally drunk (or eaten) on Easter and Christmas and is definitely a unique way to enjoy all those eggs at Easter!
Tsoureki is a sweet Easter bread that, like Armenian chorek, is flavored with mahleb, the distinctive middle eastern spice made from cherry stones.
This tsoureki manages to pack in quite a bit of religious symbolism into one loaf: a three-stranded braid to represent the Holy Trinity, eggs to symbolize rebirth and resurrection, red dye to represent the blood of Christ, and a shiny egg wash to evoke the light of Christ.
This savory double-crusted Italian Easter pie, also known as pizza rustica or pizzagaina, is stuffed with ricotta cheese, hard boiled eggs, and cured meats. Because eggs, dairy, and meats would have been off the table for the entirety of Lent (thanks to Pope Gregory's declaration in the year 604 AD) this meal was quite the celebratory indulgence to break the 40-day fast.
Scraps of dough are used to decorate the top of the pie with crosses or other Easter symbols.
There are several stories about the origin of this dove-shaped bread. (The Oregonian)
One story dates back to 1176, when Emperor Frederick Barbarossa attempted to capture Italy for the Holy Roman Empire. According to legend, two doves representing the Holy Spirit appeared on the battlefield and allowed the Lombardian region to triumph over the emperor.
Another legend is that even further back in 572, King Alboin demanded 12 nubile maidens as tribute for his victory over the city of Pavia. When the 12th woman was finally called to the king's bed, she brought with her a sweet dove-shaped bread as a gift and symbol of peace. The king was so moved that he spared Pavia from destruction and made it his capitol instead.
Regardless of the bread's true origins, it is enjoyed throughout Italy as one of the most popular Easter breads.
This kielbasa and cabbage soup is inspired by white borscht, a traditional Polish Easter soup.
Polish families would traditionally bring a large basket of food to church to be blessed on Holy Saturday. This basket would include items such as bread, sausage links, and eggs. White borscht is a soup eaten on Easter Sunday that uses many of these ingredients so that families could have a taste of the blessed foods!
Cozonac is a sweet, eggy yeast bread scented with citrus and swirled with various fillings. Fillings vary greatly between different regions of Romania and may include cocoa, ground nuts, raisins, rum, or lokum (Turkish delight). It may also be topped with poppy seeds.
While its sister bread, kozunak, is mainly enjoyed for Easter in Bulgaria, cozonac is eaten on most major holidays in Romania.
Like many Easter dishes, this fluffy Russian Easter bread is full of dairy and eggs. Kulich actually predates Christianity in Russia as part of a Slavic springtime baking ritual, but is now mainly associated with Easter.
Historically, it would have been one of 48 courses served on Easter, one course for each day of the Orthodox Lenten fast. While people may no longer make quite so many, wide variety of indulgent dishes is still common for the holiday!
This tall, cylindrical loaf may be baked in a paper mold or even a parchment-lined saucepan. While traditional kulich recipes include candied fruits, this recipe substitutes fresh citrus zest for a lighter bread.
Paskha (Easter) cheesecake is made with tvorog, a creamy fresh farmer's cheese similar to a smoother, tangier ricotta. It is shaped into a four-sided pyramid using a pasochnitsa mold, but can also be made in a clay flower pot.
This cheesecake is laden with religious symbolism. The pyramid shape represents Calvary and Jesus's tomb, and the white color symbolizes the purity of Christ. The sides of a traditional pasochnitsa mold are imprinted with the letters "XB", which stands for Христос воскрес (Christ is Risen), along with other symbols of the suffering and resurrection of Christ.
While it is commonly studded with raisins, candied fruits, and nuts, this recipe includes white chocolate and macadamia nuts! Pashka cheesecake is often served spread on a slice of kulich, the cylindrical bread linked above, so try making both this Easter for a real Russian treat!
Russian Easter eggs are dyed red to symbolize the blood of Christ, and the hard shells represent Jesus's tomb.
A fun Russian Easter tradition is to take turns trying to crack one another's eggs. "One person holds the egg and the other taps the top of their egg, hoping not to break their own, but their opponents. The winner is the person who successfully cracks their opponents egg. The cracked egg symbolizes Christ's resurrection from the tomb."
You can dye the eggs naturally using onion skins or red cabbage.
This brioche-like bread is common in Spanish bakeries during the Easter season and can be sprinkled with various toppings, from sprinkles or sugar to sesame seeds or almonds. The round shape of Monas de Pascua represents Jesus's crown of thorns during the crucifixion, while the egg in the center symbolizes rebirth and resurrection.
Simnel cake is made in the UK and the British Isles for Easter or the fourth Sunday of Lent (known as Laetare Sunday, Mothering Sunday, or Simnel Sunday, named after the cake). Simnel cake includes nuts and dried or candied fruits, and is topped and layered with sheets of marzipan, or almond paste.
This festive fruitcake is topped with 11 balls of marzipan to represent the 12 apostles minus Judas Iscariot, or 12 to represent the 11 apostles plus Jesus.
The story goes that a 14th century monk in St. Albans, in England, baked these sweet rolls and distributed them to the poor on Good Friday. They are marked with a cross to symbolize the crucifixion.
Many superstitions surrounded hot cross buns, including that they had medicinal or magical properties, would ward off evil spirits, or that they would never grow moldy or stale. Queen Elizabeth I even limited the sale of these little buns in the 16th century to only funerals, Christmas, and Good Friday, so that their supposed powers wouldn't be abused.
Or, you can try this version with West African mango and coconut flavors from Sierra Leone!
Like Russian kulich, Ukrainian paska is tall and cylindrical. It can be made in a paper mold, a tall, narrow springform pan, or something like a saucepan or ovenproof utensil crock lined with parchment paper. It can be made relatively plain or sweeter and studded with raisins and dried fruit.
Families would fill a basket with paska, eggs, sausage, butter, and other foods to be blessed on Easter morning and return home after the liturgy to feast on the blessed items.
While lamb isn't associated with one particular country, no list of traditional Easter foods would be complete without mentioning it.
Lamb was traditional for Passover before it was adopted for Easter. As the story goes, Moses commanded Pharaoh to release the Jews from slavery. When Pharaoh refused, God then sent a series of plagues upon Egypt. The tenth plague was the killing of the firstborn sons of each household, but God would pass over the homes of those who had painted the blood of a sacrificial lamb on their doorways.
In Christianity, Jesus himself is the sacrificial lamb and is known as the lamb of God. So the symbolic tradition of feasting on lamb has continued as an Easter tradition as well, imbued with a new meaning.