Leave it to the Italians to celebrate a religious holiday through epic food and drink—or Italian Americans, that is. While it has origins in Southern Italy, the Feast of Seven Fishes rose to popularity last century in the United States, driven by Italian émigrés to America embracing the homeland they left behind. “Southern Italians who had less money who were looking for opportunity went to the United States,” says chef Mario Carbone of the Grill. “So things like the Feast of the Seven Fishes were one of those traditions that came with them and got Americanized.”
Americanized how? Well, an ascetic Christmas Eve meal rooted in Southern Italy’s seafood-filled cuisine and the Roman-Catholic tradition of abstaining from meat during the holidays became a veritable feast as its popularity grew stateside. Now a meal known more in America than back in Italy, people across the States gather on Christmas Eve to feast on caviar, oysters, branzino, calamari, and more. As the name suggests, the meal involves seven courses of seafood, a number that draws on symbolism from the Bible.
The tradition has taken on a life of its own, with a wide range of adaptations. While Carbone enjoys his feast at home with his family, Italian restaurants in cities around the U.S. now serve up their own takes, with elaborate meals and wine aplenty. From Bruce Kalman at Union serving his California-inspired Italian feast in Pasadena to Jamie Bissonnette and Ken Oringer’s annual gathering at their enoteca in Boston, we’ve found seven feasts you’ll want to make reservations for right now.