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Holidays from home: advice from Foxtons expats

By Sophia Wood-Burgess

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On the 25th of November, it was Thanksgiving in the United States. Across the pond, families and loved ones gathered together to celebrate what they were thankful for. Over here, our US team members tried their hands at cornbread casserole and pumpkin pie. It sparked a conversation on holidays from different countries in our HQ that continued on through last Tuesday, where we discussed the proper way to celebrate St Andrews Day (haggis for dinner) over Tunnock’s tea cakes. It’s now seeping into our discussion of the upcoming Christmas festivities.

These conversations start because Foxtons have a highly diverse staff, including team members from all over the world. We believe the only way to properly attend the needs and values of all the communities in London is to recruit and retain an equally diverse workforce. The thing is, we’re also a team full of local London experts, so we had to ask – where do Foxtons expats suggest to go in London to celebrate holidays from home?

The States give thanks

For Thanksgiving, some local experts jumped in with great advice, like Lauren, one of our sales negotiators, who said, ‘I love pumpkin pie, and know that Hummingbird Bakery do an amazing one at Thanksgiving, they actually do 2 types! Their pies are i-n-c-r-e-d-i-b-l-e!’ Gabriella, the Sales Manager at Sloane Square, mentioned Partridges – a glorious food market just opposite the Foxtons Sloane Square office, which includes plenty authentic American treats.

Get connected at a South African Braai

Jethro, a Foxtons Sales Negotiators, is from a small town outside Durban, in South Africa. South Africa is an incredibly diverse country, but one thing that bridges all divides is a braai (barbeque). So, Jethro’s favourite holiday is ‘Braai Day/Heritage Day.’ He says, ‘I definitely miss the social culture of a Braai, with beer and lots of red meat over the fire. It is a time of coming together and celebrating diverse cultures around a common pastime.’ Stephen, the Divisional Manager at Chiswick Park, agrees, ‘Us Saffas like to Braai all year round – sunshine, rain or snow, but we always make a plan on 24th September for Heritage Day / National Braai Day.’

Craving a Braai? Stephen advises, ‘There are a number of South African Shops all around London where you can pick up Boerewors, “Farmers Sausage” and other South African meats/snacks, like St Marcus, Snoggys, The Savanna and Limpopo Biltong.’ Jethro suggests, ‘There are a few South African pubs, like Park Tavern SW18, in South West London that do the traditions cuts of meat and our traditional sausage Boerewors.’

Christmas greetings from Portugal

Bruna, one of our office coordinators, has been living in London for 3 years. Because of the pandemic, she’s spent the last two Christmases in London. ‘I feel like the Christmas Eve back home is way different than here – I remember how my mom and grandma spend the whole 24th cooking for the entire family and how we make a day out of it, having the whole family involved in the preparation of the Christmas Eve meal.’

So, how has Bruna brought a bit of Portugal into her London Christmas? ‘We have made it a tradition to look for Portuguese food around London, to make sure we get a taste from home in our table every year. We actually found very authentic food in little food markets in Stockwell and that’s usually where we get ready for the big meal of the year. After we found the perfect food, we spend the day cooking at home with our closest friends and in long conference calls with our families back home.’

Cuisine is the pride of Pakistan

Afia, a Customer Marketing Executive, is celebrating her first Christmas living in London, and looking for traditional Christmas cake with carols in the background to make her Christmas celebration feel like home. She’s heard the Royal Albert Hall does a nice carol programme, but is on the look out for traditional Pakistani Christmas celebrations.

She does have a lot of restaurant suggestions for a taste of home. Food, she explains, is a hugely important part of Pakistani culture that she misses. She suggests ‘Al-Kareem sweets and bakers in Manor Park for a traditional ‘Halwa puri’ breakfast. Aladin Kebabish on Hendon Broadway does great Nihari, Paya and Haleem. For traditional street food, Chaiwala, which I tried in Reading but is all over London, they do wonderful bun kebabs, halwa puri, masala omelette and kebab paratha rolls.’

Merry Macedonian Christmas

Dobrinka moved to the UK from Macedonia almost 11 years ago. ‘We are not a large community here, but still get together for holidays.’

When asked what holiday she misses, Dobrinka says, ‘As we are Orthodox (one of the few left celebrating holidays by the old calendar, together with Serbia and Russia), We celebrate Christmas on 7th January and our Christmas Eve falls on 6th January. For Christmas Eve dinner we prepare plain food that does not include any meat, dairy or oil. Also we make a bread and put one coin inside, before dinner the bread is cut and given to everyone in the family. It is believed that whoever gets the coin will be lucky and blessed for the next year.’ Dobrinka has found some Orthodox churches she can suggest, the Serbian Orthodox Church of St Sava London, and the London Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.

Christmas, for Dobrinka, is all about being with family, ‘We do not leave our homes on Christmas eve, everyone stays at home with family. The other thing that is different is we don’t do presents (present are given on New Year’s Day) for Christmas and we never had, Christmas is about family.’ Dobrinka says, ‘There is a saying back home: No matter where you are, be home before Christmas.’ When Dobrinka gets together with her community for celebrations, there are a few Serbian and Macedonian restaurants in West London she likes to visit, like The Corner Terrace and Caffe Bonego.

The beauty of Chinese festivals

Freya is Head of Asia-Pacific on our Asia-Pacific and China Desk, a team of first- and second-generation Chinese immigrants who relocated to the UK and provide a premium service to help international clients achieve their property aspirations in London, ‘from sourcing, purchasing and selling of properties, to formulating bespoke lettings strategies, all with up-to-the-minute legal, financial and regulatory insight, supported by a team of select partners.’

Freya says, ‘There are so many holidays and festivals in China, and we do miss them a lot.’ A big part of Chinese holidays, to Freya, is that they revolve around family, and feature a lot of family activities.

Freya listed holidays and festivals like:

  • Chinese New Year
  • The Lantern Festival – 15th day of Month 1 on the Lunar Calendar
  • Dragon Boat Festival
  • Chinese Valentine’s Day, the Double Seven Festival – 7th day of Month 7 on the Lunar Calendar
  • Mid-Autumn Festival
  • The Winter Solstice – 21/22 December

‘For the Mid-Autumn Festival,’ Freya describes, ‘families gather to celebrate the harvest and have mooncake. And for Winter Solstice, Northern Chinese families make dumplings and Southern Chinese families make Tang Yuan.’

Jingyuan, who works in Lettings & Sales Support on the Asia-Pacific and China Desk, gives some suggestions for what people can do to celebrate Chinese New Year in London. She's heard talk about the celebration across the West End. It is the biggest Chinese New Year celebration outside of Asia, with stage performances, lion and dragon dances, food stalls, music shows, and a parade. It has a lot of traditional shows that are great for parents with children and older generations looking into customary expressions of Chinese culture.

However, for young people and international students celebrating Chinese New Year, she recalls inviting friends over to make a big meal with plenty of dumplings, calling family back home to share best wishes, and playing games like poker and mahjong. There's a lot of places to go to get ingredients, like Chinatown's plentiful supermarkets. There's also Covent Garden Fishmongers and several fruit and veg supermarkets around the Stratford area, like New Spitalfields Market and Queens Market. She also says many international students take this unique opportunity afforded by studying in London to learn how to make different foods with friends from other countries, and when they call their parents, they share the dishes they've learned, 'parents are always proud of that - making international dishes.'

There are many Chinese and Asia Pacific holiday celebrations in London, and many restaurants and markets where you can find a taste of home. That’s because international interest in living in London is high, as our China Desk team can attest, they help international buyers fulfil their dreams of London life every day. If you’re interested, get in touch.

What we bring to London

Something kept cropping up throughout these conversations; the key to an authentic celebration, it seems, is the friends and family we're missing. But if you are a little homesick, London is the perfect place for it. We are in a truly global city. People from all over the world love life in London, bringing in the incredible abundance of cultures, customs and communities that make the Capital so unique and so exciting. Discovering where to find the perfect Boerewors, Nihari or pumpkin pie in London echoes the magic of celebrating holidays with our loved ones, bringing home a little closer when we need it.

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