I still remember the first time I ever tasted a candy cane. I was about five and a great aunt who was in town for the holidays had, much to our great excitement, brought us a bag of the peppermint sweets from America.
The stripy candies were hung on the tree, wrapped tightly in clingfilm, and we waited for what seemed like an eternity to eat them on Christmas day. They were magical - belonging to the land of Christmas story books, cartoons and snowy Christmas films from a land far, far away.
Because candy canes weren't something you would ever come across at Christmas time in Goa when I was little. No gingerbread houses, mince pies or sugar plums either.
What you would find were trays of dodol, cocada, perad, doce, neureos, bebinca, cashewnut marzipan and my all-time favourite, kulkuls - a typically Goan selection of sweets, most of which were made only in December, so you had to wait an entire year to get a taste of them again.
Everyone made a significant quantity of each different kind of sweet, enough to have an ongoing supply of them to serve anyone who dropped in during the holiday season and plenty more to pile into boxes or trays lined with flowery paper doilies to send across to all the neighbours on Christmas day. Christmas Eve to me still smells and tastes of sugary sweets being rapidly piled into boxes, labelled with "Seasons Greetings" and tied with big fat bows and - a uniquely Goan problem - balanced precariously on bowls placed in trays of water until delivery, to make sure the ants didn't get to them before our neighbours did!
Kulkuls are a favourite not just because they are the ultimate Christmas treat - light enough to be perfect for breakfast, tea or after dinner - but because of the evenings I'd spend as a kid watching my granny, mum and aunts make the little fried sweets in the run up to Christmas.
The sweet cookie-like dough was rolled out across the dining table and cut into little squares that everyone would then shape into little shells (well, the adults would make shell shapes while the kids would make something that looked vaguely like shells). The well-formed kulkuls were deep fried, sugar-dusted and stored in large tins for guests while the badly-rolled versions were eaten hot from the pan almost immediately by us - there's nothing quite like sweet lumps of fried dough to get you in the Christmas mood.
Lucky for me, my parents have brought a load of kulkuls to Dubai - more than enough to see me through the holiday season. It's definitely beginning to taste like Christmas! Now all we need are groups of tuneless carolers to come a-singing at our door and it will be just like being back home :)
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