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‘Glasgow is really about the people’: Andi Oliver discovers the secrets of Scottish Christmas dinners and the Slosh

© SYSTEMAndi Oliver's Taste of Christmas.
Andi Oliver's Taste of Christmas.

As pop singer turned TV foodie, Andi Oliver’s prior trips to Scotland either featured rocking gigs and wild after-parties, or fine dining adventures with the best chefs north of the border.

But when the television presenter came north to explore how Scots celebrated the festivities, she was introduced to the unlikely mix of neeps, pilau lamb, ravioli – and a bouncing rendition of the Slosh.

In A Taste Of Christmas With Andi Oliver, the presenter was welcomed to three diverse family gatherings to enjoy Italian, Indian, and traditional turkey Christmas dinners – and admitted she felt like she needed to be rolled back to London afterwards.

Oliver, former singer with the band Rip Rig + Panic alongside Neneh Cherry in the ’80s and mum of former Popworld presenter Miquita Oliver, has become one of the best known food experts on television over the last decade with her explorations of cuisine around the world.

She currently takes charge of BBC2 chef contest, Great British Menu but for her new show, wanted to look at diverse ways of celebrating Christmas – and knew exactly where to start.

Oliver said: “I’ve been talking for a long time about wanting to explore the idea of feasting and the idea of celebration and how different families achieve that and different communities experience that – and it seemed the right time to do it now.

“Societally, it’s a really good time to talk about the things that unite us and are the same. So even if there are different plates of food on the table, the heart of the matter in all of these very different households is that thing of everybody taking time to be together.

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“Glasgow was the place that came up, we all wanted to do first, it has a magnetic pull to it, it’s an enigmatic city.

“People know a lot about Edinburgh and a lot about other places but Glasgow is one of those places that needs its song sung, it needs heralding and a bit of love and care, I think, from outside. It seemed like the perfect place for us to start. People come from all over the world, different generations back and who knows where anybody comes from really. The point is where you live, who you live with and how you treat other people. That’s what’s important.

“It really shows that Glasgow is really about the people, and that community is so strong there, I was so impressed with that.”

Self-confessed Christmas superfan Oliver was thrilled to be invited to enjoy three very different dinners.

The Young family who made a traditional turkey dinner with a modern twist and a dance sesh, the Scottish-Italian Capaldi family who put on a multi-course feast so big it required a half-time nap, and the Scottish-Pakistani Chaudry family whose pilau lamb dish delighted Oliver.

She said: “It felt like everybody is connected to their community and their neighbourhood in such a powerful and important and quite a potent way, I love that about it, it’s great.”

Oliver visited the families in consecutive days, going to specialist delis and shops to source ingredients and find out more about the cookery scene, and then pitching in to help create the feast.

© BBC/Outline Productions
A Taste of Christmas with Andi Oliver

She said: “What a lovely trio, they were just absolutely amazing and I fell in love three days in a row. They were so lovely and kind and welcoming to let me into their homes in that way and to share those intimate family traditions. It’s quite a privilege to do that with people so I was absolutely thrilled.

“I was so exhausted and so full – they had to roll me down to London.

“By the time the Capaldis were finished with me, I was like, ‘I’m gonna have to sleep for an entire day.’ It was like Christmas eating as an Olympic sport.”

London-born Oliver had her personal favourites from each meal.

“With the Capaldis, it was the porchetta (a roast pork dish),” she said. “I’ve always wanted to know how to make it properly home-style like that, it was really lovely.” As Muslims, the Chaudrys don’t celebrate Christmas itself but love the sense of celebration at this time of year and the opportunity to gather their tight-knit family together.

Oliver loved their extensive menu: “With the lamb pilau and about 700 different dishes on the table, it was insane and just absolutely beautiful.

“There was a moment when they made a broth and cooked the lamb separately, and then drank some of the broth before they cooked it and it’s the most heart-warming, soul-mending, healing thing I think I’ve ever had.”

Visiting the Young family, Oliver was treated to dad Ron’s gourmet cooked turkey main course – as well as the family dance-a-long afterwards which she was keen to take part in.

She admitted: “I’d never even heard of the Slosh before – but it’s a fairly simple dance, it’s not like the quick step on Strictly or something like that.

© BBC/Outline Productions/Julian B
Andi Oliver experiences a Scottish Christmas.

“It was so much fun, they are such lovely people and just absolutely gorgeous. We were cracking up, brilliant, such joy to be with them. At black weddings we do the Electric Slide, and it’s very similar to the Slosh, two steps to the right, knee up, two steps to the left, knee up, a bit of a butt shake and then turn. People just love a line dance, don’t they? Dancing is good for the soul.”

Music and dancing will also form a huge part of Oliver’s own Christmas celebrations.

While her festive gatherings usually draw a large crowd, she’ll have smaller numbers this year for safety but still expects to have a great time.

She’s looking forward to her break after a busy period where she has been filming the next series of Great British Menu and also making a documentary with daughter Miquita in Antigua and Barbuda, where her grandmother’s recipe for Pepper Pot (a one-pan meat and vegetable stew delight) originates. “My Christmas is actually quite a lot of people, but this will be much, much smaller,” she said.

“It’s usually a lot of people and gets quite raucous and goes in waves – everyone then falls over and has a little sleep and then get up and have a few more drinks and get more food and more music. It goes on for several days – we like to spread it out.

“I am Christmas-obsessed. I really love the time we get to hang out together eating beautiful food with lovely people, watching movies and listening to great tunes – what’s not to like?”

A Taste Of Christmas With Andi Oliver, BBC2, Tuesday 9pm