11:54 | 24/12/2021 Print
New Year's Eve may focus on partying and popping the bubbly, but New Year's Day is all about spending time with family to feast on foods that'll bring good luck. Many countries have traditions where they eat certain New Year's Day foods to start the year off right.
If you've ever wondered why people devour particular foods on January 1, prepare to get some answers.
A major New Year's food tradition in the American South, Hoppin' John is a dish of pork-flavored field peas or black-eyed peas (symbolizing coins) and rice, frequently served with collards or other cooked greens (as they're the color of money) and cornbread (the color of gold). The dish is said to bring good luck in the new year.
Different folklore traces the history and the name of this meal, but the current dish has its roots in African and West Indian traditions and was most likely brought over by slaves to North America. A recipe for Hoppin' John appears as early as 1847 in Sarah Rutledge's "The Carolina Housewife" and has been reinterpreted over the centuries by home and professional chefs.
In countries like China and Japan, long noodles signify longevity. It seems like everyone's searching for a secret to living longer, so maybe all we need to do is eat some long noodles with our New Year's Day foods. Apparently, the longer the noodle, the longer the life you'll have. One catch: You can't break the noodle before it's fully in your mouth.
In Chinese, "fish" (鱼 Yú /yoo/) sounds like 'surplus'. Fish is a traditional Chinese New Year dish on the Chinese New Year dinner menu. Chinese people always like to have a surplus at the end of the year, because they think if they have managed to save something at the end of the year, then they can make more in the next year.
Eating two fish, one on New Year's Eve and one on New Year's Day, (if written in a certain way) sounds like a wish for a surplus year-after-year. If only one catfish is eaten, eating the upper part of the fish on New Year's Eve and the remainder on the first day of the new year can be spoken with the same homophonic meaning.
In Spain, they bring in the new year with 12 grapes. The custom began at the turn of the 20th century and was purportedly thought up by grape producers in the southern part of the country with a bumper crop. Since then, the tradition has spread to many Spanish-speaking nations.
Those out in the square and those watching at home partake in an unusual annual tradition: At the stroke of midnight, they eat one grape for every toll of the clock bell. Some even prep their grapes -- peeling and seeding them -- to make sure they will be as efficient as possible when midnight comes.
In Germany, Ireland, and parts of the United States, cabbage is associated with luck and fortune since its green hue resembles money. Purple cabbage, however, is just for show. Right alongside the pork is often sauerkraut or some form of cabbage. This tradition also hails from Germany and Eastern Europe, and is, again, rooted in simple logistics: A late fall harvest coupled with a six-to-eight-week fermenting process means that sauerkraut is just about ready when New Year’s rolls around. But cabbage on New Year’s is also steeped in symbolism—the strands of cabbage in sauerkraut or coleslaw can symbolize long life, while cabbage can also symbolize money. For a sophisticated twist, try this sauerkraut made with caraway.
With a history of more than 1,800 years, dumpling (饺子 Jiǎozi /jyaoww-dzrr/) is a classic lucky food for new year, and a traditional dish eaten on Chinese New Year's Eve, widely popular in China, especially in North China.
Chinese dumplings can be made to look like Chinese silver ingots (which are not bars, but boat-shaped, oval, and turned up at the two ends). Legend has it that the more dumplings you eat during the New Year celebrations, the more money you can make in the New Year.
Down south, people eat cornbread because its color symbolizes gold. I'm a fan of all bread, so if eating cornbread means I could run into some gold later in the year, count me in. Mix and match a few different New Year’s Eve food traditions with black-eyed peas, greens, and cornbread to make a fortune this year. As the Southern saying goes, “peas for pennies, greens for dollars, and cornbread for gold".
Yaksik means medicinal food. One of the key ingredients used is honey and honey was considered a medicine in the old days in Korea.
Yaksik is moderately sweet and has a sticky texture. Nonetheless, it’s a popular Korean dessert often served during festive occasions (e.g. new year’s day, weddings, and 60th birthday).
Pork, once reserved for the elite, symbolizes wealth and prosperity. Pork is a classic New Year's Day food as it represents prosperity and progress. Pigs are known to be plump, so eating pork is supposed to make someone chunky, not with weight gain, but cash. Pork can also bring progress since pigs "root forward" when they eat. Aim high this year by filling up with a hearty pork dinner on January 1st.
Ozouni お雑煮 is a Japanese New Year mochi soup. It is a traditional soup that Japanese people eat on New year’s Day. Zouni (雑煮) often referred to as Ozouni(with the honorific “o”) is a Japanese New Year soup containing mochi(rice cakes) and is often associated with the tradition of osechi ceremonial foods. As mochi is stretchable and can be pulled long, it represents longevity. Local produce is added to pray for a bountiful harvest in the new year. Chicken (Tori in Japanese, but pronounced ‘natori’), is used to signify getting ahead of others and achieving success.
Collard greens are a late crop mostly grown in the south, so they’re easy to find in the colder months. From the coastal American South to Europe, people eat green leafy veggies—including kale, collards, and cabbage—on New Year's Day because of their color and appearance, which resembles paper cash. Belief has it, the more you eat, the more prosperous you'll be and the healthier, too.
Tamales get special attention in Mexico during the holiday season. Tamales, corn dough stuffed with meat, cheese, and other delicious additions and wrapped in a banana leaf or a corn husk, make appearances at pretty much every special occasion in Mexico. But the holiday season is an especially favored time for the food.
In many families, groups of women gather together to make hundreds of the little packets -- with each person in charge of one aspect of the cooking process -- to hand out to friends, family, and neighbors. On New Year's, it's often served with menudo, a tripe and hominy soup that is famously good for hangovers.
Eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day is a time-honored tradition. There are a few different reasons why they’re associated with luck on New Year’s Day. One theory anchors the tradition in the Civil War, when Union soldiers raided the Confederate army’s food supply, leaving behind only this bean. Another is anchored in African American history, where newly-freed slaves celebrated the January 1863 Emancipation Proclamation with dishes made of black-eyed peas—one of the few foods available to slaves. But other theories date the legume's lucky reputation all the way back to Ancient Egypt, suggesting that eating the pea—a vegetable readily available to even the poorest slaves—was a way to show humility to the gods.
Spring rolls (春卷 Chūnjuǎn /chwnn- jwen/) get their name because they are traditionally eaten during the Spring Festival. It is a Chinese New Year dish especially popular in East China: Jiangxi, Jiangsu, Shanghai, Fujian, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, etc.
Spring rolls are a Cantonese dim sum dish of cylindrical-shaped rolls filled with vegetables, meat, or something sweet. Fillings are wrapped in thin dough wrappers, then fried, when the spring rolls are given their golden-yellow color.
Though the number of pieces varies by region, eating any round fruit is a common New Year's tradition. In the Philippines, the custom calls for 13, considered a lucky number; in Europe and the U.S., it calls for 12, which represents the months in a year. In both cases, their shape, which looks like a coin, and their sweetness are the common denominators. In Mexico, grapes are eaten at midnight to symbolize the year ahead, and throughout the world, pomegranates, a symbol of fertility and birth, are eaten at the new year. A pomegranate-based cocktail is a sophisticated way to start the New Year on the right foot.
The tradition of a New Year's cake is one that spans countless cultures. The Greeks have the Vasilopita, the French the gateau or galette des rois. Mexicans have the Rosca de Reyes and Bulgarians enjoy the banitsa.
Most of the cakes are consumed at midnight on New Year's Eve -- though some cultures cut their cake on Christmas or the Epiphany, January 6 -- and include a hidden gold coin or figure, which symbolizes a prosperous year for whoever finds it in their slice.
Sweet rice ball (汤圆 Tāngyuán /tung-ywen/) is the main food for China's Lantern Festival, however, in south China, people eat them throughout the Spring Festival. The pronunciation and round shape of tangyuan are associated with reunion and being together. That's why they are favored by the Chinese during the New Year celebrations.
Thought to resemble coins, lentils are eaten throughout Italy on New Year's Day to bring good fortune in the year ahead. Italians eat lentils on New Year's because they represent luck and prosperity due to their similar appearance to coins. If you want to find a treasure chest of gold next year, try eating some lentils to help you find the "X" on your treasure map.
Circular foods like donuts and bagels represent the year coming full circle. This makes sense because you have to end one year before starting another. If you want a final ending to this year, try eating a donut before your New Year's celebrations.
In the Netherlands, fried oil balls, or oliebollen, are sold by street carts and are traditionally consumed on New Year's Eve and at special celebratory fairs. They are doughnut-like dumplings, made by dropping a scoop of dough spiked with currants or raisins into a deep fryer and then dusted with powdered sugar.
In Amsterdam, be on the lookout for Oliebollenkraams, little temporary shacks or trailers on the street selling packets of hot fried oliebollen.
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