What's on the Menu: New Year's Food Traditions
Now that New Year’s has come and gone, let me ask you this: What did you eat as your first meal?
Did you know that New Year’s food has significance? They’re dishes traditionally eaten for good luck and prosperity in the forthcoming year. Back home, we always eat shrimp cocktail and clams on New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day always consists of pork and sauerkraut.
As you all know, I love learning about the different cultural traditions around the world as we all have our own way of representing a common concept. As such, I’d like to share with you some traditional New Year’s food from around the world.
On New Year’s Eve, the people of Spain and some Spanish-speaking countries partake in a rather interesting tradition.
At the stroke of midnight, they eat twelve grapes, one by one, keeping time with the clock as it strikes midnight.
The tradition originated in Spain, and year after year, people gather in Puerta del Sol under the clock tower to welcome the new year together.
Kransekage is a traditional Danish cake tower composed of concentric rings of cake layered atop one another and often drizzled with a sweet icing. The cake is traditionally made from marzipan, often with a bottle of wine or Aquavit in the center.
This alluring wreath cake is not only consumed on New Year’s Eve at midnight, but it’s traditionally served at weddings, birthday parties, and other special occasions in Denmark and Norway.
Herring is in abundance in Poland and parts of Scandinavia, and due to their silver color (representing wealth), many people in those regions eat pickled herring at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. Some eat pickled herring in a cream sauce, while others eat it with onions, allspice, sugar and white vinegar. Scandinavians often include herring in a larger midnight smorgasbord with pickled and smoked fish, meatballs, and pate.
On New Year’s Eve in Japan, it is custom to eat hot soba noodles called Toshikoshi Soba (which translates to “year-crossing noodle”). This tradition dates back to the 13th-14th century, with soba noodles symbolizing strength and resilience, good fortune ahead, breaking free from the past and a fulfilling, peaceful life. Soba noodles are often served in a hot dashi broth and garnished with finely chopped scallions. Tempura, kamaboko fish cakes, or raw eggs can also be added for extra flavor and nutrients.
Oliebollen, or fried oil balls, are doughnut-like dumplings with currants or raisins in them, dusted with powdered sugar. They are traditionally eaten in the Netherlands on New Year’s Eve and at special celebratory fairs. Oliebollen are often served with other traditional Dutch food and champagne on New Year’s Eve, and they are often said to help insulate citizens for a New Year’s Day tradition of swimming in icy waters.
With King Pies, historically, there is a coin or trinket present inside the cake or bread. The pastry is then cut into as many pieces as there are people present at the gathering and the person who receives the piece with the coin or trinket is said to have good luck all year.
Not all of these surprising desserts are consumed for New Year’s, some are made for Christmas and others for Epiphany Day, which is celebrated on January 6th, but all revolve around the same concept.
The tradition of New Year’s cakes and sweet breads spans countless cultures. In Greece, Vasilopita is often eaten at midnight of New Year’s Eve. There are many ways to make Vasilopita, but it is traditionally an orange flavored cake or sweet bread decorated with icing or powdered sugar.
In France, there is the Gateau or Galette des Rois. Often either made from a puff pastry with dense creamy almond paste called frangipane in the middle, or a brioche style cake covered with candied fruit.
In Mexico there is the Rosca de Reyes, which is an orange flavored ring-shaped sweet bread adorned with dried fruits while the Bulgarians often enjoy the Banitsa, which is a pastry made from eggs, yogurt, and white brined cheese between filo pastry.
Pork and Sauerkraut
Pork and Sauerkraut originates from Germany, and today it is a traditional meal consumed in various places of the world.
Pork is said to signify good luck. The pig itself is known to always move forward when looking for food, thus symbolizing progression in the new year. It’s also a heavier animal, signifying wealth and prosperity.
It’s counterpart in this dish, Sauerkraut, comes from cabbage, which is thought to bring good luck due to its spherical shape and color. Sauerkraut is also historically known to hold health benefits, as fermented vegetables were a source of vitamins and nutrients when produce wasn’t as available during the winter. People wish to start their year off with good health and prosperity, and this meal surely fits that bill.
Traditions are what makes holidays grand, and with holiday traditions there is always glorious food in bountiful amounts.
I’m not sure which is more exciting—eating the food itself or understanding the reason as to why we eat the same food year after year.
I guess that’s what makes traditions all the more special.
Regardless of your family tradition, whether you continue an old one or start your own, may this new year bring you all wealth, prosperity, and happiness.