Saturday, January 1, 2011

Traditional New Year's Dishes

We've got sardines, yeah, and pork and beans...

We all know the tradition of celebrating the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Day with a glass of Champagne, but are you familiar with the many foods around the world thought to bring good luck for the New Year?  Whether you believe in luck, or you just want to have a fun tradition for New Year’s Day, I’ve compiled some of the most interesting New Year practices here for your enjoyment!
“Lucky Foods”
In 1909, grape farmers in the Alicante region of Spain thought up this brilliant custom to help reduce the grape surplus... soon, it caught on and spread to Spanish colonies through out the world, including Portugal, Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico, Ecuador, and Peru.  Spain’s New Year’s party people consume 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight - one for each stroke of the clock, and one for each month of the New Year.  Peruvians add one more grape for good measure!  The kicker is, all 12 grapes must be gone before the last stroke of the clock.  
Cooked Greens
Different countries around the world share the tradition of eating cooked greens - collard greens, cabbage, kale, chard, etc. - because it looks like folded money, and signifies the hope of securing economic good fortune.
In many Asian cultures, long noodles are eaten on New Year’s Day to bring long life.  There is one caveat:  you cannot break the noodle before it’s all in your mouth!  Good luck with that one!
Beans, peas, lentils, etc. are also symbolic of money.  In Brazil, the first meal of the year is usually lentil soup or lentils and rice.  Japanese revelers eat sweet black beans.  Germans include pork with their legumes, because pork has its own lucky associations.  Here is the US, particularly in the South, honeyed ham and black eyed peas are served.
The luck attributed to consuming pork during the first meal(s) of the New Year is based on the qualities of the pig - the animal pushes forward, rooting with his nose into the ground.  To the pork eater, the idea is to gain a bit of the pig’s ingenuity and determination - to spend the next year in constant forward motion.  Thanks to it’s high fat content, pork also exemplifies wealth and prosperity in Italy and the United States.
Honored for it’s easy preservation before the age of refrigeration, fish has been a New Year’s Day staple for Mediterranean Countries, North Africa and the Caribbean.  The Japanese have their own reasons for munching on fish on January 1st:  herring roe is thought to bring fertility, shrimp long life, and dried sardines good harvest.
Special emphasis is placed on round or ring shaped cakes because they imply coming full circle, or completing a year’s cycle.  (Fruit cake anyone?)  In certain cultures, it’s customary to hide a special trinket or coin inside the cake - the lucky recipient of this trinket is thought to have good luck in the New Year.  In Scotland, the “first footer” (the first person to enter someone’s home in the New Year) it’s customary brings baked goods to the home’s owner, to ensure he or she always has food for their household.
“Unlucky Foods”
Where there is good luck, there must necessarily be bad luck.  Avoid these unlucky foods today to clinch your year is Divaesque:
Lobster - it’s thought because lobster travels backwards consuming it on New Year’s Day could lead to set backs in the next 12 months.  Yikes!
Chicken - they scratch backward, and eating this unlucky food is believed to cause regret or dwelling in the past.
Any winged fowl - be careful of dining on these, because your good luck may just up and fly away!