It's nearly New Year's Eve, the day we say goodbye to one year and look ahead to the next. I know I'm not alone in being ready to put this particular year in the rear view mirror, but it is the looking ahead part that I want to focus on here. Every culture has its own traditions when it comes to celebrating the start of a new year, and, not surprisingly, many of those traditions involve food. Though there are countless from which to choose, here are the New Year's food traditions that we'll be incorporating this year.
12 Lucky Grapes
For many, the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve calls for the popping of champagne corks or a kiss. In Spain, however, tradition calls for eating 12 grapes at midnight - one for each stroke of the clock - to bring good luck in the new year. Pro tip: Find the smallest grapes you can because this is much harder than you think it's going to be. ;-)
Pomegranates and Other Round Fruit
A symbol worldwide of abundance and fertility, pomegranates are eaten on New Year's to bring luck, especially to those seeking to expand their families. The same is true of fruit in general in the Filipino culture, where they eat twelve round fruits on New Year's Eve - one for each month of the new year. This year, I'm making this Scallop Crudo on New Year's Eve, which incorporates pomegranates and mangoes. Oh, and we'll certainly be adding some pomegranate seeds to our champagne for a festive (and lucky) touch.
A New Year's staple in the Southern United States, Hoppin' John is usually a mix of black eyed peas, greens, pork, and rice and/or cornbread. The origin stories of Hoppin' John vary, but the one that seems to best explain its place as a good luck dish says that eating it on New Year's Day will bring luck and, more specifically, wealth in the new year because the black eyed peas resemble coins, the greens represent dollars, and the cornbread represents gold. For years, I served Hoppin' John Soup on New Year's Day in my restaurants, explaining to customers the tradition and wishing them luck in the new year. This year I'm changing it up a bit and riffing on this recipe for Hoppin' John Cakes with Tomato-Jalapeno Gravy for a fun brunch. I'll be topping my cakes with soft-cooked eggs and serving them alongside a simple salad with a bacon vinaigrette and accompanying them with bottomless bellinis and a Bloody Mary bar complete with homemade pickled vegetables. Dry January doesn't start until January 2nd anyway, right??
In Japanese culture, long, thin soba noodles symbolize a long, healthy life, and the tradition of eating them to celebrate a new year goes back to the 13th or 14th century. The key, however, is eating the noodles without breaking them, so this year we'll be slurping up soba noodles in this Spicy Pork and Mustard Greens Soup, which I'll serve for dinner on New Year's Day.
Probably due to its rich, delicious fattiness, pork is considered the world over to be a symbol of wealth and prosperity and is incorporated into New Year's dishes across cultures. As I mentioned above, I'll be incorporating pork into our New Year's Day dinner menu.
Fish, symbolic of long life and bounty, is found on New Year's menus worldwide, but especially in Scandanavian cultures, where pickled herring is a staple on New Year's Eve smorgasbords. Despite apparently having a solid amount of Northern European blood in my veins (according to both Ancestry and 23 and Me), pickled herring isn't my jam. I do, however, love boquerones, which are white anchovies cured in vinegar and herbs. I'm going to make a version of this Sliced Baguette with Anchovy Butter and Radishes, but I'll use some of my fresh sourdough bread and boquerones instead of a standard baguette and oil-packed anchovies.
There are so many more New Year's food traditions out there, from tamales to lentils to king cakes and more. However you celebrate and whatever you eat, may the new year bring you joy, luck, health, and happiness. Cheers, and I'll see you next year!!