December 21, 2012 at 10:57 AM

Food Culture

Ringing in the New Year with Food from Around the World

"So whatever your plans for this New Year's Eve, why not include a midnight meal featuring some of these luck-inducing ingredients..."

By Lynn Cline

Gourmet Girl

Lynn Cline is a former food editor and the author of two books – Romantic Days and Nights in Santa Fe and Literary Pilgrims: The Santa Fe and Taos Writers' Colonies, 1915-1950. She also loves to cook, when not dining out.

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People around the world ring in the New Year with a traditional feast that includes foods symbolizing good fortune, wealth, love and more. From Scotland to Spain, Paris, Poland and American Pennsylvania Dutch communities, it's customary to sit down to a meal at midnight on New Year's Eve full of ingredients that represent a fruitful harvest, a bountiful year, long life, abundance, fertility, money and marriage.

In New Mexico, posole is traditionally served on New Year's Eve to bring luck in the coming year, while the midnight meal in Pennsylvania Dutch country features pork and sauerkraut for good fortune.

Pork is served at many of the world's tables on New Year's Eve. Pigs represent progress, because they as they root on the ground, they move themselves forward. In Hungary, Austria, Cuba, Portugal and Spain, roast suckling pig is served on New Year's Eve. In Italy, revelers eat sausage and green lentils after midnight and in Germany, the feast includes roast pork and sausages. In America, Southerners often ham or ham hocks and in Pennsylvania and the Midwest, pork ribs and kielbasa are served with sauerkraut and potatoes.

In Spain, celebrants eat a dozen grapes at midnight on New Year's Eve, one grape for every chime of the clock and month of the year. If your third grape is sour, for example, then March will be a sour month. The tradition has spread to Venezuela, Portugal, Mexico Ecuador and Peru. In Turkey and other Mediterranean countries, pomegranates are eaten because they symbolize abundance and fertility.

Legumas are a traditional New Year's food because they are round and resemble coins. In the American South, black-eyed peas are prepared for New Year's Eve in a regional dish known as hoppin' john. The tradition dates to the Civil War, when residents of Vicksburg, Mississippi ran out of food while they were being attacked. Fortunately, they found a cache of black-eyed peas, and the legume has been deemed lucky ever since.

People around the world eat fish on New Year's Eve, because they symbolize abundance, as they swim in school. Fish produce numerous eggs in a single cycle, so they also represent fertility. And because they swim forward, many cultures associate them with moving into the New Year.

In Germany, Poland and areas of Scandinavia, pickled herring is eaten when the clock chimes midnight, as the fish symbolizes a bountiful catch. In Germany, it's customary to serve herring at midnight and the Swedes include salmon, crab, oysters, shrimp, anchovies and other seafood in their New Year's smorgasbord. The Danes dine on boiled cod and the Chinese on whole fish, with head and tail, which symbolizes a prosperous beginning and ending for the coming year. The Japanese eat herring roe for fertility, shrimp for long life and dried sardines for a good harvest because sardines once fertilized rice fields.

Cooked greens are another staple of many New Year's Eve feasts, as the green leaves resemble folded money, symbolizing wealth. In the Southern U.S., collard greens symbolize money. In Germany, the dish is sauerkraut, and in Denmark kale, stewed and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. In Slovakia and Croatia, they eat minced meat in cabbage leaves. Around the world, it is thought that the more greens you eat on New Year's Eve, the greater your fortune will be in the coming year.

In Asia, soba noodles represent long life, and in Japan, they are served in Buddhist temples at midnight on New Year's Eve.

For dessert, Italians serve chiacchiere, balls of pasta dough that are fried and rolled in powdered sugar. Donuts are popular in Hungary, Poland, the Netherlands and Holland, where they are called ollie bollen, puffed pastries stuffed with apples, currants and raisins. In Mexico, the New Year's Feast ends with rosca de reyes, ring-shaped cakes studded with candied fruit and trinkets baked inside that indicate good luck in the coming year to those who find them.

The Greeks serve vasilopita, round cakes baked with a coin inside. The Swedes and Norwegians hide an almond in rice pudding, which brings the one who finds it good fortune in the New Year.

According to a Scottish tradition known as "first footing," the first person to enter a home in the New Year symbolizes the kind of year the residents will have. The "first footer" often brings oat cakes, shortbread and black bun, a fruit cake, to ensure there will be plenty of food in the coming year.

In Germany, those eating a lucky meal at midnight leave some food on their plates to guarantee that their pantries will be stocked for the coming year.

Eating lobster or chicken on New Year's Eve can bring bad luck.. That's because lobsters move backwards, and could thereby cause setbacks in the coming year. Chickens scratch backwards, which could lead to regret or fixation on the past. Many people believe that dining on any winged fowl on New Year's Eve causes good luck to fly away.

So whatever your plans for this New Year's Eve, why not include a midnight meal featuring some of these luck-inducing ingredients. It's a longstanding ritual that ensures good fortune for the year to come!

New Year's Black-Eyed Peas (Serves 8)

From AllRecipes.com

1 pound dry black-eyed peas

2 cups ham, cooked and chopped

Salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

½ teaspoon garlic powder

2 yellow onions, peeled and diced

1 14.5-ounce can whole tomatoes

Place peas in large pot. Fill pot ¾ full with water, stir in ham and onions and add salt, pepper and garlic powder. Blend tomatoes in food processor or blender until tomatoes are liquefied, and add to pot. Bring mixture to a boil, cover pot and simmer on low heat for 2 ½ to 3 hours, until peas turn tender.

Hoppin' John (Serves 4)

From Southern Living Magazine

1 cup sweet onion, peeled and diced

2 tablespoons bacon drippings

1 8.5 ounce package jasmine rice, cooked

2 cups cooked black-eyed peas, drained

Salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Saute onion in bacon drippings in large skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes, or until golden. Stir in rice and black-eyed peas and cook, gently stirring, for 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Add salt and pepper.

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