In Good Taste: New Year Food Traditions

Published 12:00 pm Tuesday, June 23, 2015

By Carol Lynn Jackson
Life in Our Foothills, January 2015

The Chinese don’t celebrate their New Year until January 23,, but, just like in the American tradition, when they do, it is an all-out food and beverage celebration!

Just as in the Southern tradition of good luck foods for your New Year’s Day and month’s meals, many countries around the world also have designated food symbols for good karma, health and wealth, and other prosperity insurances related to heritage-based ingredients. For instance, the classic Asian noodle bowl with its long noodles is a sign of good luck to come.

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In Brazil, little lentils represent and are traditionally served during the first meal of the year.  Quick and easy lentil-packed soups are adored both for their nutritional, hearty value and warmth in winter as well their whispers of good karma in simplicity.

Black-eyed peas have been considered lucky in the South since the Civil War. Legend has it the legume saved a starving Mississippi town with its protein-packed staying power.

Wishing for a little more money this year? Then collard greens are the perfect pairing for your black-eyed peas. Southerners consider the hearty greens good luck for their resemblance to folded money, not to mention the good health they promote as they are highly rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Germans and Swedes place their luck in leafy cabbage. The seasonal green has many possibilities from soups to sides. Many recipes call for cabbage in turkey or chicken soup but no, no, no on New Year’s. You don’t want luck to fly away!

In the southern parts of America, pork is a popular meat because of the pig’s association with wealth, plumpness and forward thinking. The wealth is associated with the pig because of its consumable qualities from snout to tail. The forward thinking association relates to pigs digging forward with their snouts. Many agree that pork roasts, loins, and BBQ serve up luck in tasty style.

If pork isn’t popular amongst your friends or family, celebrate the prosperous pig in the form of a glazed ham topped with golden raisins. Then, your raisins are on hand to celebrate like the Spanish and Portuguese. They believe that by eating 12 grapes or raisins in the time it takes the clock to strike 12 times at midnight, good luck will come in the upcoming year.

Salmon is typically served in America’s Northwest for New Year’s, and, like pigs, the swimmer symbolizes luck. Some say it’s because salmon swim upstream; others say it’s due to their abundance when they travel in schools.

Ring cakes are New Year’s classics because their circular shape signifies the completion of the year that is ending and the one just beginning. Many cultures, like the Greeks who bake the Vasilopita (or St. Basil’s cake), put a small trinket or coin in the cake when it bakes with the belief that whoever gets the lucky slice will have good fortune all year long.

Traditional Irish New Year food customs have the Oiche na Coda Moire – The Night of the Big Portion. This is the belief that a big supper on New Year’s Eve ensures full and plenty for the year to come.

But if southern cooking is where your New Year’s feast and forward meals are heading, I highly recommend using one of those Christmas gift cards you received and purchase one of many southern heritage cookbooks on the market at your local bookstore. Often they include recipes from cooks who know how to grow their own ingredients, utilizing indigenous crops from days gone by.

Eat for luck, eat for health, eat for local flavor and community development. Happy New Year!  Here’s to getting all of our meals off to the best year possible.