Countries have different food customs to ring in new year

Leader Photo by Greg Mellis There’s nothing like a bowl of Hoppin’ John to ring in your new year. It might even bring you a little luck.

Nearly every culture in the world has customs built around the turning of the calendar to the new year. Many of the traditions revolve around the food each culture deems to bring good luck and prosperity for the upcoming year.

In the far east, many Asian countries have superstitions built around the noodle. Chinese and Japanese menus feature Long Life Noodles that are carefully stir-fried to avoid any breaking of the long noodles, signifying longevity.

Greece and Turkey share a tradition that begins with the pomegranate. The bright red color signifies the heart, life and fertility. The medicinal benefits are part of the good health wishes for the new year, and the many seeds represent prosperity.

Eating round fruits is a common New Year’s Eve practice in many parts of the world. In the Philippines, people eat a lucky 13 pieces of round fruit before midnight. In the United States the tradition is 12 pieces of round fruit, one for each month of the passing year. Mexican people eat 12 grapes in the first 12 minutes of the new year. The round fruit is supposed to look like coins and represents the hope for prosperity.

All over the southeastern United States, people eat greens, cornbread and black eyed peas on New Year’s day. Whether it’s collard, mustard, or turnip greens, cabbage or kale, the green color resembles paper cash. The belief is that the more you eat, the more prosperity you will enjoy. The cornbread is said to resemble gold, and some folks add corn kernels to simulate gold nuggets. Black eyed peas with their penny-like appearance are served in a southern classic called Hoppin John.

In Scandinavia, Germany and Poland, it is considered good luck to eat herring at the stroke of midnight. The silver color resembles coins, indicating a prosperous new year.

In Spain, Portugal and other Central European countries, they include pork on their New Year’s menus. Fat hogs represent wealth, and the pig never goes backwards, even when rooting for food. Always forward.

Lentils are the food of choice for the Italians. The round coin-like shape and the fact that the lentils swell up when cooked symbolizes growing wealth. Some Italians even put dry lentils in their purse or backpack to carry year-round.

One of the more risky traditions is from Colombia. On New Year’s Eve, they throw three potatoes under the bed. One is peeled, one half-peeled, and one unpeeled. They reach under the bed without looking and pull out a potato. If you get the peeled potato, you will be broke in the new year. If you get the half-peeled potato, there will be some financial difficulties, and if you pick the unpeeled one, you will experience prosperity.

The people of the Czech Republic never allow meat or fish on New Year’s Day. Since animals have legs, they believe the good luck can jump out of the pan, and since the fish have fins, the good luck can swim away. The Czechs often eat a traditional pea soup to celebrate New Year’s Day.

Thank you so much for your comments and messages over the past year. They are much appreciated. Whatever your “Culinary Origins” are, may you have a happy and healthy new year.

Chef Thomas Jonet has been involved in the food industry in various capacities for over 30 years. His column runs monthly in Wolf River Media publications. He can be contacted at