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Food for Luck

What makes the feast on New Year’s Day so special around the world? Namya Sinha has the answer.

india Updated: Dec 27, 2008 14:26 IST
Namya Sinha amya Sinha
Namya Sinha amya Sinha
Hindustan Times

What makes the feast on New Year’s Day so special around the world? All countries have some special culinary traditions to mark the day. Across cultures, the food is supposed to symbolise luck and success in the coming year. Here are some such lucky foods eaten in different parts of the world on New Year’s Day.

The Japanese celebrate the new year for three days, beginning January 1. They make large omochi cakes — sticky, sweet rice cakes — that are first offered to the Gods, then eaten by the family. The cakes symbolise luck and good health. Another New Year’s speciality is a long noodle called toshikoshi soba. These buckwheat noodles are quite long, and those who can swallow at least one strand without chewing or breaking it can expect good luck and a long life!<b1>

The Spaniards have a simple custom: they eat twelve grapes at midnight on December 31, one with each chime of the clock. That’s good luck for each month.

Many of the luck-bringing foods the world over are round or ring-shaped, as it signifies that the old year has been completed. Similarly, the Dutch eat oliebollen (literally, oil balls) on New Year’s Day. They are also known as Dutch donuts.

The Greek eat vasilopeta, a cake baked with a coin inside it. The first slice of the cake is set aside for St. Basil and the rest is distributed amongst family members. Whoever finds the coin in their serving is supposed to have a lucky year ahead.

Cotechino con lenticchie (pork sausage served over lentils) is a favourite New Year dish in Italy. The cotechino sausage, which is rich in fat, is a symbol of abundance, while the lentils symbolise money, both for their green colour and coin-like shape. So there’s much luck in each bite!

Black-eyed peas and collard greens are considered to be lucky additions to the New Year’s table. Black-eyed peas are thought to bring wealth because they look like little coins, and collard greens are considered lucky because green symbolises money.

The Mexicans feast on menudo, a pungent, spicy stew of pork and vegetables. Also, as in Spain, they follow the tradition of eating twelve grapes as the clock chimes midnight.

The Chinese celebrate their New Year (which will fall on January 26, 2009) with a rich feast that includes nian gao, a sticky rice pudding cake that is supposed to bring luck and prosperity; tangerines, as their Chinese name sounds like wealth; and whole meat, so as to ensure continuity and to avoid misfortune. Meat balls symbolise reunion.

First Published: Dec 27, 2008 13:20 IST