World of Mouth: Have a lucky 2011

The column that brings you festivals from around the world; this week, which foods do different cultures eat to to bring luck in the New Year?

January 4, 2011 10:13
4 minute read.
Times Square New Year Eve

Times Square New Year Eve 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

Johanna Bailey is a blogger, freelance writer and student at the Hofmann Culinary School in Barcelona, Spain.

As the Hanukkah and Christmas holidays came to a close, for many, January 1 marked the beginning of a New Year. Of course not everyone celebrates New Year's at this time. The Persians, the Chinese, the Hindus, the Cambodians and the Jews  are just a few of the groups of people who did not spend January 1 fighting off champagne hangovers while frantically resolving to lose weight, save more money and organize more closets.

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Regardless of when one celebrates the New Year, however, for most it is a time to think about renewal and continuity, and to hope for luck and happiness in the coming year. Traditional New Year’s food often reflects this, and it is remarkable that despite vast cultural and geographical distances, there are a number of similarities in the kinds of food that people around the world use to bring in the New Year no matter when they celebrate it.

In many cultures, round or circular foods are thought to symbolize both good luck and prosperity, so naturally, this is part of the New Year’s menu in a number of places. Black-eyed peas are a traditional New Year’s food in the Southern United States as well as amongst many Jews (who also bake the Challah in a circular shape during Rosh Hashanah). In Holland, they eat round “Olie Bollen” (round, fruit-studded donuts) and in the Philippines it is customary to eat seven different kinds of round fruits. In the meantime, in Spain and throughout much of Latin America, it is traditional to gobble up 12 grapes just before midnight on New Year’s Eve (one with each chime of the bell).

Another very common New Year’s food is fish, a symbol of abundance in the coming year. During Nowruz, the Persian New Year, many eat fish dishes such as  Sabzi Polo ba Mahi , rice tinted vivid green with herbs and served with fried fish. In Germany, Scandinavia and Poland, herring is eaten, and in Denmark and Italy, the New Year’s fish of choice is cod (boiled in Denmark and dried and salted in Italy). 

The Chinese are famous for their New Year’s noodles but the Japanese and Persians also eat noodles on New Year’s. In the case of the Japanese and Chinese, the noodles are meant to symbolize a long life, while Persians eat noodles to symbolize the unraveling of problems in the year to come.  Other common good luck foods are cabbage (eaten on New Year’s in the Southern United States as well as in Germany and many Eastern European countries), and lentils which are eaten on New Year’s in Brazil and Italy.

The foods that we eat on New Year’s show that no matter where we are from or when we celebrate, most of us are wishing for the same things in the coming year- longevity, prosperity, abundance, happiness, and of course, a bit of luck. Even if you’re not celebrating New Year’s this week, here is a recipe for Vasilopita, a delicious cake traditionally eaten in Greece on January 1. The coin hidden inside is said to bring good luck to the person who finds it. The recipe has been passed down for generations in the family of food blogger Mary Papoulias-Platis (of the blog “California Greek Girl”).

Thea Liza’s Vasilopita

-1/2 pound butter, melted
-2 cups sugar
-6 teaspoons baking powder
-4 cups flour
-3 eggs
-Zest of 1 orange
-1/2 cup milk
-powdered sugar for sprinkling

-Butter the bottom and sides of a 12×3” round cake pan.
-Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F (177 C).
-Melt the butter and beat on medium-high with the mixer until light in color. Set aside.
-Beat eggs until light in color for about 3-4 minutes .
-Add sugar and continuing beating until fluffy another 3-4 minutes.
-On medium-low speed add milk, baking powder and orange zest to the eggs/sugar mixtures
-On low speed add flour and cooled butter alternately to batter (do not over-beat).
-Place a coin wrapped in wax paper in the bottom of the pan.
-Pour batter into baking pan.
-Bake in the oven at 350 degrees, for 30 -35 minutes until lightly brown.
-Test with a toothpick and let it cool.
-Place cooking rack or plate on top and flip over. Flip once more so top is face up.
-Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve.

Read more of Johanna's thoughts on food at:

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