Culinary Corner

Jessica Peyton

As the people of America watched
the ball drop with our beloved leader
Ryan Seacrest, others around the
world were chowing down on their
traditional New Year’s foods.
In Italy, lentils are a common food
to help bring in the New Year. Lentils
have a coin-like shape, which represents
luck and prosperity. These tiny
edible coins are commonly served
with a spicy pork sausage called cotechino,
and deboned pig feet, known
(kind of disturbingly) as pig trotters
(zampone) that are stuffed with sausage.
Why so much pork? Pigs symbolize
fat or bounty of the land in
Italy. Pigs also “root forward,” or dig
for food while moving forward (think
a pig snuffling around the ground
for truffles), versus other animals
like chickens or cows who eat while
standing still. This “moving forward”
is supposed to represent moving forward
in the New Year.
En España, there is a tradition of
popping a dozen grapes into one’s
mouth at midnight at each stroke
of the clock. Each grape represents
a different month, and with
each one comes a wish for happiness
and luck. The tradition has a place in
other Latin cultures as well. In Portugal
the grapes are replaced with their
ugly shriveled cousins, raisins, and in
Peru, a thirteenth grape is consumed.
Japan eats a wide variety of foods
to celebrate the New Year. A common
mix of these foods, known as
Osechi ryori, collectively symbolize
good harvest, health, happiness and
prosperity. The mix is packaged in
special bento boxes that have been
appropriately decorated with colorful
seasonal pictures (pine needles, plum
blossoms and bamboo leaves). They
are packed with what are considered
lucky colors in Japan: red, white and
yellow. Slices of red and white fish
paste, pink prawns, cucumber slices,
salmon roe (eggs) and mandarin orange
slices are usually present. The
boxes are typically expensive, as they
are time-consuming to put together.
Another common
meal on New Year’s
Day in Japan is a soup
called ozone, which is
made from a stock made of
bonito (fish), kombu (kelp), Japanese
lime and is eaten with mochi (rice
cakes).
The Philippines has a circle themed
New Year’s menu, as circles represent
prosperity (seen also with the Italians’
lentil consumption). A common tradition
is to gather 12 different kinds
of round fruits and place them on the
table as the New Year is rung in.
In the good ol’ U S of A, black-eyed
peas are a quintessential good luck
food. The small coin-like shape of a
bean is representative of money and
prosperity. The peas can be prepared
in a dish known as Hoppin’ John. The
tradition stems from the Civil War.
The town of Vicksburg, Mississippi,
ran out of food while it was under attack.
The townspeople found black
eyed peas for sustenance, and boom
(boom pow) black-eyed peas were
considered a lucky food from then on.
As everyone’s wish for the New
Year is mo’ moolah, t h e r e
is most certainly a food that can be
eaten in hopes of raking more of it
in: greens. Greens like cabbage (sauerkraut
in Germany), and kale with
cinnamon and sugar in Denmark and
collard greens in the US look like
folded money and are therefore considered
good luck to eat at the beginning
of a new year.
The circular theme is continued in
desserts around the world, like chiacchiere
in Italy (honey-drenched
balls of fried pasta dough). Cakes
with surprise hidden objects are common
as well, like the rosca de reyes
in Mexico or vasilopita in Greece;
both round cakes with hidden coins,
etc. A Danish cake, kransekage, is
comprised of 18 layers of marzipan
rings topped with icing, dried fruits
and nuts. And when you finish your
cake, it is Danish custom to throw it
against your neighbor’s wall. If only
this sign of friendship was a custom
in America.
All research obtained from npr.org
and epicurious.com

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