15 New Year's Food Traditions to Borrow From Around the World
Traveling might not be an option this New Year's, but incorporating New Year's traditions from around the world into your celebration is a great way to experience other cultures from the comfort of your home. Whether you're celebrating on New Year's Day, New Year's Eve, or a different day altogether (like Chinese Lunar New Year), you can always travel the world through the eyes of its cuisine. Here you'll learn about 15 different New Year's food traditions from around the globe, and get matching recipes go with each one.
American South: New Year Black Eyed Peas
If you live in the U.S., you're more than likely familiar with the time-honored tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day. But why do folks (particularly Southerners) do this? Well there are a number of reasons for this tradition, and different people subscribe to different explanations. Some suggest that because black-eyed peas swell when they are cooked, they symbolize the expansion of wealth throughout the year. Others reference the old adage "Eat poor on New Year's, and eat fat the rest of the year." Regardless, Hoppin John is one of the most popular black-eyed pea dishes: It usually is made of some combination of black-eyed peas, rice, and pork.
Canada: Tourtiere (French Canadian Meat Pie)
This French-Canadian meat pie originated in Québec, and is typically served on Christmas or New Year's. It's truly a special occasion dish as it combines both sweet and savory flavors like beef, pork, potatoes, onions, allspice, and a buttery, flaky crust. You'll find countless variations of the dish throughout Quebec — Chef John's version incorporates seasonal spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves.
China: He Jia Tuan Yuan (Tofu Ball Soup for Lunar Chinese New Year)
Dumplings and meatballs are both traditional dishes for Chinese New Year because they symbolize union and connection to family. In this soup, sweet tofu dumplings are served in a warm broth. Recipe creator Tao,RN says "...we use a meatball dish and/or sweet dumpling dish to emphasize the Chinese expression 'He Jia Tuan Yuan.' 'He Jia' means the whole family. 'Tuan Yuan' means 'all be together' ('yuan' also means circle, round as well, which connects with the shape of the meatballs and the sweet dumplings)."
Denmark and Norway: Kransekake (Norwegian Almond Ring Cake)
In the Scandinavian countries of Denmark and Norway, Kransekage (which translates to wreath cake), is typically served on New Year's Eve. The cake is made up of marzipan doughnuts or cakes which are stacked on top of each other and glued together with icing to resemble a tower. You might even find a bottle of wine at the center!
England: Grandma's Wassail
This seasonal drink is enjoyed on New Year's in some parts of England because of its name: Wassail is derived from the Gaelic term for "good health" or "be well." It's typically made with hot cider and a combination of spices.
France: Croquembouche Cone
The French do it big with this celebratory dessert. Croquembouche is a festive dessert made up of cream puffs that are dipped in caramel, stacked to form a tower, and then caged with even more caramel. It's traditionally served at special occasions like weddings, Christmas, and le réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre — a customary celebration of the arrival of the New Year.
Greece: Vaselopita - Greek New Years Cake
Also spelled Vasilopita, this Greek cake is served on New Year's Day and in some other parts of Eastern Europe. If you're lucky, you'll find a hidden coin or trinket in your slice, promising 12 months of prosperity. But don't fret, everyone who is gathered to slice the cake is said to receive good luck in their household in the coming year.
India: Lemon Basmati Rice
Rice is commonly served on New Year's in parts of India and Pakistan, as it is said to promise prosperity. "Lemon rice is common in India, particularly in South India," says reviewer rajena.
Iran: Kookoo Sabzi (Fresh Herb Frittata)
The Persian or Iranian New Year, Norouz, comes in the spring, with an emphasis on rebirth. Seven symbolic dishes are typically served, including this fresh-herb frittata, which is meant to embody the spirit of Nowruz. The green herbs represent new life and the eggs are a symbol of fertility.
Ireland: Irish Bannock
The Irish have a New Year's tradition of banging the walls of the house with bread to chase away bad luck or evil spirits. Whether or not you choose to use it for this purpose, bannock is a tasty and traditional Irish bread made with the addition of dried currants.
Italy: Italian Lentil Soup
In Italy (and some other countries), lentils are said to symbolize luck and prosperity because their shape resembles a coin. It can be incorporated into the New Year's Eve meal in a number of ways, but this warm, lentil soup is sure to be enjoyed on a cold winter day.
Japan: Tamarind Tofu with Vegetables and Soba
If you're not familiar with soba noodles, it's a long noodle often found in Japanese cuisine that can take on several different forms. Toshikoshi soba is typically enjoyed on New Year's Eve because its name translates to "year crossing buckwheat noodle," or in other words, the crossing from one year to the next. The tradition goes all the way back to the 17th century. This one-bowl dish incorporates bi-colored soba noodles in addition to tamarind, baked tofu, vegetables, and a garlic sauce.
Mexico: Real Homemade Tamales
In Mexico and in Latino families around the world, tamales are commonplace in Christmas and New Year festivities. Because they are so time-consuming and labor-intensive, they're typically reserved for special occasions. Mexican tamales typically consist of savory filling such as pork or beef, encased in masa and wrapped in a corn husk and cooked. This top-rated recipe is great for the tamale newcomer.
Netherlands: Oliebollen (Dutch Doughnuts)
"Ollie-bollen, or (Oliebollen) is a dutch pastry similar to a doughnut. It typically is a deep fried pastry filled with raisins and dusted with powdered sugar," says recipe creator FlourGirl. There is a very specific reason behind this New Year's tradition: It is said that people who eat oliebollen would survive the wrath of the Pagan goddess Perchta, who would cut open the stomachs of the rebellious. But because the doughnuts are so greasy, legend goes that Perchta's sword would slip off the stomachs of those who ate them.
South Korea: Korean Tteokguk (Rice Cake Soup)
Tteokguk is meant to be enjoyed in community, and is believed to bring good luck in the coming year. "This is a traditional dish enjoyed by many--if not all--Koreans during the New Year's and Lunar New Year holidays. Although there wasn't a lot of time for cooking or eating, I got to experience a semi-instant tteokguk for New Year's Day thanks to a good friend of mine," says recipe creator mykoreaneats.