Fantastic Flavors From Around the Globe

Food Traditions that Ring in the New Year!

by Kirsten Harrington

Many Americans believe eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day brings good luck.

From lucky lentils to tempting tamales, people from around the world welcome the new year with a mixture of tradition and superstition. Danes ring in the special day with boiled cod and lemon caper sauce, and some Mexican families gather for traditional tamales. In Greece, the savory-sweet vasilopita takes center stage, and the person who finds the coin or trinket hidden in the cake receives good luck.

Jennifer Dunagan of Gotha and her family celebrate by eating 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight — a popular Latin tradition that symbolizes good luck for each month in the new year. In a nod to the Pennsylvania Dutch, Megan Gardner of Orlando feasts on pork and sauerkraut.

“For Russians, the biggest holiday of the year starts around 9-10 p.m. and lasts well into the new year,” said local resident Evgenia Volkonitskaya, originally from Krasnoyarsk, Siberia.

“People prepare for days and then eat all of the food for days,” she said.

The evening starts off with canapes with red caviar, pickled vegetables, cold cuts and salads. Main dishes include roast pig or duck.

“My parents also normally make a large savory pie, called a pirog, which looks like a slab pie filled with something savory like fish and onions,” Evgenia said.

Xuan Tian of Windermere recalls celebrating New Year’s Eve in her native China with firecrackers and a huge family dinner with meat, dumplings and vegetables.

“Some families put a coin or peanut in the stuffing of the dumpling, and it is believed the people who get to eat that will be lucky in the new year.”

Xuan continues the tradition now, gathering friends to make dumplings and watching the New Year’s Gala on Chinese television.

Probably the best-known American tradition involves black-eyed peas. Some say they bring luck because they look like coins. Others believe the tradition dates back to the Civil War when all food crops were destroyed, except fields of black-eyed peas, which sustained the soldiers.

Americans aren’t the only ones who embrace lucky legumes. In Brazil, lentils cooked with sausage are a popular New Year’s dish.

“Every grain symbolizes how much money you will make next year,” explained Priscila Portugal of Brazil em Casa Emporio, a Brazilian grocery store and café in Ocoee.

“The same goes for grapes,” she said. “And some people place grape seeds in their wallets to bring prosperity. Pork is popular, too, but don’t eat chicken or turkey, because they bring bad luck.”

In Peru, it’s popular to ring in the new year with a Pisco sour, according Ivan Colombier, owner of the El Inka Grill Ceviche restaurants in Dr. Phillips and Hunters Creek.

“It’s a traditional Peruvian brandy mixed with freshly squeezed lime juice and a touch of organic agave nectar,” he said. “It’s a very refreshing cocktail.”

As far as food goes, comida criolla, or typical home cooking reigns.

“My mom would make a homey beef or chicken stew with rice and let it simmer for hours,” said Ivan, who was raised in New York by Peruvian parents who cherished the traditions of their home city of Lima, Peru.

If you don’t have a tradition of your own, maybe your family can adopt a new one to celebrate this year.

Black-Eyed Peas

1 pound dried black-eyed peas

2-3 ham hocks

1 onion, diced

1-2 teaspoons Morton’s seasoning salt

1-2 teaspoons onion powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

Salt and pepper to taste


Soak dried black-eyed peas in water for about one hour. Drain. Place peas, ham hocks and onion in slow cooker. Cover with water. Start cooker on high until beans are very hot and begin to boil. Add 1 teaspoon each of Morton’s seasoning salt, onion powder and garlic powder.

Turn heat down to medium or low and simmer beans for 6-8 hours. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired by adding more onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Yields about five servings.

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