New Year Foods Around the World
New Year’s Day is always a new beginning, and various cultures across the globe have their own special way of celebrating this new beginning with food. Perhaps you’ll find one that you can resonate with?
In Greece, as well as many other areas in eastern Europe and the Balkans, vasilopita—”king cake” or “Basil cake”—is a New Year’s Day bread or cake (depending on region) baked with a coin hidden inside it; whoever receives the slice with the coin is said to also receive good luck for the whole year. It is also known as Chronópita—literally “year cake”.
The Norwegian rice pudding called riskrem (rice cream) is served mainly during Christmas and New Year’s Day. In it is placed a single blanched almond; whoever finds it in their mouth wins a mandelgave, or almond present, which is traditionally a chocolate-covered marzipan pig.
Speaking of marzipan pigs, a traditional New Year present in Germany is Glücksschwein (“lucky pig”), which is marzipan shaped into pigs. The idea of pigs being a symbol of luck can be traced back to Medieval times in Germany!
4. Berliner Pfannkuchen—Germany
Germans also traditionally eat Berliner Pfannkuchen to celebrate New Year’s Eve, but as they’re now available all-year-round, it has extended to become a New Year’s custom as well. It’s a doughnut-like pastry filled with marmalade or jam; a common German practical joke involves filling some Berliners with mustard instead of the usual filling and serve them with together with regular Berliners—but in this case, the “lucky” person wins nothing except a mouthful of spicy mustard.
Japan celebrates the New Year with Osechi-ryōri—literally “dishes for an important season”—which is a very impressive set of dishes packed in special 2–3 layers of lacquer boxes called ojubako. This tradition has been around since the Heian period which began in 794. There can be many, many dishes in a single Osechi-ryōri set, and each of the dishes have their own significance, such as kuromame, or black soy beans, where “mame” sounds like the word for “hard work and good health”; daidai, Japanese bitter oranges, where “dai dai” can also mean “from generation to generation,” and eating it symbolises a wish for children in the New Year; and kazunoko, herring roe, which contains many tiny eggs in a tight cluster, eaten as a wish for an abundant harvest and fertility. Due to the impressive number of dishes in a single ojubako, they are meant to be eaten as a family.
6. Pickled herring—Poland, Czech Republic, parts of Scandinavia
Herring isn’t just popular in Japan; Poland, the Czech Republic, as well as parts of Scandinavia customarily eat pickled herring at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. The eating of pickled herring in these few countries are for similar shared reasons: the migratory patterns of herring are highly unpredictable, so eating herring on New Year’s Day is more than just a celebration, but a hope for the catch to match prosperity.
7. Dressed herring—Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, etc.
Russians also enjoy pickled herring on New Year’s Day, called Novy God in Russia. However, Russians prefer to prepare pickled herring as a salad called selyodka pod shuboy, which means “herring under a fur coat.” This alludes to the layers of grated boiled vegetables—potatoes, carrots and beetroots—chopped onions and mayonnaise on top of diced pickled herring, creating a nice visual of rich purple with white “fur” trim atop the layer of herring. This dish is shared by all the countries of the former USSR, including Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, and Kazakhstan.
There is much to learn about a country’s history and culture just from the fascinating New Year’s food traditions they have. Which ones have tickled your fancy to try them out for your next New Year’s Day celebration? What New Year’s food custom do you or your family have?
Your Gateways to Getaways,