New Year's Eve Food Traditions Around the World
From big feasts to eating grapes as the clock strikes midnight, here's a quick tour of some tastiest traditions tied to the last night of the year.
There's something magical about New Year's Eve, with its reflection on the past coupled with the promise of a fresh start—a whole new year—the next day. It's no wonder that the occasion is typically marked with joyous, often raucous celebration. Although a Champagne toast at midnight is classic in the U.S., people celebrate differently all over the world. And very often, these celebrations center around food, which can symbolize all kinds of good fortune. Here, take a look at the ways a few different cultures ring in the New Year across the globe (and we're not even getting into New Year’s Day traditions here, so save those black-eyed peas for your hangover).
Although Spaniards certainly know how to party, when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve—Nochevieja—you'll find many taking a break from the festivities in order to eat 12 grapes. Yes, exactly 12—one for each stroke of midnight (in the U.S. we watch the ball drop in Times Square, but in Spain they broadcast a historic clock tower in Madrid). Those who manage to finish their mouthful of grapes by the final bell toll are believed to have good luck for the 12 months to come. It's been a tradition since the 1880s, so there must be something to it. The custom has spread to other Spanish-speaking countries around the world as well.
Brazilians have a slightly different grape-eating New Year's Eve custom, along with a few others. They do everything in lucky sevens: At midnight it's tradition to jump in seven waves while making seven wishes. They also eat seven grapes to symbolize abundance and seven pomegranate seeds for prosperity. Head to Rio de Janeiro for the biggest firework show in South America, and be sure to wear white to fit in.
In Turkey, pomegranates also play a role in New Year's tradition, but in a very different way. Don't be surprised if you see someone smash a pomegranate on their doorstep when the clock strikes midnight. They aren't mad, they're just hoping that the scattering of those jewel-like pomegranate seeds will bring good fortune in the new year. Some choose to simply cut open a pomegranate at midnight, while others in Turkey prefer to scatter salt over their doorstep with the same hope.
If soba noodle soup and mochi sound like a match made in heaven, then head to Japan to celebrate the New Year. There, it's common to eat a hot bowl of toshikoshi soba (year-crossing noodles or New Year's Eve noodles), a tradition dating back to the 13th century that is supposed to help you say goodbye to the previous year and cross into the New Year. Soba noodles are imbued with lots of symbolism—slurping the buckwheat noodles is said to bring a fulfilling life, and the noodles are also associated with strength and resilience. Another Japanese New Year custom is mochitsuki, in which people spend New Year's Eve pounding sweet, glutinous rice into mochi. Just be careful: The chewy treats can be a choking hazard.
Come New Year's Eve, you'll likely find a lot of food on a Bulgarian table. There's often a big, festive holiday dinner with hearty centerpiece dishes like pork with cabbage or roasted turkey. But one of the most prevalent culinary traditions for the holiday is banitsa, a kind of borek (cheese-stuffed pastry) that is typically made only on Christmas and New Year's Eve. Egg and cheese is rolled in phyllo dough, wrapped into a tight circle, and baked. For the New Year, there's an extra special touch: charms, symbolic objects (like a small dogwood branch with a bud for health), coins, and written wishes wrapped tightly in aluminum foil are hidden in the banitsa so that having a piece (sometimes determined by spinning the banitsa on the table) is like getting your fortune told.
For a sweet start to the New Year, residents of Georgia (the country, not the U.S. state), make and eat gozinaki (caramelized walnuts which have been cooked in honey). These treats—which are somewhere between a nougat and a nut brittle —are served only on New Year's Eve and Christmas. Gozinaki is traditionally cut into diamond shapes and eaten at midnight. Just watch your teeth, these are real filling-yankers!
It's all about the food in Italy, so it's no surprise that Italians throw a sumptuous feast—La Festa di San Silvestro—to ring in the New Year, or Capodanno. Although the menu varies by family and region, lentils are commonly included to symbolize good fortune and prosperity in the New Year. Pork, which is associated with richness, is often on the table as well in the form of stuffed pig's trotters or sausage. Fried balls of dough tossed with honey and confectioners' sugar (chiacchiere) are a popular way to end the meal.
Thanks to their resemblance to coins, lentils are commonly associated with prosperity and are therefore a popular food to consume on New Year's Eve in several countries including Nigeria. Seafood stew is also popular. Whatever you do though, don't eat any poultry on New Year's Eve in Nigeria, where superstition says that doing so will leave you poor in the New Year.
If you stroll the streets of Amsterdam on New Year's Eve, you're likely to come across oliebollenkraams—street carts selling hot fried dough called oliebollen (which translates directly to fried oil balls). This is a New Year's Eve specialty, and to make them extra festive, the dough is often studded with currants and raisins. When the donuts come out of the oil they are immediately topped with powdered sugar for a fun, sweet treat.