New Year food traditions around the world

If you thought food was just fuel, then think again. For many people, foods can have a special significance and, it’s believed, could bring you luck for the New Year. From grapes at the stroke of midnight to marzipan pigs, check out these New Year foods from around the world...

Denmark/Norway: Kransekake

This cake is called a kransekake or kransekage, depending on where it’s made, but it’s essentially a conical-shaped cake made with almonds, icing sugar and egg whites and baked in different-sized rings. Once baked, the cake rings are then placed one on top of the other and stuck together with icing, to form a tall cone. It’s served at other important family events, such as weddings, as well as at New Year.

Spain: 12 grapes at midnight

If you happen to be in a Spanish bar on New Year’s Eve, you might be handed a glassful of grapes as midnight approaches. The idea is to eat one grape for every chime of the clock, counting down to the New Year. For every sweet grape you manage to eat, that month will be a good month, and if you come across a sour grape, well then you won’t be as lucky. This tradition is thought to have origins in the story of a generous Spanish king, who once handed out free grapes to the people after an especially good harvest.

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Argentina: Pan dulce and turrón

In Argentina, a New Year’s feast is likely to include pan dulce, which is the Argentine version of the Italian fruit-studded bread, panettone. If you’re lucky, you might also get some turrón. Think of a nougat bar, made from honey, sugar and egg whites with nuts such as almonds and candied fruits set into it. Chewy and intensely sweet, turrón was originally made in Spain, in the 1500s - about the same time Spanish explorers started to conquer South America.

Germany: Tiny marzipan pig

This might seem a bit random, but there is method to the madness. In Germany, a small marzipan pig is often given to wish the recipient luck for the coming year. Pigs are thought to be lucky in many cultures, on the basis that the animal snuffles and ‘pushes forward’ as it moves, representing progress. Sweetness (as with the grapes in Spain) also represents good luck and prosperity and so a sweet, tiny marzipan pig is obviously a very lucky thing should you receive one.

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Japan: Black beans, sweetened sardines, soba noodles... and mochi cakes

If you find yourself in Japan for New Year, you have a real feast ahead of you. Here, traditional New Year foods include black beans (which symbolise health) and sweetened, roasted sardines, representing fertility, as fish were once used to fertilize the fields. Soba noodles represent longevity - take care not to break them while eating (obviously a bad omen). But according to a report in The Guardian in 2011, mochi cakes are the ultimate Japanese New Year treat.

‘Mochi are to the Japanese New Year what mince pies are to Christmas in the UK’, they said. They’re either served as they are, or in soups - but unfortunately, because they’re very sticky and glutinous they can cause casualties. The Guardian reported in New Year 2011 that six people choked to death after not chewing their mochi properly.

Greece: Vasilopita A fourth-century Greek bishop called St. Basil decided to distribute money to his people. Some accounts say it was to pay back a ransom they had paid to avoid a siege, others that he just wanted to be charitable. In any case, rather than just hand out cash, he had cakes baked with coins hidden inside, which were discovered when the cakes were cut. Nowadays, Greek families often make a cake for New Year, flavoured with lemon and other spices, with a coin baked inside. The person finding the coin is thought to have an especially good year ahead of them.

Italy: Pork and lentils

Yep, pigs, again. In Italy, it’s considered lucky to feast on pork - whether cuts of meat or sausages - at New Year. As well as the idea that a pig symbolises progress, it’s also a fatty meat, and represents wealth and prosperity. This is reinforced by the lentils served with it, which are flat and coin-like, and swell up after cooking. Because the lentils are thought to look like coins, eating them along with the pork is thought to promise a prosperous and wealthy year ahead.

Do you observe any food traditions for New Year?