The culinary traditions surrounding New Year’s Eve celebrations are loaded with cultural and emotional meaning, a farewell to another year past, a chance to honor it and even those who are no longer with us, while we look forward to what the next holds.
In Mexico, we often ring in the new year over romeritos, turkey, or tamales. For those who may not have grown up with such deep-rooted customs or, perhaps, have discovered their true family later along on the path of life or in different latitudes, here we share with you some of the special foods that mark this occasion around the world.
Nian gao (China)
These sticky sweets are popular during the Chinese New Year, which follows the lunisolar calendar and is celebrated later. Nian gao (or New Year cakes) is a homonym for “higher year” and thus, they are considered to bring good luck in the coming year. They are prepared according to various styles, though all are made from a base of glutinous rice flour and brown sugar. These cakes can include auspicious decorations that call for economic prosperity and safety for your home and family.
Another Northern European treat, these Dutch doughnuts are made from yeast, milk, sugar, and egg, similar to German dampfnudeln but can have apples, currants, or raisins added before being fried. They are topped with powdered sugar and, at the New Year, washed down with champagne.
Soba toshikoshi (Japan)
In Japan (and other Asian countries as well) it is customary to prepare wheat noodles for New Year’s Eve. Many people in the West would simplify the meaning to good luck, however, the significance goes much deeper. It has to do with life, spirit, lineage, and the protection of one’s ancestors.
Those who have read Sofie’s World (Sofies verden in the original Norwegian) will be familiar with this stacked “wreath” cake. To celebrate her birthday, Sofie’s mother prepared a cake made of marzipan dough rings covered in honey that formed a conical structure to represent the cycles of life. The rings become larger as one grows older, symbolizing that with each turn around the sun our ventures and relationships become more elaborate and significant. This dessert is commonly eaten on special occasions, and is particularly popular in Norway and Denmark at New Year’s.
This dish is very similar to the Mexican apple salad, but it is seasoned with paprika and mayonnaise. In Brazil, it is sprinkled with gouda cheese and often has beef or chicken added, though you might want to offset the chicken with some good luck traditions as poultry is typically avoided after midnight since animals that walk backwards are seen as regressive, the opposite of moving forward and achieving new goals in the new year.