New Year's Day

10 New Year's Food Traditions From Around the World

Champagne doesn't count as a food.

December 31, 2018
Photo by Mark Weinberg

We have a very, er, specific New Year's Eve food tradition in my household.

It's an elaborate shrimp tree, and my mother and I spend hours constructing it each year. There's the day-of, panicked search for the correctly shaped and perfectly sized foam cone, which somehow always gets tossed away during the year prior. There's the painstaking affixing of curly kale leaves to said foam cone (once procured), in the style of a full Christmas tree. There's the careful preparation of a perfectly seasoned cocktail sauce. And then, just before our New Year's Eve party starts, there's the pinning of each individual shrimp to the tree, using colorful toothpicks, to look like a wrap-around garland.

While I'd love to say this is a regional Northern California tradition, honed by many generations, I'm pretty sure it's something we just decided to serve one year and loved.

But shrimp trees aside, there are lots of edible traditions around the holiday of New Year's hailing from all over the world. While this list is so far from comprehensive it might as well just say "shrimp tree" for every entry, we've culled together a handful of common New Year's foods eaten around the world, for your reading pleasure—don't forget to add to our list in the comments, please!


1. Spain

In Spain, it's customary to eat 12 grapes right at midnight on New Year's Eve, representing good luck for each of the coming 12 months.

2. The Netherlands

In the Netherlands, oliebollen—which literally means "oil balls"—are consumed on New Year's Eve, which purportedly began as a way to line the stomach with oil as a slick shield against the sword attack of a mythical (evil) goddess. If that doesn't sound appealing, then you haven't seen oliebollen, which are delicious donuts:

3. Japan

If you're in Japan on New Year's Eve, then you might find yourself enjoying a bowl of toshikoshi soba, or "year-end noodles," which are made of buckwheat and lengthier-than-typical soba to symbolize longevity.

4. United States

In the South, New Year's Day celebrators eat Hoppin' John, a meal of black-eyed peas, ham hock and rice (sometimes with greens, too). It's believed to beckon wealth and good luck in the year to come.

5. Germany & Austria

Marzipan pigs—aka, almond paste and sugar shaped into hogs—are gifted around New Year's in Germany and Austria to symbolize good fortune.

6. Italy

Lentils are eaten in Italy after midnight on New Year's Eve, with their coin-like shape nodding to luck and prosperity.

7. France

New Year's Eve in France—known as Le Réveillon de la Saint Sylvestre or Le Réveillon du Nouvel Anoften includes oysters and foie gras.

8. Turkey

In Turkey, some smash pomegranates in the doorways of their homes. As the tradition goes, the number of seeds that fly out predict how much good fortune you'll have in the coming year.

9. Cuba

In Cuba, suckling pig is traditionally served on New Year's Day, as pigs have long been a symbol of good luck.

10. Greece

Vasilopita cake, full of warming spices, is typically baked on Jan. 1 in Greece. Sometimes, a coin (or other trinket of some sort) is hidden inside for one lucky guest to find.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I grew up in Germany and Belgium and those little pigs were very famous in both countries. In Belgium we would receive them at the Saint-Nicolas (6 December) as well. I miss those now that I live in Canada. You can find them but it’s just not the same and they are crazily expensive and not as fresh. And, I have to add here, German food is underrated. Good bread. ”
— MarieGlobetrotter
Comment

What New Year's food traditions do you partake in? Let us know in the comments!

6 Comments

MarieGlobetrotter January 5, 2019
I grew up in Germany and Belgium and those little pigs were very famous in both countries. In Belgium we would receive them at the Saint-Nicolas (6 December) as well. I miss those now that I live in Canada. You can find them but it’s just not the same and they are crazily expensive and not as fresh. <br /><br />And, I have to add here, German food is underrated. Good bread.
 
Kristan O. January 1, 2019
Another German tradition is sauerkraut, cooked with a pork roast, and served potato dumplings.
 
Kristan O. January 1, 2019
AnorhAnorhe
 
Scot C. January 1, 2019
We usually tempt fate with Cannibal Balls (Raw chopped meat) with pumpernickel bread. Joy of Cooking has a recipe.
 
Scot C. January 1, 2019
https://books.google.com/books?id=C4_5MCUd6ucC&pg=PA86&lpg=PA86&dq=cannibal+balls+recipe&source=bl&ots=2f8WJvjASR&sig=oWNcC2cveaO7AhX4HFj4x41iI_A&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwja-LTplc7fAhXpIjQIHSkiC08Q6AEwBXoECAkQAQ
 
Ttrockwood December 31, 2018
We’re going to need a post about that shrimp tree situation. Sounds like a fun party appetizer any time of year!