In many parts of the world, popping a fine bottle of bubbly may be the only New Year’s Eve ritual of note. But a number of countries have longstanding food-related traditions to ring in the new year.
One of the best-known traditions may come from Spain, where each person holds twelve ripe grapes before the countdown begins. (Ready-packed tins of twelve perfect grapes are even available in stores.) As the clock strikes twelve—and televisions broadcast the clock tower at the Puerta del Sol square in Madrid—everyone eats one grape with each chime of the bell. While the ritual is now well-established, it dates back only to the beginning of the last century; in 1909, grape farmers in Alicante faced a surplus of grapes, and came up with the New Year’s tradition as a way to deal with the excess.
In Italy, the Capo d’Anno is celebrated with a feast of lentils—said to bring wealth and prosperity—often served with a cotechino pork sausage or zampone stuffed pig’s trotters, both prized (and geographically protected) products of Modena. The richness of the meat represents the richness of the life and experiences people hope for in the new year.
And over in Japan, New Year’s Eve is called omisoka. After a ceremonial house-cleaning on December 31st, people often prepare a bowl of toshikoshi soba or udon—long buckwheat noodles whose very name, “toshikoshi,” translates roughly to “ending the old year, beginning the new year.” The length of the noodles is said to bring longevity.
While cultural events may differ, wherever there is celebration and tradition, food is rarely far behind.