New Year’s food traditions from around the world

Share this article:
7 min read
AUTHOR: James Halliwell

If you are reading this on New Year’s Day, chances are your hangover is so severe it’s a miracle you’re capable of reading at all. Still, it doesn’t matter if your 2021 was good or bad, everyone knows the best way to celebrate or recover from anything is with a fantastic meal. And around the world, every continent has their own special way of doing exactly that to start the year afresh. So what do different cultures eat and drink to bring good fortune for the year ahead? What do they avoid? And, especially if you’re British, what’s good for a hangover?

East Asia

Haejangguk

Jiaozi

Left: Haejangguk

Right: Jiaozi

Good fortune is a recurring theme throughout New Year celebrations, and the Japanese tradition of eating Toshikoshi soba noodles dates back centuries. The long buckwheat noodles, the longer the better, are said to bring prosperity, strength, resilience and a long life. But it’s a bad idea to cut them, so slurp them whole.

China (and South Korea) follows the lunar calendar and tends to celebrate New Year in January or February, with the date changing yearly. Just like Japan, the country has its own equivalent of prosperous food in the shape of Jiaozi, small round dumplings resembling early Chinese coins. Eating them promises to deliver a long and prosperous life. Meanwhile South Koreans sip on a lucky soup called Tteokguk, which is made up of rice cakes, meat, vegetables, seaweed, spring onions and a fried egg,

Asia also has some tricks to cure even the heftiest of hangovers. Japan recommends a steaming bowl of fiery ramen, China opts for antioxidant-rich hydrating green tea and South Koreans opt for a different variety of spicy soup called Haejangguk which means ‘soup to cure a hangover’. You’d like to think it would, seeing as it’s made with ox blood, cabbage and the spine of a pig.

And if all that slicing, dicing and blood sounds a bit much for a hungover, head to Mongolia. With a longstanding reputation for getting straight to the point, the Mongolian cure for a hangover is no exception. Wake up, down a few vodkas, and watch your hangover evaporate.

North and South America

Hoppin’ John

Menudo

Left: Hoppin’ John

Right: Menudo

Vast and varied, North America’s 50 states each serve up regional classics. But when it comes to New Year celebrations, the Deep South specialises in Hoppin’ John, a flavourful mixture of pork-infused black-eyed peas (which represent coins), collard greens (the colour of dollar bills), and fluffy buttery cornbread, to signify gold. To fix a sore head, try an infamous Prairie Oyster, a cocktail mixed with tabasco and Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper, a raw egg (left whole to resemble an oyster) and a generous slug of vodka. Neck it and embrace the rest of the day.

If a Prairie Oyster doesn’t cure your hangover, head south via Mexico for some Menudo, a soup made from tripe and hominy, which will shake off the shots of tequila from the night before. And if your luck needs a boost, grab some Suckling Pig in Cuba, a New Year tradition thanks to Cubans considering pigs lucky animals. And once you’re in deep South America, head to Peru, where Ceviche is always present at celebrations. As well as being delicious it also claims to cure everything hangover-related if you drink the juice left over from the marinade. Dubbed Tiger’s Milk, the sharp and citrusy blend cuts through the fog and wakes up the bleariest of eyes.

Africa

Obe Eja Tutu

Katogo

Left: Obe Eja Tutu

Right: Katogo

Nigeria associates lentils with coins, so like everywhere else, it’s a popular ingredient in any New Year spread. However, all poultry must be avoided as eating it at the turn of the year will have ruinous financial consequences over the next 12 months. Nigerians also enjoy a spicy seafood stew at New Year called Obe Eja Tutu, typically made with fresh fish like tilapia, tomatoes and peppers. And if you’re out in Africa and feeling the effects of the night before, Ugandans swear by Katogo, a punchy breakfast of Matooke, a plantain-like green banana, served with a spicy mix of offal.

Australia

Australian BBQ

Avocado on toast

Left: Australian BBQ

Right: Avocado on toast

The sun is shining and the beaches are packed. What else but New Year in Australia? And, just like in the UK, any peek of sunshine in Australia means it’s BBQ time. The Aussies are famous for their love of a healthy snack. They invented the omnipresent avocado on toast, which is not only a delicious breakfast, it’s also a nifty cure for a hangover thanks to the raging levels of potassium packed into a ripe avocado. But to celebrate the advent of a new year, beer and a BBQ is the main event, featuring fresh seafood, sizzling steaks, plenty of sausages, and chargrilled lamb.

Antarctica

Chili

Hot chocolate

Left: Chili

Right: Hot chocolate

Glaciers, snow, cute penguins and the occasional lethal polar bear, Antarctica may not seem like the obvious choice for a big NY bash. Also you’d struggle to put together a guest list. Apart from the remote scientific stations dotted hundreds of miles apart and brief visits from shivering tourists, Antarctica doesn’t have a similar community like the rest of the world as it doesn’t have permanent residents. But it does celebrate New Year’s Eve thanks to Icestock, a music festival where, unlike Glastonbury, the weather is consistent; it’s always cold. So a centrepiece of the celebrations is a massive chilli cook-off, while piping hot coffee and hot chocolate are always popular. As midnight approaches a countdown begins on the stage and when the clock strikes 12, Antarctica erupts in a sea of kisses and hugs (for shared bodily warmth).

Europe

Zampone con lenticchie

Full English Breakfast

Left: Zampone con lenticchie

Right: Full English Breakfast

Naturally you’d expect the Italians to prepare something special, but if you’re thinking pasta, think again. New Year’s Eve sees Italy celebrate with a lucky sausage and lentil stew called Cotechino con Lenticchie or Zampone Con Lenticchie. The round lentils represent money while the cotechino (a rich and fatty pork sausage) and zampone (pig’s trotter) represents prosperity.

Of course pasta has to feature somewhere and New Year’s is when the Italian tradition of ‘Midnight Spaghetti’ comes into its own. Spaghettata di Mezzanotte is a perky recipe, full of capers, anchovies, garlic and chilli, and is said to ward off a hangover.

Elsewhere in Europe in Spain 12 grapes are eaten for every bong when the clock hits midnight, eat all 12 by the final bong and good luck is guaranteed. But watch out for a sour one, whatever number the sour grape is corresponds to the month where you’ll have such bad luck you’ll wish you’d never been born.

The Polish celebrate with Pickled Herring for luck and prosperity, and they also drink the pickle juice, which is packed with electrolytes, to cure a hangover the following morning. In Turkey they smash pomegranates on their front doorstep – the more seeds that fly out means the more cash that will fly into your bank account.

On the bizarre side, in Belarus single women make a small pile of corn kernels and stand behind it. A rooster is let loose and, whichever pile of corn the rooster picks, that lucky lady will marry first.

But be warned, if you’re in Hungary forget about fish, that could mean your good luck swimming away. And make sure you swerve lobster or crabs, their sideways and backwards scuttling represents moving backwards. The same goes for anything with wings, as that could mean your good luck flying off into the night sky, never to return.

And of course there is the UK, which will stagger into life on New Year’s Day full of headaches and regret, capable of nothing other than lying on the sofa under a blanket murmuring about how they shouldn’t have had that final drink, or the 36 that preceded it. In such situations the Full English is always a gamble. All that bacon, sausage, fried egg, baked beans, black pudding, fried bread, mushroom and tomato could leave you feeling born again, or it could make everything so much worse. Over to you, frying pan.

Share this article:

Related content