Sometimes I think New Year's Day gets a back seat to it party-hearty cousin New Year's Eve. What to eat New Year's Eve overshadows what to eat New Year's Day. We toast the past the night before and then often sleep on the actual first day of the new year.
That doesn't sound like a way to "start it right." If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, then New Year's Day food should be the most important meal of the year.
Jan. 1 offers an opportunity to forget the past and make a clean start. But instead of leaving everything up to fate, why not enjoy a meal to increase your good fortune? There is a variety of foods that are believed to be lucky and may improve the odds that 2011 will be a great year. Traditions vary from culture to culture, but there are striking similarities in what's consumed in different pockets of the world: Whether you want to create a full menu of lucky foods or just supplement your meal, get off the couch, invite some friends in and "eat to your good fortune."
Giving credit to Laruen Salkeld of Epicureus.com, I found these perfect ideas for my New Year's Day feasting.
Buy some grapes: In Spain, 12 grapes are consumed on New Year's Day. This dates back to 1909, when grape growers initiated the practice to take care of a grape surplus. Each grape represents a different month, so if for instance the third grape is a bit sour; March might be a rocky month. Peruvians insist on taking in a 13th grape for good measure. I wonder what drinking wine will do?
Eat some greens: Cooked greens, including cabbage, collards, kale and chard, are consumed at New Years in different countries for a simple reason - green leaves look like folded money, and are symbolic of economic fortune. The Danish eat stewed kale sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, the Germans consume sauerkraut (cabbage) but in the southern United States, collards are the green of choice. It's widely believed the more greens one eats the larger one's fortune next year.
Include some legumes: Beans, peas and lentils also are symbolic of money. Their small seed resembles coins that swell when cooked so they are consumed with financial rewards in mind. In Italy and Germany, it's customary to eat sausages and green lentils. In Brazil, the first meal of the new year is usually lentil soup or lentils and rice. My grandmother always served split pea soup on New Year's Day now I know why.
In the Southern United States, it's traditional to eat black-eyed peas or cowpeas in a dish called hoppin' john. Some believe in eating one pea for every day in the new year, that's 365 if you don't know! This all traces back to the legend that during the Civil War, Vicksburg, Mississippi, ran out of food. When the residents discovered black-eyed peas, these legumes were thereafter considered lucky.
Eat pork on New Year's Day: This is based on the idea that pigs symbolize progress. The animal pushes forward, rooting itself in the ground before moving. Roast suckling pig is served for New Year's in Cuba, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, and Austria. Pork is also consumed in Italy and the United States, where thanks to its rich fat content, it signifies wealth and prosperity.
Fish is a very lucky choice: The Catholic Church's policy against red meat consumption on religious holidays made fish the logical choice for New Year's. Because of its health benefits, it has always been considered lucky. Cod has been a popular feast food since the middle Ages. Some compare it to turkey on Thanksgiving. The Danish eat boiled cod, while in Italy, baccal, or dried salt cod. Herring is consumed in Poland and Germany. Germans have been known to place a few fish scales in their wallets for good luck.
Eat cake: Cakes and other baked goods are commonly served from Christmas to New Year's around the world, with a special emphasis placed on round or ring-shaped items. In certain cultures, it's customary to hide a special trinket or coin inside the cake - the recipient will be lucky in the New Year. In Scotland, where New Year's is called Hogmanay, there is a tradition called "first footing," in which the first person to enter a home after the new year determines what kind of year the residents will have. The "first footer" brings symbolic gifts like coal to keep the house warm or baked goods such as shortbread, oat cakes, and a fruit caked to make sure the household always has food.
Avoid unlucky foods: Lobster, for instance, is a bad idea because they move backwards and could therefore lead to setbacks in the New Year. Chicken is discouraged because the bird scratches backwards, which could cause regret or dwelling on the past. Another theory warns against eating any winged fowl because good luck could fly away.
Oh busboy, can you eat as much lucky food as you want? I guess it's OK if you want to spend the new year at the gym.
I wish a happy and prosperous new year to all my readers.