The end of the year brings with it a string of festivities, and along with it a host of reasons for families and friends to come together over food. Here’s our pick of some festive food traditions from around the world, along with a few tips by top chefs.
Eating lentils with the family on New Year’s Eve is a must in Italy. Marco Guccio, Head Chef of Zafferano, fondly recalls the Italian belief that eating the coin-shaped beans before midnight would bring one more money the following year, along with well wishes. The lentils are usually stewed with a large pork sausage called cotechino or with stuffed pig’s trotters, served with bread croutons and olive oil – just the way his mother cooks it.
The dish is a really handy leftover as it reheats very well, but for an indulgent New Year lunch, chef Guccio recommends adding ditalini pasta, boiled broccoli and grated parmesan.
Austria: Suckling pig
Pigs represent good luck and prosperity in Austrian culture. A dish of suckling pig often takes centre stage on the dinner table during the Austrian New Year, a holiday dedicated to Saint Sylvester. Other supporting dishes and desserts are all also shaped like pigs.
Spain: Rosca de reyes
Also known as King Cake, this twisted roll bread is eaten on Three Kings Day (January 6) in Spain. The delicious brioche-like bread is infused with citrus and studded with candied fruit. A tiny religious figurine is also baked within, to represent King Herod’s foiled attempts to kill baby Jesus. Maria Sevillano, Chef Director, My Little Tapas Bar, fondly recalls the tradition from her hometown of Salamanca. These days, a lima bean or a coin may be used in place of the figurine. It is believed that whoever gets the slice with “treasure” embedded within will have good luck in the year to come.
Chef Sevillano keeps it traditional, topping the bread with ground pistachios, almonds and dried cranberries. For an Asian twist on the bread, she suggests replacing the candied fruit with any Asian fruit.
Hanukkah is an eight-day celebration of the miracle of the menorah oil in the Jewish temple. In Israel, jelly-filled fried doughnuts called sufganiyot accompany other foods fried in oil – to represent the holy oil – consumed during this time. Less dense than American doughnuts and shaped without holes, classic sufganiyot are a delicious deep-fried treat made with yeast, filled with strawberry jelly, and dusted generously with powdered sugar.
As popular as sufganiyot in Israel, latkes are an indispensable dish during Hanukkah celebrations in the United States. Apart from special prayers and a nightly menorah lighting, American Jews celebrate the occasion with these crispy golden grated potato pancakes along with other fried foods. Creative cooks are known to put their own spin on it, from using various root vegetables like beetroot and sweet potato to making latke turkey burgers.
Lunar New Year
Vietnam: Banh chung and Banh day
The Vietnamese celebrate Tet – the Lunar New Year – with large, sticky glutinous rice cakes layered with various ingredients, including pork and mung beans, wrapped in banana leaves. Banh chung is square-shaped to represent the earth, as it was believed to be in ancient times, while banh day is round to represent the sky. Banh chung is offered on the altar, as a mark of gratitude to ancestors.
Koreans celebrate the crossing of a new year on Seollal, the first day of
the lunar calendar, by having a bowl of tteokguk – rice cake cooked in clear broth. According to tradition, everybody grows a year older on Seollal only after they have had a bowl of tteokguk. The clear broth symbolises a clean start to the year, while the disc-shaped rice cakes resembling coins symbolise prosperity.
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