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11 New Year's Eve Food Traditions From Around The World That Will Make Your Mouth Water

Picture of Alice Johnston
Food Editor
Updated: 13 November 2017
If you’re bored of champagne and canapés, consider celebrating the New Year with some of these traditional foods from around the world instead. From rice cake soup to lentils, all the food here will bring you luck and prosperity for the year ahead.

12 grapes eaten on the 12 strokes of midnight, Spain

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A dozen grapes on the stroke of midnight | © Rohit Tandon / Unsplash

Eating a dozen grapes, one during each stroke of midnight, is a Spanish New Year’s tradition. If you don’t manage to eat all the grapes (a real hazard, especially when you consider the choking risks) then that’s bad luck. The flavour of the grapes is also a harbinger of fortune, with a sweet one predicting a good one and a sour a less-than-good one.

Rosca de reyes, Mexico

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Rosca de reyes | © Ismasan / Wikimedia

Eaten on January 6 to celebrate the Epiphany (when the three wise men arrived to meet the baby Jesus), this ring-shaped enriched bread is decorated with fruit, nuts and sugar. A tiny model of baby Jesus is placed inside the cake before baking and the lucky person who discovers the trinket in their slice is considered blessed. They must take the figure to a church on Candlemas day (February 2) and provide a feast of tamales and atole, a drink made from ground corn, cinnamon, water and sugar.

Tteokguk, South Korea

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Tteokguk soup | © soscs / Wikimedia

This soup is so intrinsic to South Korean New Year (Seollal, February 16) that without eating it you can’t be considered to be one year older, as Korean people consider themselves to grow older at New Year’s rather than on their birthday. You can even discover how old a Korean person is by asking them how many tteokguk they have eaten. Made of broth, small disc-shaped rice cakes, meat and vegetables, tteokguk is believed to give eaters good luck for the year ahead. And it’s delicious, too, being topped with eggs, roasted seaweed and spring onions and full of flavoursome, chewy rice cakes.

Raw egg, El Salvador

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Raw eggs in water | © Oliver Zenglien / Unsplash

You’ll be pleased to know that you don’t have to eat this raw egg, but instead crack it into a glass of water a minute before midnight. The following morning everyone decides what their yolk looks like, and the answer will represent what the near year will bring.

Lentils, Italy

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Lentils and pork sausage | © Popo le chien / Wikimedia

With their coin-like shape, lentils are thought to bring prosperity for the year ahead when eaten on New Year’s Day. They’re frequently served with cotechino, a pork sausage, which has fatty and rich qualities that also symbolise future prosperity.

Pomegranate, Turkey

People smash this delicious sweet and sour red fruit onto their doorways on New Year’s. The more seeds that burst out, the more good fortune you will acquire. The seeds symbolises fertility and abundance for the coming year.

Black-eyed peas, greens, pork and cornbread, Southern US

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Black eyed peas with ham and cornbread | © Jeffreyw / Wikimedia

Beans or peas represent pennies, cooked greens such as collard or mustard greens represent folded money, and pork represents general prosperity as pigs root forward when searching for food through the earth. Cornbread also represents wealth due to its golden colour. You’re in for a bumper year if you eat this meal!

Pork or sugar pigs, Germany

Carrying on the theme of pigs equalling money is Germany – except in this country, you don’t have to actually eat pork to receive the luck, which is good news for vegetarians. Instead you can munch on a delicious glücksschwein, or a tiny, cute pig made from sugary almond paste. The sweetness of these piggies promise an extra sweet New Year.

Whisky, Scotland

Finally, something to toast the new year with. To celebrate Hogmanay, the Scottish word for New Year’s Eve celebrations, the first person to cross the threshold of your house is supposed to bring gifts symbolising good luck for the coming year. Scottish whisky will bring a merry year ahead, the spiced fruit cake Black Bun ensures that you’ll have food enough to prosper and a lump coal represents warmth and fuel for the new year. The gifts are meant to be carried by a tall, dark and handsome man for a truly auspicious start to the year.

Tang yuan, China

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Tang yuan | © Alpha / Flickr

These are sweet rice dumplings stuffed with a variety of delicious fillings such as sweet bean paste, sesame seed paste and sugar, nuts or fruit, and they are eaten at Chinese New Year (16 February). They’re boiled and then served in syrup which is sometimes flavoured with ginger. They’re also served at Chinese weddings, winter solstice and other celebration days. They are seen as auspicious because the word ‘tang yuan’ is a homophone for ‘union’, so they symbolise togetherness and family.

Kuku sabzi, Iran

A kind of frittata made with egg and fresh herbs, this fragrant and flavoursome dish is traditional at Nowruz, the Persian celebration of New Year which happens at the stroke of the spring equinox. Kuku sabzi promises abundance and fertility for the year ahead.