Restaurant News & Reviews

Best Bite: Festive foods bring fortune in the new year

Hoppin’ John, which features black-eyes peas and rice along with smoked pork, sausage or ham, is a traditional New Year’s dish.
Hoppin’ John, which features black-eyes peas and rice along with smoked pork, sausage or ham, is a traditional New Year’s dish. St. Louis Post-Dispatch

As the calendar turns to 2016, many cultures offer advice on New Year’s Day meals to ensure good luck in the months ahead.

Traditional festive foods include grapes, greens, pork and fish, beans and grains — including pasta — and cakes, especially ones that are sweet and round, representing a full circle.

FISH

Suzanne Blangsted of Sudden Valley gives a nod to her native Denmark on the first day of the year, preserving the memories of a country she left in 1960. “My tradition from my home country is cod with mustard sauce served with lemon slices, boiled potatoes and some greens.”

Mark Kurlansky, author of “Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World,” writes that cod has been a popular feast food since the Middle Ages. Herring is consumed at midnight in Poland and Germany, and a whole fish is considered lucky in many cultures, because the scales are thought to resemble coins.

FRUIT

In Spain and Mexico, revelers pop 12 grapes into their mouths at the stroke of midnight — one for each month.

HOPPIN’ JOHN

Pork is part of many meals to celebrate the new year — ostensibly because pigs root forward — and none is more favored than the classic Southern dish called Hoppin’ John. It’s a bean and rice dish that revolves around smoked pork — particularly a ham hock — and the black-eyed peas are supposed to bring good luck.

Jessica Staten of Sudden Valley swears by the old Cajun tradition.

“(Various recipes) are all good ... my only requirements, besides the black-eyed peas and rice, is a real ham bone, and collard greens. Oh, and cornbread.”

Christina Angel Boyd of Bellingham also goes for Hoppin’ John. She follows a recipe from SimplyRecipes.com.

Wikipedia speculates that Hoppin’ John evolved from bean and rice dishes that slaves brought with them from West Africa, especially Senegal.

Eat it with cornbread for even more good luck — golden-colored foods are said to bring good fortune.

MENUDO

Another regional dish with New Year’s significance is menudo, which is tripe (cow’s stomach) simmered in a red chili broth. It’s supposedly good for a hangover, and its preparation becomes a day-long family event, because the meat must cook for hours to become tender.

Jose Antonio, a butcher at La Gloria Market for seven years, says menudo and pozole (a soup with hominy) are traditional year-end foods in Mexico. Both are time-consuming dishes, with rich and complex broth.

“We make pozole here, already cooked and ready to eat,” Antonio said. “I like both. It’s a different flavor, those two. The menudo is really good.”

For local cooks who’d like to try making menudo, La Gloria’s butcher shop sells cleaned tripe, either whole or cut into one-inch cubes.

He agreed that menudo can soothe the effects of too much celebrating on New Year’s Eve.

“Next day, you want to have a plate of menudo. It’ll make you feel better,” he said. “It’s a traditional thing. We ate a lot of menudo when I was little. We put beef feet in it, and bones, instead of the tripe only.”

CAKES

Epicurious.com, the website of Bon Apétit magazine, says cakes and other baked goods are commonly served during the winter holidays worldwide, particularly round or ring-shaped items. Italy has chiacchiere, which are honey-drenched balls of pasta dough, fried and dusted with powdered sugar. Residents of Poland, Hungary and the Netherlands eat doughnuts, and in the Netherlands they have oliebollen, which are doughnut-like pastries filled with apples, raisins and currants. In Mexico, there’s a ring-shaped cake called rosca de reyes and in Greece, a round cake called vasilopita is baked with a coin hidden inside.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-715-2805, rmittendorf@bhamherald.com, @bhamMitty

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