Critiques, Cravings and Conundrums From the Madison Food and Dining Scene
Dec 26, 2010
03:37 PM
Small Dishes

Good Luck!

Good Luck!


I’ve always been amazed by all the different foods one’s suppose to consume just to get the New Year off to a good start. (So much for dieting.)  When I grew up, it was all about black-eyed peas—I’m talking about the funky vegetable, not the hip hop group.  I hated them (the funky vegetable)—at best they tasted bland, but always had a hint of dirt.  I’ve heard two different stories as to why eating them is supposed to be lucky. One says they resemble coins. (Really?)  The other is that during the Civil War when Vicksburg was under siege the dried legumes saved its inhabitants from starvation. (Not much of a culinary recommendation though.)  Seemingly ‘bout the only thing one shouldn’t consume this time of year is lobster—they swim backwards—and chickens—they scratch backwards:  Eating either assures a bleak outlook for the coming year.  Regardless, come the first day of 2011 I’ll bet I’ll be consuming large quantities of water and ibuprofen.


The Incomplete List of Lucky New Year Foods



China: A whole fish because all things should have a beginning and an end.

Denmark: Boiled cod.

Germany, Poland and Upper Midwest: Pickled herring.

Italy: Baccalà, dried salt cod.

Japan: Herring roe for fertility, shrimp for long life, and dried sardines for a good harvest.

Vietnam: Carp.



Austria: Anything porky.

Cuba: Suckling pig.

Italy: Zampone, pigs feet with lentils.


Baltimore: Sauerkraut with beef short ribs.

Bosnia and Croatia: Sarma, cabbage rolls with beef.

Denmark: Stewed kale with sugar and cinnamon.

Germany: Sauerkraut.

Southern United States: Collard greens—the more greens you eat the luckier you’ll be in new year.

Texas: Coleslaw.



Brazil: Lentil soup or lentils and rice.

Germany: Split pea soup with sausage.

Italy: Cotechino con lenticchie, sausage and green lentils.

Japan: Kuro-mame, sweet black beans—part of osechi-ryori, a group of dishes eaten during the first three days of the new year.

Southern United States:  Black-eyed peas or Hoppin’ John (recipe below).


Rice and Noodles

Cambodia: Sticky rice cakes with sweet beans.

China: Dumplings.

India: Boiled rice.

Japan: Soba noodles—sucked up without breaking to insure long life.



Israel: Apples dipped in honey.

Spain and Latin America: Twelve grapes are consumed at midnight, each grape representing a different month.  For example, if the last grape is exceptionally sweet, December will be an exceptionally good month. 

Turkey: Pomegranates.


Cakes and Desserts

France: Crêpes.

Greece: Vasilopita—“Basil’s Bread”—a round cake with a coin baked inside.  The first slice goes to St. Basil, then the rest to guests, with the oldest served first and the youngest last. Receiving the coin guarantees prosperity during the coming year.

Hungary and Poland: Donuts.

Italy: Chiacchiere, honey-coated balls of fried dough dusted with powdered sugar.

Mexico: Rosca de reyes—“King’s Ring”—circular cake decorated with candied fruit and a surprise hidden inside for the lucky recipient.

Netherlands: Ollie bollen, a kind of donut filled with apples, raisins and currants

Norway and Sweden:  Rice pudding with a single almond that will bring good fortune to the finder.

Scotland: Hogmanay black bun—a fruit cake.

Southern United States: Coconut cake.

Switzerland: Whipped cream.



Hoppin' John


1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large ham hock

1 cup yellow onion, chopped

½ cup celery, chopped

½ cup green pepper, chopped

1 jalapeño, stemmed seed and chopped

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1 pound black-eyed peas, soaked overnight and rinsed

1 quart chicken stock

Bay leaf

1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

Salt, freshly ground black pepper, and cayenne



3 tablespoons finely chopped green onion


Seamed white rice


Heat oil in a large soup pot, add the ham hock and sear on all sides for 4 minutes. Add the onion, celery, green pepper, jalapeño and garlic; cook for 4 minutes. Add the black-eyed peas, stock, bay leaves, thyme, and seasonings. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 40 minutes, or until the peas are creamy and tender, stir occasionally. If the liquid evaporates, add more water or stock. Adjust seasonings, and garnish with green onions. Serve over rice.


Serves 8.

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About This Blog

Dan CurdI found my interest in writing by accident. My training and first job was as a graphic designer. Unemployed, the only employment I could find in advertising at that time was as a copywriter. Somehow, I convinced Richard Newman & Associates to hire me. Later I learned they were desperate. Madison has been my home off and on since 1957 (nonstop for the past 31 years). I write about food, which I love. – Dan Curd

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