New Year’s food traditions


While 2022 is already in full swing, families around the world started the year with traditions they’ve upheld for centuries.

Tteok Mandu Guk – Korea

Celebrated on Lunar New Year’s Day, many Korean families indulge themselves in a fusion of traditional meals coming into the year. One such dish involves blending the well-known tteokguk (rice cake soup) with manduguk (dumpling soup), which is meant to symbolize luck and fortune for the coming year. Tteokguk – originating as a ritual food for ancestral rites – conveys a message of rebirth; the white color of the rice cakes symbolizes a blank slate on which to start the year. Each rice cake is similar to the shape of the old Korean coin, representing riches and prosperity. 

Grapes – Spain

As they await the toll of the midnight bell on Dec. 31, people of Spain gather at Madrid’s Puerta del Sol with something besides the expected champagne bottles. In preparation for the celebration, revelers hold twelve grapes in their hands and eat them when the clock strikes midnight—one for each toll. The fruit symbolizes good luck and prosperity, but, if one cannot eat all the grapes, bad luck is said to follow them into the new year. The flavor of the grapes—sweet or sour—also corresponds to good and bad fortunes.

Pomegranates – Turkey

As the new year approaches, it’s common to see many homes adorned with ornate decorations. While Turkey has only recognized New Year’s Day as an official holiday since 1935, the people there have long enjoyed the holiday with their unique customs. In Turkey, decorations often depict pomegranates—a long-standing symbol of good luck in the country. For the new year, pomegranates are often placed in front of households and smashed in hopes of good fortune. The amount of seeds that sprays out represents how much luck will follow you into the year. 

Tamales – Mexico

Originating as early as 8000 B.C.E. and a staple of Mesoamerican culture, tamales have always been a popular dish to celebrate life, family and heritage. In Mexico, the holiday season lasts from December 12, on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, to January 6, Three Kings’ Day. These little packets of meat wrapped in dough and corn husks are often served with menudo—a traditional Mexican soup—to further enhance the meal.

Longevity Noodles – China

Decided by the Chinese lunar calendar, Chinese New Year is celebrated on a different date each year, typically falling in early February. During this 16-day celebration, many families gather to eat longevity noodles. These extra long noodles symbolize a long life to come—one filled with prosperity and good fortune. The sauce is usually kept simple, featuring traditional flavors such as sesame and soy. An additional tradition is kept in the way the noodles are eaten, as it is considered polite to slurp your noodles to communicate appreciation to the cook in East Asian cultures.