New Year’s Eve culinary traditions across Europe
It is the time of the year when no matter the country and language everyone puts diet and gym on pause and gets merry behind the dinner table.
France wouldn’t be France without its gourmet food and for the end of the year festivities, the French bring out the crème de la crème in a soirée of lush abundance. If you are lucky to be invited for the New Year’s Eve dinner (or Le Réveillon du Nouvel An as it is referred to by the locals) in a French house, you can expect a royal feast. It is common to spend hours by the table endulging in foie gras, caviar, oysters and goose dishes while sipping on copious amounts of champagne and fine wine. Midnight will be greated with kisses on both cheeks and a cheerful ‘bonne année!”
The most anticipated moment of the New Year’s Eve in Greece is cutting the traditional cake Vasilopita straight after midnight. While baking, a coin or a small medallion is hidden inside the cake and it is believed that the person who will find it will gain fortune in the New Year. The tradition has been held for hundred of years and carries on in modern Greek households. The first slice always goes to Jesus Christ, second to Virgin Mary, third is for the Greek Santa called Saint Vassilis that only comes on New Year eve and that the cake is named after. The household then will share the cake from oldest to youngest, hoping to find the lucky coin without chipping their teeth.
You should also watch your teeth in Bulgaria as similarly to Greece, you may find your fortune in the banitza, a cheese cake custom made for the number of invitees plus an extra slice for Holy Mary. Each slice contains a surprise: a coin for luck, a dogwood branch with bud for health or a bit more bite-friendly, written wishes on small pieces of paper.
The Italians put pasta aside for one night only to make place for lentils that bring the New Year prosperity as tradition claims. It is usually paired with cotechino, a large cooked salami-like sausage made from pork rind, meat, fat and spices or zampone, a hollowed-out trotter stuffed with the same ingredients. Pork is the perfect companion to bring the fatty richness to your plate and, it is thought, to bless the New Year with luck.
Lentils are also popular at the neighboring Spain as there they represent coins. Eating a soup of ‘coins’ on New Year’s Day will bring wealth for the rest of the year. On the New Year’s Eve, as the clocks tick closer to midnight, everyone grabs a handful of green grapes. With 12 grapes representing each month of the year, people race with time to gulp a grape at each of the last 12 clock chimes of the year to bring luck to the next 12 upcoming months.
The Austrians waltz into the New Year with a little help of punch and pig. Warmed sugary red wine mixed with cinnamon serves well as a companion to suckling pig dishes. The charm of luck, pig , comes in different sweet flavours including marzipan, chocolates, cookies, fudge or maple syrup. And if it’s not sweet enough, green peppermint ice cream is served on a four leaf clover for the ultimate wish of luck. As clock strikes midnight, in true Austrian fashion, you may find people waltzing in the streets, quite literally.
Pork, wild boar or beef are greatly popular on New Year eve’s dinner table in Croatia, often accompanied with boiled cabbage. It is considered bad luck to eat lobster or crab as they crawl backwards and could set back your year. You should not choose chicken or fish either if you don’t want your luck to simply fly or swim away. Do stick around for the New Year’s Day to dig into freshly baked jam-filled doughnuts – it is a sweet tradition wishing that luck will rise as the dough of cake.
By Gabi Gheerbrant, Travel Writer