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Why Eating Cabbage Rolls is Lucky on New Year’s

Photo by Kankana Saxena

In many parts of Eastern Europe, eating cabbage rolls for New Year’s is considered very lucky. Laura Kelley, author of The Silk Road Gourmet (iUniverse, 2009), says: “My mother said that cabbage rolls were considered lucky because the leaves looked like paper money. The New Year’s connection was to roll ingredients that symbolized different things — chestnuts and walnuts look like brains, so they signify intelligence; tomato is about health and transformation, etc. — into the leaves to bring these things to the family who ate them in the new year.”

According to Rabbi Issamar Ginzberg, the cabbage rolls, with cabbage on the outside and meat on the inside, are as a home should be: “Inside should be nice and comfy, but the outside? Don’t make the neighbors envious!” He says that in keeping with Hasidic Jewish tradition, the rolls are eaten on Jewish holidays like Rosh Hashana and Simchat Torah.

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Cotechino e Lenticchie, or What Italians Eat on New Year’s for Good Luck

Photo by Kankana Saxena

This hearty Italian dish from the northern Italian region of Umbria is said to bring good luck because the lentils look like coins when they are done cooking. “It is the traditional food eaten on New Year’s for good luck,” says Italy-based chef and owner of Cooking Vacations Lauren Birmingham Piscitelli. In particular, says Lauren, lentils are considered very lucky, “Dried lentils are often wrapped in little wreath-like decorations and passed out to friends and families ensuring health, happiness and good fortune in the new year.”

Cotechino sausage really belongs to Northern Italy, where it differs slightly from region to region. For example, in the town of Villastrada, they include a small amount of vanilla in the cure. “But in Piacenza, where my mother is from, the typical cotechino sausage is encased in a bladder or intestine, dried and aged for 30 to 40 days before being boiled. It has Barbera wine, peppercorns, and a mix of lean pork and fatty pork rind,” says home cook Christian Galliani. He recalls big family celebrations that focused on this dish during New Year’s Eve. “At least 20 people would come for my grandmother’s cotechino e lenticchie. They would talk of how the dish would lead to good fortune all year!”

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How Eating Whole Fish Could Bring Good Luck

Photo by Kankana Saxena

Throughout most of Asia, fish is cooked and served whole (head and tail intact) for good luck. “Whole steamed fish with scallions, shiitakes and cilantro is classic. Every household in China has this recipe,” says award-winning food writer and cookbook author Corinne Trang. Whole fish symbolizes abundance, she says, and so for special occasions like weddings and birthdays, it is customary and good luck to serve a whole fish at the table. “I will make it any time I want to have it, and that’s not necessarily attached to a holiday like the Chinese New Year.”

Fish also has symbolic significance because the Chinese word for fish, yu, sounds like the word for riches (abundance). California-based Chris Yeo, founder of Straits Restaurant Group in California, recommends cooking your fish for 8 minutes, as 8 is a lucky number. “It is customary to serve the whole fish last, pointed toward the guest of honor at the table.” He offers an interesting insight into the dish: The fish is never completely eaten, as leaving a little bit of it represents the family’s ability to “always have enough.” Chris, who co-authored The Cooking of Singapore (Harlow & Ratner, 1993), prepares his fish inspired by the flavors he grew up with in Hong Kong and Singapore.

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Dumplings Recipe for Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year Dumplings
Photo by Kankana Saxena
It is common knowledge that dumplings are considered to be lucky and are eaten for the Chinese New Year (lunar calendar), usually celebrated in February. But have you ever wondered why? “My mother is from Hong Kong,” says home cook Andrew Schrage, co-owner of MoneyCrashers.com, a financial fitness blog, “so I have always been very superstitious and cognizant of Chinese traditions. I’ve heard that the shape of dumplings resembles the gold coins of ancient China, symbolizing prosperity.”

Schrage says making dumplings was serious business in his family when he was growing up, and for the longest time only his mother was allowed to do it. “It was only after a lot of practice that my older brother or I would be allowed to help prepare the dumplings for our New Year’s meal. It was almost a rite of passage,” he says. Though it is traditional to make dumplings for New Year’s celebrations, Schrage enjoys eating them so much that now he makes them year-round.

Chef Chris Yeo serves a delicate array of dim sum at his restaurant Sino in San Jose, California, and says, “Dim sum, a type of dumpling, means ‘a little something from the heart’ and symbolizes fortune and good luck. They are small and shaped like coins, further emphasizing the good luck symbol.” He adds that dumplings resemble the ingots that once were China’s currency, so eating them brings hope of an auspicious and fortunate year. Some cooks stuff a lump of sugar in a dumpling to ensure sweetness! And there is even a tradition of hiding a coin in a dumpling now and then. “If you don’t break a tooth [when you eat the coin-filled dumpling], you are considered lucky for the year,” says Yeo.

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The Luckiest Food to Eat in January

Lucky Food to Eat in January
Photo by Kankana Saxena
What did you eat to welcome in the New Year? If it was pork and sauerkraut, then consider yourself blessed with good luck in the coming year! Many people around the world, including in Hungary, Germany, Czech Republic and other countries in those parts of Europe, believe that eating pig on New Year’s Eve brings good luck. Why? Unlike cows and chickens, pigs kick forward so they will take you forward in the New Year!

If you grew up in parts of Pennsylvania or the Midwest, you may have experienced this tradition firsthand. According to Casey Barber, author of the forthcoming Classic Snacks Made from Scratch: 70 Homemade Versions of Your Favorite Brand-Name Treats (Ulysses Press), pork with sauerkraut is a staple in any community with a historically prominent Eastern European or German immigrant population. Pork and cabbage symbolize riches and prosperity for a New Year. “The pig,” she adds, “does double duty to stand for progress as a forward-rooting and forward-thinking animal.”

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