It’s time to go out with the old and in with the new, and in 2023 we need whatever is new to be as positive as possible. And while it’s ultimately up to us to make the most of a new year, there are plenty of existing culinary traditions that will give us a little help—and we can use all the help we can get. While planning the menu for your New Year’s Eve celebration or your day after hangover brunch, consider adding these luck-bringing dishes to the menu for a year filled with abundance and prosperity.
Fish is a lucky dish in many cultures, symbolizing abundance and fertility. Pickled fish in particular is a New Year’s Eve treat in Germany, Poland, and Scandinavia, traditionally consumed right at the stroke of midnight to bring about prosperity and bounty. In Chinese tradition, an entire fish is steamed to represent abundance throughout the entire year.
Both black-eyed peas and collard greens are Southern foods that symbolize wealth, with the peas representing coins and the greens representing paper dollars. While they can each be eaten on their own, Hoppin’ John is a delicious dish that combines both for an even better shot at prosperity in the new year.
The tradition of eating 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve started in Spain, and according to lore it was pushed by grape farmers who were simply trying to get rid of surplus from their harvest. Since then it’s taken on a life of its own, and it’s common in Spanish and Latin American cultures for people to eat 12 grapes, one at each of the clock chimes when midnight hits. If you succeed in finishing the grapes by the time the chimes stop, you’ll have good luck for the year. But beware before you take the challenge on: If you fail, it will be a very unlucky year.
If you’re making New Year noodles, you’ll want them to be as long as possible. For the most successful “longevity noodles,” which are meant to usher in a long and fulfilling life, whoever is cooking the dish should not cut or break the noodle and whoever is eating should slurp each piece down without biting through the noodle. The tradition was started during the Chinese celebration of Lunar New Year and has since been adopted by other cultures.
To ensure prosperity in the new year and get out some yearlong pent-up aggression, try the Greek tradition of smashing pomegranates. When the clock strikes midnight, the pomegranate should be thrown either to the ground in front of the door to your home or the door itself, and the more seeds that scatter from the fruit, the better. Those pomegranate seeds represent fertility, eternity, and good fortune. Pro tip: put down a clean surface for the smashing so you can safely use the seeds in a New Year’s Day dish or cocktail.
Another lucky food with origins in Lunar New Year tradition is the orange. The Chinese word for orange sounds like “wealth,” and the spherical shape symbolizes that wealth rolling in when the new year comes. And it doesn’t stop at oranges—several citrus fruits fit the bill. According to the tradition, tangerines and kumquats represent luck, and pomelos ward away evil spirits and all bad luck.
In the states, the German tradition of eating a pretzel is most closely followed in the Pittsburgh area. On a purely aesthetic level, the pretzel’s intricate braiding is meant to represent the passage of time, indicating a long and winding life. Historically, pretzels’ status as a Lenten treat in the Catholic church relates the food to God, making each one representative of a blessing.
This Irish tradition is another that lets you channel some aggression: bake a loaf of bread, then bang it as hard as you can against your walls and doors to scare off any evil spirits. Once the demons are at bay, eating the bread ensures that you won’t experience hunger in the year to come.
We recently discovered that the Lemon Pig wasn’t originally a harbinger of good fortune, but rather a cheap craft for kids. Still, that hasn’t stopped the adorable (and sometimes monstrous) creation to take on a lore of its own as a good luck charm in the new year. To make a lemon pig, all you have to do is add little toothpick legs to a lemon, cut a tiny nose and mouth, and use something dainty like cloves for the pig’s eyes. Slide a coin of your choice into the pig’s mouth, and wait for the good luck and fortune to roll in.