Island residents may be singing “Auld Lang Syne” a little louder on New Year’s Eve, anxious to say goodbye to what’s amounted to a turbulent 12 months. With widespread news of shootings, combative Congress and Obamacare dominating this year’s headlines, we could all use a little luck and good fortune in 2014.
While my spouse and I generally don’t fall victim to superstition, we’re going to usher in the new year with different foods—from different cultures—that are believed to represent good luck.
Locally, the run-up to New Year’s Eve celebrations typically means fluctuating prices for sashimi-grade ahi. In previous years, I’ve seen the cost of highly-prized tuna climb to $40 per block. This year, though, I’m hoping prices to hover between $25 and $28 per block, give or take a few dollars either way.
In the past cheff Geoffrey Arakawa has shared his advice on how to choose ahi, explaining that the #1 grade should possess a translucent red color while the #2 grade will have a light pinkish-brown hue. “Sometimes ten boats may go out and maybe only one will come back with #1 grade ahi,” Arakawa said. “Other times, all of them might come back with the #1 grade. Fishermen don’t have any control in what they’re going to catch on any certain day.”
The custom of eating sashimi on Dec. 31 finds its roots in local Japanese culture, with the fish representing prosperity for the coming year.
If that’s the case, then we could all use a couple of pounds, even if it is a #2 grade.
Also traced back to 15th century Japan is the ritual of having a bowl of ozoni soup, pictured above, prepared with dashi (which most people will replace with chicken stock), daikon, and circular slices of mochi and kamaboko (fish cake). The round shape of the mochi — and its glutinous texture — and kamaboko represent family harmony and cohesiveness.
In my spouse’s family, eating sauerkraut is an annual tradition said to bring good tidings. Unfortunately, unless it’s on a Costco hot dog, we generally don’t stock a jar of the fermented cabbage in our fridge, but we will this year, and we’ll serve it as one of our side dishes. I’m thinking one jar should last us throughout the year and I’m hoping that luck follows with it.
Aside from lechon (roast pork) and lumpia (vegetable springroll), a New Year staple growing up in my household was pancit, stir-fried noodles mixed with bits of chicken, ground pork, julienned carrots and celery, and garnished with green onions, quartered hard-boiled eggs, crushed chicharon (pork rinds) and a splash of kalamansi (a Filipino green lime).
Like in almost every Asian culture, the noodles in this dish symbolize longevity. So I’ll be sure not to cut them.
Other cultures around the globe have their own New Year’s culinary idiosyncrasies. Italians will eat lentils because their green hue resembles the color of greenbacks. Austrians, Germans, Finnish and Poles believe in eating silver herring.
Meanwhile, the Spanish and Greeks will consume 12 grapes at midnight, one to bring luck for each month. Maybe I’ll sneak in an extra grape or two for added good measure. In Chinese, kam (Mandarin orange) sounds a lot like kat (gold). Need I say more? And to indulge in the universal symbol of good fortune, toast, sip on a glass of Champagne at midnight and sing “Auld Lang Syne.”
Now that’s a superstition we can all believe in.