In many parts of the world eating pulses is the traditional way to mark the beginning of the New Year. This is mainly because of the ancient association between pulses and good luck, especially lentils, whose round, coin-like shape is associated with prosperity in many cultures.
In Italy, it's customary to eat cotechino con lenticchie (sausages and green lentils) just after midnight. The cotechino, a seasoned pork sausage from the Emilia-Romagna region, is boiled, sliced and served with lots of lentils. According to Italian custom, if you start the New Year by eating lentils it will bring you prosperity. While most people just eat a small amount of the dish – not least because many will have already eaten a full meal earlier in the evening – the tradition has it that more lentils you eat, the richer you will be.
There is a similar tradition in Germany, in which a fully-eaten bowl of lentil soup (Linsensuppe) or bean soup (Bohnensuppe) is supposed to guarantee prosperity. New Year’s Eve meals in Germany often combine pulses with pork, usually lentil or split pea soup with sausage.
In Brazil, the first meal of the New Year for many people is usually lentil soup or lentils and rice. Not surprisingly, this tradition was brought to Brazil by Italian immigrants, and as in the mother country, is believed to bring good luck and abundance.
The Japanese eat the osechi-ryori, a group of symbolic dishes during the first three days of the New Year, including sweet black beans called kuro-mame. Osechi are easily recognizable by their special boxes called jūbako which resemble bentō boxes.
In the Southern United States it is traditional to eat dried peas in a dish also containing pork and rice, called Hoppin' John. This is believed to bring luck and peace in the coming year to anyone who eats it. Although any type of dried peas can be used for Hoppin’ John, the black-eyed pea is the most traditional. Like the lentils in other food cultures, the peas are considered to represent coins. The origins of the name “Hoppin’ John” are unclear. Some say an old, hobbled man called Hoppin’ John became famous for selling peas and rice on the streets of Charleston, although most food historians think the name derives from a French term for dried peas, “pois pigeons.”
However you choose to celebrate this New Year, we wish you luck and prosperity: 2016 is, after all, the Year of Pulses.