The festive crackle and blaze of fireworks, the 12 chimes of the bell tower, the cheery cries of ‘Happy New Year!’ on the stroke of midnight, 31st December is more commonly associated with Champagne-toasted revelry but around the world, New Year’s Eve tables are laid with gastronomic feasts that mark the occasion with a uniquely local flavour. From lentils and pork in Prague and mayonnaise-saturated salads in St Petersburg to post-midnight spiced hot chocolate in Malta, here are the most delicious—and traditional—ways to ring in the new year in Corinthia’s favourite destinations.
While the Spanish mark midnight on the 31st December with 12 grapes, eating one for each chime of the clock or month of the year, the Portuguese ensure everyone has a handful of 12 raisins. Tradition requires that you make a wish for each one eaten. Afterwards, sit down to a traditional New Year’s Eve late-night snack, Portuguese style. Caldo verde is a simple, light, deliciously seasoned vegetable soup cut through with chorizo. Mop it up with hunks of fresh broa, or corn bread.
While Lisbon certainly puts on a big party at New Year’s Eve, further south towards the Algarve, celebrations grow altogether noisier. Villagers across the land bang pots and pans together to ward off malevolent spirits, which, combined with the nationwide fireworks crackling and popping across the night sky, guarantees an immense celebratory cacophony come midnight.
It might be New Year’s Eve among anglophones, but in the Czech Republic, it’s St Sylvester’s Day after the saint who served as the Pope in the fourth century. The saintly hero counts curing the incurable as one of his miraculous feats, and is summoned on his feast day to bring wealth and good tidings.
Čočka—a savoury lentil stew topped with eggs—is traditionally served alongside the end-of-year feast. The lentils symbolise coins, a portent of the prosperity to come. Less squeamish gastronomes can join Czech traditionalists and tuck into braised pig’s head served with a side of fiery freshly grated horseradish. Happily sated upon traditional festive Czech cuisine, raise a sparkling glass of local celebratory tipple Bohemia Sekt to ring in the new year as the locals do.
What more august way to usher in a new year than with Champagne—if not its popular local equivalent Sovietskoye—and caviar. Beluga on blinis (or, more commonly, red roe on buttered bread) is the canapé du jour on New Year’s Eve in the Russian city. It preludes a rich, festive spread that spills indulgently across banquet tables. The usual suspects include roast duck or sucking pig cooked with apples, Olivier (also known as Russian) salad—the heavier on the mayonnaise the better, and Selyodka pod Shuboi or Herring Under a Fur Coat. This vivid Russian staple comprises unctuous layers of diced, pickled fish with cubed beetroots, potatoes, carrots, eggs and, of course, mayonnaise. Tangerines are traditionally enjoyed after the feast.
New Year’s Eve in Malta is a good excuse to lay down a banquet that includes some of the island’s best-loved fare: baked macaroni, roast turkey and potatoes, and Christmas pudding. After dinner, the festivities begin. The street party in Valletta is a great place to soak up the celebratory atmosphere before catching the concert at the Granaries, featuring Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja and operatic heavyweight Andrea Bocelli in 2019.
Come the countdown, it’s time to put down the Champagne flute and fill a mug with Imbuljuta tal-Qastan instead. The rich, Mediterranean cousin of traditional hot chocolate, Imbuljuta tal-Qastan is a decadent blend of cocoa thickened with chestnuts and flavoured with cloves and tangerine zest. It’s the traditional drink on New Year’s Eve in Malta, and certainly fortifies imbibers for a night of serious partying. The sustenance comes in very handy. Malta’s firework-festooned New Year’s Eve parties are notorious for running well into the early hours of the morning.
From galettes des rois in France and bolo rei in Portugal to rosca de reyes in Mexico, Epiphany bakes start making their aromatic, golden appearance well before New Year’s Eve around the world. In Budapest, however, the traditional local bake is the pogača, a humble, local take on the bread roll. These are prepared specifically to usher in the new year. Traditionally, a lucky few from the freshly baked batch contain a coin. Those fortunate enough to pick a pogača containing said treasure will enjoy prosperity and success over the next 12 months.
On New Year’s Day in Hungary, it’s traditional to eat pork, as pigs signify prosperity. Similarly, lentils symbolise wealth. A dish that combines the two, such as lentil soup cut through with bacon, guarantees a shining future. Seek out a steaming bowl of korhely leves, a rich cabbage stew topped with slices of sausage and garnished with sour cream… there’s no better hangover cure.