Even non-believers succumb to superstitions when it comes to the start of the new year. All around the world, different cultures observe their own idiosyncratic rituals, from cleaning one’s home to sweep out evil spirits to a mass kiss-in at St. Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy. While some traditions are truly bizarre, the most persistent customs revolve around eating certain foods. So if you want some good juju for the next 12 months, here are some of the dishes that will help bring fortune and health for 2016.
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 this is the case, belly up to the sushi bar at Restaurant Suntory where slices of #1 grade tuna radiate with a translucent red color.
Also traced back to 15th century Japan is the ritual of having a bowl of ozoni soup on Oshogatsu, New Year’s Day. The classic dish is prepared with dashi, 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.
At Sansei Seafood Restaurant and Sushi Bar, serving ozoni at the strike of midnight has long been a tradition that dates back to its former Restaurant Row location. “D.K.’s mom used to make it on New Year’s Eve and Day,” says managing partner Ivy Nagayama. “So our chefs have continued her tradition.”
At Doraku, the sushi and sashimi deluxe platter offers an abundance of symbolism, including uni (sea urchin), which represents fertility; buri (yellowtail) signifies a wish to get ahead in life, since it’s a fish whose name changes as it gets older; and swordfish represents virtue, strength and protection.
“Doraku is a restaurant, bar and gathering place that celebrates Japanese food, drink and hospitality,” owner Kevin Aoki says on the restaurant’s website. “It’s a place to have fun with friends. It is the commitment to quality and attention to detail that make the Doraku experience live up to the meaning of its name — the road to happiness.” And maybe even prosperity.
When it comes to the new year, Asian cuisine is rife with meaning. At The Mandalay, a vast array of ingredients symbolizes recurring themes of prosperity (bean curd, black moss, cabbage, carrots and even a whole chicken); longevity (garlic chives, noodles, bamboo fungus, peach and arrowroot); and fertility (duck, egg, dates and lotus seeds).
It would also be hard for some aspect of dim sum not to “touch your heart,” as one of the translations of the term denotes. Everyone can pick a favorite from the innumerable little dishes prepared in a multitude of ways — fried, sautéed, steamed or baked — with assorted sweet or savory fillings, ranging from chives and shrimp to pork and beef. Interestingly, it’s believed that the more pleats in your dumplings, the more prosperity is to come. Dumplings should also be arranged in rows because a circular arrangement means your life is just going around in circles and not moving forward.
P.F. Chang’s does its best to provide Chinese cuisine that not only brings luck but a lot of flavor, too. Offering a little Northern and Southern flair, the vegetarian wraps are filled with meaningful ingredients, including chunks of wok-seared tofu melded with red onions, water chestnuts, mint and lime, all folded into a crisp, cool leaf of lettuce.
“A food may have special significance because of the way the Chinese word for it sounds,” says Chinese food expert Rhonda Parkinson. “For example, the Cantonese word for lettuce sounds like rising fortune, so it is very common to serve a lettuce wrap filled with other lucky food.”
And to indulge in the ultimate universal symbol of good fortune, toast, sip on a glass of bubbly at d.k Steak House where French Champagne flows and audible “cheers” echo throughout the bustling dining room. Of course an entrée of kiawe-smoked double cut Shinsato Farms pork is mandatory; after all the custom of eating pork on New Year’s is based on the idea that pigs symbolize progress.
And we can all raise our flutes to progress, health and wealth for 2016.