Good Luck Food: Foods Eaten for Good Fortune in China, Italy, and the American South

Around the world, families share good luck food. Foods eaten for good fortune in China, Italy, and the American South, for example, bring traditions to the dinner table, especially at holidays. Here are some foods people eat for fun and fortune.

Italian

In Italy, drinking sambuca is believed to bring good luck. A licorice-flavored liqueur, sambuca is often served neat, with three roasted coffee beans floated in the glass. The beans represent health, happiness, and prosperity.

Pork is good-luck food in Italy, where the richness of the meat represents a rich life. Lentils, especially in a stew of lentils and sausage, are a symbol of wealth. The round, flat lentils symbolize millions of coins.

In some villages, families rid the home of all the old beans on New Year's Eve. The beans are cooked together in a soup called Millecosedde, which means a million little things, and eaten at midnight. This shows humility, trust in providence, and willingness to let go of the past.

Millecosedde recipes vary, but here is a traditional one:

1 1/2 cups mixed dried beans
1/2 cup olive oil
1 minced onion
1 chopped celery stalk
1/2 small head purple cabbage, sliced vertically
3 ounces dried porcini mushrooms, or mixed wild mushrooms
1/4 cup lentils
1/2 pound rigatoni or similar large pasta
5 tablespoons freshly grated hard cheese

Wash and sort the beans and soak overnight in plenty of water. Discard the soaking water. In a large pot, gently saute the onion and celery until the onion is translucent, then add the cabbage and cook until it wilts. Add the mushrooms and their strained liquid, and the beans and 6 cups water.

Bring to a boil and cook slowly for two hours, adding water if needed. Add the lentils, and salt and pepper to taste, and cook two more hours.

When the beans are almost done, boil the rigatoni separately. Add to the soup and serve, passing cheese and pepper.

The purple cabbage tints the soup lavender, which some disdain; green cabbage does not, but gives the soup less body.

China

Chinese New Year foods are often red or orange. Citrus fruits are considered lucky because they are an auspicious color and their taste foretells a sweet year. In Chinese, the word for oranges sounds like the word for gold, and the word for tangerine sounds like luck. Tangerines are even luckier if displayed with their green leaves attached because the leaves symbolize longevity. The pomelo, a large citrus fruit that tastes something like a sweet grapefruit, is also prepared as a centerpiece in some Chinese homes to bring luck. The word for pomelo sounds like the term for high status.

Long noodles are another food believed to bring good fortune. Cooks and diners are careful not to cut them short, because to do so might impair longevity. Long noodles are eaten carefully.

Finally, desserts and candies assure happy children and sweet days to come.

Longevity noodles, American style:

1/2 pound angel hair pasta

Sauce:

2 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon fish sauce, shoyu, or light soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
2 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water

2 boiled eggs, sliced or quartered
3 green onions, sliced
2/3 cup neatly sliced cooked chicken, shrimp or duck breast
lightly cooked asparagus tips, or French cut green beans, or snow pea strips
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Rinse it thoroughly in cold water, drain, and divide among four or five bowls.

Mix the sauce ingredients and bring to a boil, stirring so it will not lump. Cornstarch will not mix with hot liquid, but must be thoroughly mixed in cold. Pour broth over noodles and garnish with chicken and vegetables. Sprinkle with sesame oil.

The American South

In the American South, cooks use simple local foods, beautifully prepared, to bring luck at the New Year. The coastal Carolinas and Georgia are rice-growing territory. There, a lucky food is Hoppin' John, which mixes rice and beans. Farther west, simple field peas like black-eyed peas or cowpeas, without the rice, are eaten for luck.

Collards or other greens are often cooked with cured pork for good fortune as well. The greens represent money -- always nice to have -- and pork represents richness. Baked ham is sometimes served with yellow cornbread that symbolizes gold.

Those who want the good luck associated with pigs without eating pork may choose to eat sugar cookies instead. Bake in the shape of pigs and cover with pink icing.

Hoppin' John:

2 cups dried black-eyed peas
1/2 pound dry cured salt pork
1 chopped onion
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon crushed red chili pepper
salt and pepper
1 cup uncooked rice
4 mint sprigs

Wash and sort the peas and soak overnight. Discard the soaking water and bring the peas to a boil with 6 cups water. Skim the pot and simmer about 30 minutes. Add pork, onion, thyme, pepper, and bay leaf. Cover and simmer about two hours until peas are tender. Remove bay and discard. Drain and remove peas and pork, saving the liquid.

Bring 2 cups of the broth to a boil and add the rice. Cover pan and cook on lowest heat for 20 minutes. Drain the rice and fluff with a fork. Taste both rice and beans for salt and pepper, and add if needed. Slowly mix in the peas as you fluff. Mound in a serving dish and top with the chunk of pork. Just before serving, garnish with mint.

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