I live in the Philippines where local culture is basically a mix of Spanish traditions and Oriental superstition all overlaid with both local mysticism and aspects of Roman Catholicism. That said, holidays in my part of the world are marked by a number of traditions that are meant to guarantee prosperity and harmony in one’s home and within one’s family. The New Year, in particular, features a Midnight Meal (the Media Noche) that is steeped in and marked by the customs of one’s family.
The traditional meal I grew up eating on New Year’s Eve consists of paella Valenciana cooked according to my maternal grandmother’s recipe, embotido – a caul-wrapped meatloaf made mostly with pork and some bacon, ham, and a wealth of round fruits.
Of course, the menu has changed over the years. The embotido has been replaced by my mother’s meatloaf: a more savory affair that, while not as rich as the caul-and-bacon- bundled logs of old, is certainly delectable and satisfying. The ham has run the gamut of salty Chinese Hoc Shiu to sweetly smoky commercial Fiesta Ham to thin slices of jamon Iberico that were deliciously smoky and perfect on homemade bread.
Even the bread baked for the New Year has changed over time. I used to bake cinnamon buns at year’s end, then we moved on to cheese-topped foccacia. This year, I managed to rustle up a pane al cioccolato con quattro tesore – a fat chocolate yeast bread stuffed with coarsely-chopped Toblerone Noir, dried forest berries, almonds, and toasted sesame seeds.
But some things never – and, in my opinion, shouldn’t – change:
- Round fruits – Three kinds of oranges (thick-rinded navels, thin-skinned clementines [ponkan mandarins], and miniature kiat-kiats), brown-skinned Korean pears, seedless grapes, and deep-red apples are supposed to ensure that there is an ample amount of money coming into the family coffers throughout the year
- Sticky rice dishes – Sticky, glutinous rice dishes are supposed to keep good fortune glued to diners. In our family, these are usually the paella and suman sa ibus, sticky glutinous rice bars flavored with coconut milk and ginger while lightly sweetened with sugar. Risotto al funghi also works just as well.
- Sweets – These are supposed to ensure that you have a happy year. I am not sure if this has ever worked because there have been years when the fridge at home was positively stuffed to the gills with cakes and cookies and candies – and the year proved to be a harrowing one, alas.
- Wine (or a non-alcoholic fizzy like the one shown above) - It’s another of those things that’s supposed to perk people up; just don’t drink too much. :p
Happy New Year, dear readers! :D