Mochi are a Japanese New Year's treat.
From sufganiyot to tamales, mochi to mince pies, traditional holiday foods are as varied as the cultures to which they belong. But no matter what the continent of origin, these specialties have one thing in common: they’re best enjoyed in good company.
Potato pancakes, or latkes, aren’t the only fried delicacy of Hanukkah. Delectable sufganiyot, or jelly-filled donuts, often dusted in granulated sugar, give a sweet twist to the spirit of the holiday (in which a small amount of oil lasted eight days). A number of city shops and bakeries, including Holyland Market (122 St. Mark’s Place, near Avenue A, 212-477-4440), carry the real deal.
In the age of the Crusades, mince pies (aka mincemeat pies and Christmas pies) were made with three spices to commemorate the wise men’s gifts. Today, the predominantly sweet, meatless creations — stuffed instead with a preserve of fresh and dried fruits, spices and nuts — are a staple at holiday meals in the U.K. and a favorite treat to leave for Father Christmas. The petite mince pies ($2.25 ea.) from Myers of Keswick (634 Hudson St.,btwn. Horatio and Jane sts., 212-691-4194) will spice up any holiday fête.
Making tamales from scratch is so labor- and time-intensive that tamale-making gatherings, known as “tamaladas,” are typically reserved for the holidays when family get-togethers supply the necessary hands. Find the essentials to host your own tamalada at Original Mexican Food Deli (3011 29th St., nr. 30th Ave., Long Island City, 718-274-6936).
Or, take home an assortment of the tamales ($1 ea.) — including sweet corn, poblano peppers and chicken and mole rojo varieties — for which the market is known.
It isn’t New Year’s Eve in Italy without cotechino con lenticchie, lentils served warm with thick slices of spicy cotechino sausage. The lentils symbolize coins, suggesting prosperity for the coming year; this dish is sure to be a special of the night at Italian restaurants throughout the city. Alternately, purchase a cotechino sausage from an authentic Italian butcher, such as NoLita’s Albanese Meats (238 Elizabeth St.,btwn Houston and Prince sts., 212-966-1788), and make your own.
In Japan, mochi — smooth, pliant rice cakes filled with sweet red- or white-bean paste — are the emblem of prosperity and good luck on New Year’s Day. Try your hand at making fresh mochi at EN Japanese Bistro (435 Hudson St., 212-647-9196), during their annual New Year’s Eve mochi-tsuki event, or round out your New Year’s Day feast with assorted flavors, including green tea and chocolate (($2-$3 ea.), from premium Japanese confectioner Minamoto Kitchoan (608 Fifth Ave, btwn 48th & 49th sts., 212-489-3747).