Growing up, I don’t recall any traditional New Years fare, but after visiting New Orleans and Haiti this fall I was exposed to some food traditions – all regarding what to eat on the New Year for the best of luck in the year to come.
Down South: Eating black-eyed peas on New Years Day is thought to bring prosperity for the year to come. They are often served along with pork, onions and hot sauce. Usually greens (collard, turnip or mustard) are part of the meal as well, which symbolize money and wealth. The practice of eating the peas was actually a Jewish tradition dating back to 500 C.E. and was adopted by non-Jews around the time of the Civil War. source
Japan: A sake cask is broken open and mochi is eaten – both which are thought to bring good luck. Mochi is a flat rice cake that can be sweet or savory and served plain or in soups. Noodles are also a common midnight feast at Buddhist Temples. source
Haiti: New Years Day is a huge celebration in Haiti as it is also their independence day. On January 1, 1804 they gained their independence from France. They celebrate by eating Soup Joumou, which is a symbol of communion and brotherhood, and a meal that was forbidden to them as slaves. The soup is made from pumpkins, meat, veggies, peppers and pasta. We actually had it a few times for breakfast (sans meat) and it was delicious – very reminiscent of a squash soup. I’m not sure if they customarily serve it throughout the year or if they just made it special for us. source
Germany: The Germans believe that by eating herring at the stroke of midnight good luck will come their way – as well as ensuring that lots of fish are caught throughout the year and there is food for everyone. We never had it at midnight, but it is a staple in my parent’s fridge. source
Greece: The customary New Years treat is Vasilopita, a cake with a coin baked inside – the person who bites into the cake with teh coin will have good luck for the upcoming year. The tradition started when the Bishop of Greece recovered large amounts of riches from the Ottoman’s. When he tried to redistribute the goods, everyone fought over what belonged to whom. Saint Basil then asked the women of Greece to bake a cake with riches inside. When he sliced the cake, the riches found their way back (miraculously) to the rightful owners. source