A Cook's Diary

Scratch and peck and other food superstitions

Toward the end of 2009, we hosted two dinner parties at home—one for my in-laws and another for my girl friends in the UP College of Law. Because everything we served was home-cooked, Speedy and I had to divide the chores between us. I did the cooking; he did the food shopping.

When he got home from a last-minute trip to the supermarket on the morning of Dec. 30, despite looking tired and harassed from the thick crowds and long queues, he was smiling to himself and seemed amused. There were two women, he said, house helpers it appeared, who were arguing about what to buy and cook for New Year’s Eve. One was about to get some chicken but the other objected and told her, “Naku huwag, ayaw ni Sir n’yan kasi buong darating na taon na isang kahig, isang tuka.” Literally translated, “Oh, no, Sir wouldn’t like that because that means it’ll be scratch and peck [a figure of speech for living in poverty] throughout the coming year.”

Speedy guffawed and asked rhetorically if the scratch-and-speck belief applied to roast duck as well, our main dish for the New Year’s Eve family dinner. And he wondered what superstitions there might be with regard to eating pork—that it should be avoided lest the family eat nothing but kaning baboy all through the following year?

While it can be fun to observe customs and traditions, Filipinos do have a tendency to go to extremes. And the literal translation of figures of speech, like isang kahit, isang tuka, into superstitious beliefs as to what food should be avoided can be truly hilarious. A Filipino Web site, www.tagaloglang.com, lists other food-related superstitions associated with the New Year: (1) Prepare 12 round fruits (round shape, like coins, is a symbol of prosperity), one for each month of the coming new year. (2) Have a very round grape in your mouth at the stroke of midnight. (3) Eat a native delicacy made from sticky rice to make good fortune stick in the new year. (4) Eat long noodles (pansit) for long life. (5) Don’t have chicken or fish. They are associated with the scarcity of food.

I’m not a superstitious person. If I were, I wouldn’t have served chicken to family and friends on two successive nights so close to the end of the year. But I did serve chicken dishes on both occasions, one of which, the Vietnamese-style honey-ginger chicken, has become a family favorite (click here for the recipe).

Do you observe food-related practices for the New Year? Why? Why not?

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