Grapes, menudo, black-eyed peas and soba on LA's diverse New Year's menu

Dargin McWhorter, owner of Big Mama's Rib Shack in Pasadena, with a pot of black-eyed peas. Eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day is a Southern tradition, said to bring luck and prosperity.
Dargin McWhorter, owner of Big Mama's Rib Shack in Pasadena, with a pot of black-eyed peas. Eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day is a Southern tradition, said to bring luck and prosperity.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC
Dargin McWhorter, owner of Big Mama's Rib Shack in Pasadena, with a pot of black-eyed peas. Eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day is a Southern tradition, said to bring luck and prosperity.
An employee at Baja Ranch supermarket stocks red grapes, big sellers with Latino customers for New Year's Eve. Eating 12 grapes at midnight for good luck is an old Spanish tradition, observed in much of Latin America.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC
Dargin McWhorter, owner of Big Mama's Rib Shack in Pasadena, with a pot of black-eyed peas. Eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day is a Southern tradition, said to bring luck and prosperity.
Large cans of hominy, a main ingredient in menudo and pozole, on display at Baja Ranch supermarket in Pasadena.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC
Dargin McWhorter, owner of Big Mama's Rib Shack in Pasadena, with a pot of black-eyed peas. Eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day is a Southern tradition, said to bring luck and prosperity.
A customer checks out with her holiday meal purchases early New Year's Eve at Baja Ranch supermarket in Pasadena.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC


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On the morning of New Year's Eve, employees at the Baja Ranch supermarket in Pasadena stacked big cellophane bags of red grapes in the produce section, almost as fast as customers bought them.

Store manager Jose Luis Bañuelos explained why the rush on grapes.

"They buy grapes because it's a tradition," he said. "They eat them after midnight. They say it brings good luck to you.”

Eating 12 grapes at midnight – one for each month - is an old Spanish custom. It’s observed in much of Latin America. And it takes a bit of skill.

“You have to eat them in less than a minute, if you can!" said Bañuelos, laughing. "And make a wish for each one of them."

Other stuff that was flying off the shelves? Masa for tamales, and big cans of hominy used to make menudo. The soup is a New Year’s Day favorite in Mexico - and especially good for taking the edge off the previous night's revelry.

There are more New Year's treats cooking around town: At Japanese grocery stores, people bought up buckwheat soba noodles, used to make a traditional meal.

And in a Southern-style soul food kitchen in north Pasadena, Dargin McWhorter stirred up a giant cauldron of a tradition that's supposed to bring good luck and prosperity.

“It’s a New Year's tradition to eat black-eyed peas," said McWhorter, who grew up in Tennessee and has run Big Mama's Rib Shack in Pasadena since 1970. "Every new year.”

He said customers usually pick up large orders of the black-eyed peas to go, along with chitlins, fried hog intestine, part of the New Year's Day meal. But McWhorter has already sold out of those. 

Do you have a special New Year meal that you share with your family? Tell us.