That’s how a turkey gobbles in Portuguese. Weren’t you just dying to know that?
Well, it’s that time of year again. The only national holiday centered around food. This year, around 270 million turkeys were produced in the U.S., and roughly 90% of Americans will eat them on Thanksgiving.
Actually, that’s very cool, because Thanksgiving is an equal opportunity holiday — regardless of race, religion, age, gender, or political belief, most everyone has the same agenda: get together with family and friends, express gratitude for our many blessings, then feast till our buttons pop.
We’ll be going over to a friend’s house on Thursday, and I haven’t yet decided what to bring. The hostess said, "Surprise me."
Let’s see. What was my favorite part of all those childhood Hawai’i Thanksgivings? There was always turkey and ham, wheat bread stuffing and gravy, a large platter of Chinese noodles, sushi, one or two jello molds, mashed potatoes and rice, fresh cranberry sauce, several kinds of kimchee (won bok, cucumber, turnip), sashimi (raw fish), flaky butter rolls, some hot veggies (cauliflower or broccoli), and, of course, pies — pumpkin, apple, and pecan. Grandma refused to eat turkey, so someone would always make sure to roast her a chicken.
If you’ve read Dumpling Soup (Little, Brown, 1998), you know that the Yang family can eat. New Year’s was always at Grandma’s, but for Christmas and Thanksgiving, we had potluck at a different auntie and uncle’s house each year. Since my mother had eleven siblings, the rotation was reasonable. You’d only have to worry about having the starving masses at your house every five years or so! But with that many people to feed, Thanksgiving had to be a buffet — no white tablecloths or cornucopia centerpieces, silver flatware or crystal wine goblets.
No, in Hawai’i, we ate our Thanksgiving food on paper plates and used wooden chopsticks. We’d arrive at the host family’s doorstep just in time for a pilgrimish lunch, followed by practice naps and football, then we’d seal the deal with a nice big bowl of turkey soup for dinner. Yes, there was soup!! The hot topic of conversation was, "What should we eat for Christmas?" And even after all that feasting, chewing, lip smacking, gurgling, burping, and gossiping, there’d be plenty of leftovers for everyone to take home a good share.
That’s what my idea of Thanksgiving was, until I married a New Englander. Enter (*drum roll*), the traditional haole (white) Thanksgiving dinner: oh, the turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce were the same, but stuffing was called "dressing," and in place of kimchee and sushi, there was mashed butternut squash and turnip, boiled onions, parsnips, green bean casserole, and a relish tray. Pumpkin pie often made an appearance, but didn’t seem to be as drool-worthy as mincemeat.
And, you had to sit up straight in the presence of tablecloths, linen napkins, good flatware and crystal, wine with dinner. A far cry from my Hawai’i relatives in their shorts and aloha shirts. Still, it was about family. A feeling of coming home — college kids on break, newlyweds joining the circle for the first time, grandparents’ eyes glistening with pride as they glance over at the children’s table.
Thanksgiving doesn’t suffer from the materialistic concerns that characterize Christmas, and that’s something to be thankful for. Its sole gift is the universal desire to be with loved ones and share a meal that’s much more than a meal. Turkey remains the main attraction, but a wide assortment of side dishes, reflecting our immigrant heritage, allows us to celebrate our diversity with the unique flavor of coming from.
Alongside the gobbler, it’s not unusual for lasagna, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, kugel, duck, goose, or Dungeness crab to take a bow. And there are regional differences when it comes to making stuffing — corn bread, white bread, sausage, raisins, nuts, oysters, apples, or giblets?
We all have our personal favorites too — the one dish that must be there to make Thanksgiving complete. Sure, I get excited about the entire meal, especially the moist, white turkey meat drowning in an artfully prepared gravy and those candied sweet potatoes. But for me, Thanksgiving is really about the pies. I love them, and they love me right back. What other food can do that?
That settles it. Chocolate pecan on Thursday!
Your turn: What’s the one thing you absolutely have to eat on Thanksgiving? Are there any special family recipes or non-traditional sides that are always on your table? Please dish it up!!