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Thanksgiving Traditions: Thai Meets Chinese Meets American

Thanksgiving may scream "turkey!" to you, but everyone celebrates it in their own way. Today we talk with AsianSupper's tum about how her multicultural Thanksgiving shapes up. 

Q: How do you typically celebrate Thanksgiving? 

A: My entire family and close friends come over … we usually have about 20 people altogether. We’re a multi-cultural group – Thai, American, Chinese, African-American so we have a lot of flavors going on!

Q: Let's talk a little about hosting etiquette. Do you expect people to bring over something?

A: [Thai] people don’t bring wine or flowers or chocolate or things like that. Normally it’s fruit or a potluck dish.

Q: Who does the cooking and when do you get started preparing?

A: I do most of it, and I start the night before.

Q: How does the prep start?

A: The day of, all the females in the family come over, and they come over starting around 10am for coffee and milk toast, or turkey congee. There’s a set menu, but everyone gets assigned a unique dish that they do well. The younger folk get assigned the side dishes or prep work that they help the older kids with, while the adults handle the proteins. In traditional Thai and Laotian cooking, you do a lot of prep work on the floor, since there wasn’t counterspace, so we follow that tradition.

Q: Tell us about what the spread looks like. 

A: It’s east meets West. We cook with turkey, but we don’t actually have a whole turkey to carve. So there might be turkey lettuce cups, turkey curry, turkey larb or we do a turkey soup – bok choi and shredded turkey. Most Southeast Asians don’t like turkey, since it’s expensive and fairly foreign. The first time we were introduced to turkey growing up, it was when my father brought it home from the factory one day. My mom had no idea what to do with it! We didn’t know that you needed to defrost it, and so we invented dishes for it. Our main entrees will typically be steamed fish, an Asian style pork loin (using this beef recipe), and my godmother always makes a lamb dish that’s crusted with curry. And for sides, we make snow peas with chili oil, Chinese broccoli, or other types of vegetable stir fry. We do roast a butternut squash and kombucha squash as a side.

Q: And how do you manage to seat a group of 20?

A: Everything is laid out at once and people can pick and choose what they want, but it’s important for everyone to sit together.

Q: Are there any religious traditions you observe?

A: We don’t have blessings, but everyone gets to stay what they are most thankful for this year. 

Q: What about traditional American Thanksgiving food, like cranberry sauce, or mashed potatoes or stuffing?

A: Nope, nope and nope. We do serve sticky rice in place of stuffing, and for carbs we have a noodle dish. The only truly American thing we have is apple and pumpkin pie, though we top it with coconut whipped cream – with no milk, whipped from the fat of coconuts, vanilla and sugar. Really good. For dessert, we have a buffet -- we usually serve traditional green noodles, tapioca and pudding with mango. We make the desserts the night before.

Q: What’s the most longstanding dish in your Thanksgiving tradition?

A: Tapioca pudding. Everyone gets to customize it – people can always choose their own fruit topping, and we manage to change it every year.

Image via Flickr / izik

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