A different type of Thanksgiving abroad
What results when Chinese, British, American, half-Australian and half-Indian flatmates attempt to cook dinner together on a holiday that normally passes unnoticed by half of them?
Strange food might be your first guess and you'd be right.
However, the result is also a truly unique holiday. Initially, I was sure that this column would be semi-bitter and filled with longing for the familiarities of home. (This can also be read as the yearning for food that tastes like it looks. For example, turkey looks and tastes like turkey.)
Despite the lack of cultural similarity in my apartment-more accurately the lack of Thanksgiving awareness-my American roommates and I were determined to have an expatriate dinner.
It was not an easy task. We discovered that it's difficult to explain holidays you've always observed without question to people who find them incredibly strange. (This is said from a position of experience, too, having survived the "Halloween Discussion" only a month ago.)
Each of my three Chinese roommates has different degrees of English comprehension, varying from quite good to "No understand, slow please." Knowing this, I did my best to explain Thanksgiving to them as clearly as I could, from the Pilgrims forward.
I thought I was doing quite well-worlds better than I did in the Halloween disaster-until I got to the end, when Henry exclaimed, in a moment of pure revelation, "Oh, it's CHRISTMAS!"
Straightening that out took a while, but the others were easier. It was a cinch to sell Amy on the idea (those Brits aren't half bad!), and Bonnie and Jen have enough American blood in them to miss the holidays, so we were soon ready for Thanksgiving takeoff.
We decided that each of us would make food familiar to us. Bonnie and I settled on the American side, Jen dove into some Indian dishes, Amy picked shepherd's pie to represent England, and Connie, Henry, and Chung were all over the Chinese food. We also decided to skip the actual turkey part (I know, seems like a key element to omit but none of us felt comfortable enough in our cooking skills to make that attempt).
I did my bit, whipping up traditional stuffing and some homemade cranberry sauce the night before T-day. The cranberry was wildly successful, but if I said that the stuffing tasted anything like my mother's well, I'd be lying. Turns out it isn't as easy as she made it sound on the phone (either that or my genetic makeup is lacking in the stuffing gene).
Everyone else did pretty well with his or her preparations, with the exception of Jen's dhal, which, like my stuffing, didn't come out quite right. And even though the pumpkin and apple pies were square rather than round (a result of limited baking pan options), they looked delicious.
When it was time for dinner, we put out some hors d'oeuvres and rocked out to some of Chung's Chinese pop music. As the dishes were placed on the table (and every available flat surface nearby, as we had a ton of food), my body began sending me little warning messages: "Brain? This is Visual. Avoid third dish from right at all costs. Senses are not able to identify it as food suitable for humans. And you're thinking about trying that thing on the left? It appears to be giving off some sort of horrible liquid No to the thing with mushrooms floating in it too; no good, repeat, no good."
I have a feeling that my roommates' senses were conveying similar messages, as Bonnie and I shared eyebrow raises over the mysterious mushroom concoction. But in the spirit of things, we shelved our inhibitions and ate.
While I cannot recall or pronounce the names of most of the dishes that I tried that night, I can tell you that it was an adventure for my weakling, untested taste buds. We discovered that EVERYONE, no matter which continent you hail from, likes pumpkin pie. And the experience of sharing others' first brushes with a holiday was pretty cool.
After we finished eating, the conversation turned somehow to musical ability, and ended up with Chung giving us an impromptu concert. He plays a traditional Chinese instrument that sounds like a cross between a violin and a recorder-rather well, at that! Amy then got out her guitar and an impromptu Beatles sing-along resulted.
All in all, a great night. Sure, I missed the comfort of family and tradition, but it was a truly enjoyable Thanksgiving unlike any I've ever celebrated. And after cleanup was through, we all agreed to have dinner together more often