My Holidays Start With Five-Spice Turkey and Chinese Dumplings

When you build a life with someone from another culture, sometimes you just learn how to transcend your past and create a new future, something that feels as tangible as the traditions you once knew (or never knew).

In my home, I know it’s the holidays when cranberry sauce, hand-rolled Chinese dumplings and five-spice turkey hit the table.

That’s what we had on ours last week, when John and I hosted a Thanksgiving dinner in our home. He and I like to joke that it’s a tradition now, that the season just wouldn’t be right without it, even though it’s only our second year of hosting people for the holiday.

In fact, this so-called tradition happened by accident. Last year, the friend I hoped to spend the holiday made her plans without us, and we weren’t invited. Damn. Just as I started imagining a Thanksgiving without the dinner, my husband said, “why don’t we make it ourselves?” Before I knew it, we invited friends over and I culled together a menu that married East and West, like our relationship. Chinese five-spice turkey with soy sauce, honey and ginger. Mashed potatoes and roasted root vegetables. Hand-rolled Chinese dumplings with daikon, kimchi and tofu. Cranberry sauce like my aunt used to make.

Our tradition looks nothing like what I grew up with in Cleveland, Ohio. Then again, any tradition involving Thanksgiving — and especially built around eating turkey — never existed for John until he married me. When you build a life with someone from another culture, sometimes you just learn how to transcend your past and create a new future, something that feels as tangible as the traditions you once knew (or never knew).

But I’m sure of one thing — Thanksgiving never tasted so good.

How have you transcended your traditions to create new holiday traditions that reflect your cross-cultural life/relationship/marriage?

19 Replies to “My Holidays Start With Five-Spice Turkey and Chinese Dumplings”

  1. Due to my grandfather being hospital my family didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving this year, unfortunately, but whenever we do, we have a mixture of American and some Russian foods, mostly Russian though. My mom makes babka, a spaghetti dish with eggs, we have turkey, salads, etc. etc. Sometimes my younger sister would make something special like brownies and whatnot.

  2. Gah. I love this. Same here, really. 🙂 I used to do traditional Italian/Irish/Cajun dishes but now they all infused with Chinese cuisine. I now have my own version of spaghetti and my husband can’t get enough of it. Even my mother in law loved it. 😀 Success!

    I gave my husband his frist holiday tree. I’m not a Christian but I like bright lights (cough). 😀 We infuse that, as well! I gave my husband his very first stocking and filled it with goodies.

    I love the holidays even more now. 😀

  3. Unfortunatly am not good in mixing food. Italians are very particular about their own food, there is only one way to do it and that’s it. Especially during holidays like Xmas, I expect to eat in a certain way. Probably Americans, coming from many ethnic groups, are more used to mix food together. What we did, thought, is to decorate the Xmas tree all in red for the Chinese New Year.

  4. I’m so disappointed that it doesn’t always work out that way with the ones you love. Sometimes your out looks on life are just too different to blend, even if you love eachother… or perhaps not.. it could be argued that if you truly loved somebody you would be able to negotiate and meet them in the middle… but i find that chinese guys put so much pressure on themselves to be successful and to be rich, it is just so sad, for the ones who are really brainwashed into think that you have to have a lot of money for marriage, and do not pay attention to any other aspects of their life. that is so sad indeed and im very sad to have misjudged that good people can be greedy too. i hope one day i can have a balanced and equal relationship so that i can also mix up my celebrations 🙂

  5. Jin Feng,

    Wanna marry me ? :). I always think about hobbies and vacations all the time. Finding a person who is compatible , balanced and equal is not impossible. You just have to educate and always talk, talk , talk. I do work hard at my field but I don’t want to be pressured to become rich. If I’ll be rich, then I’m happy but I won’t chase after wealth. We had a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner. Everything was American. We had 4 different styles of Thanksgiving dinners that day.

  6. Chinese version turkey : star anise, ginger , lemon grass, wine , oyster sauce, garlic . seal in the juicy for 30 min at 425 degrees and 325 or 350 for 3 1/2 to 4 hr depending on the weigh of turkey while covering the turkey with aluminum . This will be a juicy ,moist turkey. once in while use a spoon to pour its juices over the turkey. When the turkey is cooked, let it sit for 20 mins and dinner is served. OMG! 🙂

  7. My thanksgiving day is always at some friend’s house for some reasons. The turkey we had this time was soaked in Chinese sauce over night. It was then baked and finally fried in cooking oil. It was tasty on every bite.

    Jin Feng – No sure how large your samples are to draw the conclusion. My co-workers who are in a relationship work longer than 10 hours a day and most of them are not even Asian. Between the long-hour-stressful-better-pay job and short-hour-relaxed-less-pay job, I bet most people choose the former, but only the elite can sustain. One time, I was volunteer in a sport event, the person next to me told me his life story of landing in USA with 25c and becoming a millionaire. The story consists of luck, hard working, and talent. The 20h a day work did pay its toll of the divorce from his first wife, unfortunately. Now he does not need to work so he volunteers to work for free, with a wife and children to live a life. He is an European. Personally, I don’t believe he is greedy but he is not aware of balancing work and personal life at certain period of time in his life.

  8. AHAHAHAH, this is a great post!
    You really surprise me Jocelyn! That is truely creative infusing both east and west culture into that “Five-spice turkey with soy sauce, honey and ginger”. It sounds wonderful, but do you roast it in oven like the traditional American way or slow-stew it like the traditional Chinese way?? I am wondering because I am not sure if you can roast something with five spices.

  9. Wow, dayingdaph, that’s an incredible story.
    She must be the longest living interracial couple/expat in China. Over 65 YEARS! She even witness with her own eyes the founding of People’s Republic back in 1949. I wonder what’s her story.

  10. I’m surprised by this post, I seem to remember reading that you were a “vegan” or rather a strict vegetarian.
    What about it then?
    Sorry, but I’m a vegan myself and kind of puzzled here…

    1. Thanks to all for the comments! Just wanted to put out a quick reply here to @Axelle — I make the turkey for my husband, but not for me. I guess I’m a different sort of vegan, one that cares for her husband’s carnivorous needs, so to speak. 😉

  11. My mom is 100% vegetarian and sometimes I cook for her even though I don’t eat her dish. I don’t like turkey that much but it’s Thanksgiving so we just cook one for the tradition. I like the Chinese Turkey better, it’s tastier!

  12. Even though my wife was born and raised in China, since becoming a US citizen she has embraced and enjoys all things American, but has not forgotten her Chinese roots. We celebrate both US and Chinese holidays. She loves Thanksgiving, cooking it as much as eating it. I wrote about it in my blog, so check it.
    Happy Holidays from Kunshan.

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