2019 marks a sort of milestone for my husband Jun and me — the year that we will finally make an authentic American-style Thanksgiving dinner here in China. We’ve got a whole bird on the menu (for my carnivorous husband!), baked tofu for me, the vegan, and loads of comfort foods with a vegan twist — from stuffing and green bean casserole to gravy and dessert.
Thankfully, in the era of online shopping, powered by Taobao and JD, it’s never been easier to pull together the ingredients for a meal just like your mother or grandma used to make.
Still, bringing it all together requires flexibility and sometimes a little ingenuity too. As we gear up to make this our best Thanksgiving ever in China, I’d like to share a few tips and tricks for anyone else hoping to cook up an amazing and authentic Thanksgiving dinner in China.
#1: Aim for more local poultry
While a traditional Thanksgiving dinner revolves around turkey (so much so that in the US people even refer to Thanksgiving as “Turkey Day”), this poultry isn’t native to China and won’t easily be found at your local supermarket or fresh market. On top of it, most of us here only have toaster ovens that couldn’t possibly accommodate such a huge bird.
So if you don’t own a super-huge oven and you’re not keen on splurging on a restaurant’s ready-made turkey, then simply aim for a more local poultry option, period. For example, whole chicken and duck are both readily available in fresh markets in most cities, and either could make for a wonderful culinary centerpiece for your meal. Besides, it really all comes down to the seasoning — just spice up the bird as you usually would at home, and you’ll still find it delivers that nostalgic flavor you remember from past dinners.
This year, I’m planning on adapting my favorite turkey recipe — soy-sauce and honey-glazed turkey — with a chicken instead.
#2 Cranberries don’t need to be in a sauce
While cranberry lovers have rejoiced over their rising abundance in China (Ocean Spray Craisins, I’m looking at you), good luck finding fresh cranberries. But who says you absolutely must serve your cranberries as a sauce? I’m planning on providing a small bowl of my favorite dried cranberries to represent this must-have at the table.
#3 Adapt your recipes to the stovetop or rice cooker
While much of Thanksgiving cooking relies heavily on baking in the oven, for those of us in China, that puts extra pressure on your toaster oven, which is often much smaller and less accommodating than the ovens most Americans use. But lots of things that normally get baked could also go on the stovetop, such as stuffing and green bean casserole. Or you could even use your rice cooker to make some of the dinner (such as rice cooker stuffing).
#4 No poultry seasoning? No sage? No problem!
The beloved American poultry seasoning that appears in seemingly every Thanksgiving recipe you’ll find online is pretty much missing in action here in China. Same for sage, which features in just about every single poultry seasoning substitute. Never fear — first off, consider any of these substitutes for sage. And then use those as you build a poultry seasoning substitute.
#5 Make your own “canned” pumpkin puree
You’ll strain to find canned pumpkin puree outside of supermarkets that cater to foreigners, and even then those cans come at a premium. But sweet, hearty pumpkins much like those used to make pumpkin pie are plentiful at markets, for much less, so why not make your own puree instead? Here’s an easy recipe for pumpkin puree.
#6 Lettuce not a must for salads
Growing up, Thanksgiving always included at least one salad at the table, with plenty of fresh lettuce. But here in China, I can’t always find my favorite lettuce in a pinch, especially at the last minute. So my plan is to make a salad that doesn’t need any lettuce, such as this Middle Eastern chickpea salad or Israeli salad. (Even better, salads without lettuce can often be made ahead of time to simplify your preparation for Thanksgiving.)
Wherever you are in the world, here’s wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving!
If you’ve ever prepared a Thanksgiving dinner in China, what tips and tricks would you recommend?