And There Was Much Rejoicing!

This past Thursday was Thanksgiving in America, affectionately known as “Turkey Day” because the whole point of Thanksgiving is, honestly, gorging on the most delicious of fowls, the turkey. Chinese friends and students always take note of the glazed, dreamy look Americans get in their eyes when speaking of this mythical bird of scrumptiousness and wonder what is so amazing about it. “Isn’t is just a big chicken?” they foolishly ask. “Is the dragon just a big lizard?” one may reply. But like Mt. Dew, the sheer flavor and texture, and juicy tenderness of the turkey is almost indescribable to one who has not had it. So every year, about the first week of November (after the Halloween activities have died down and people have all watched V for Vendetta on the 5th) Americans start poking around, “what is everyone doing for Thanksgiving?”

The turkey is not native to China. And since China does have chickens, ducks, and geese, I suppose they never really saw a point to importing turkeys of their own for domestic production. So a frozen turkey is very, very hard to find in China. In fact, many of the items needed to make a proper Thanksgiving meal simply aren’t native to China and are hard to find. But it can be done and there are some five-star hotels that bother with the fuss (but these are very hit-and-miss) and a few foreign-owned restaurants who manage to get it right.

Last year in Changsha, O’Mally’s was the place to go. But they went out of business right afterwards. This year, the only apparent option was the buffet at the Sheraton Hotel. But at over 370 RMB per person, it is one of the most expensive meals one can find here. Our company was kind enough to host all the Americans to a Sheraton buffet this year. They had turkey and mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie….and that was all for the Thanksgiving options. They still had a ton of other food, but no stuffing, no gravy, no biscuits  and so on. So since I love to cook and recently came into the possession of an oven, I decided to cook a Turkey Day dinner of my own.

We have the best import store here in Changsha called the Metro. It is a German owned chain that we are really lucky to have. And they had turkeys. Not the biggest of turkeys, mind you. Ours was only 7 kgs, but that worked out perfectly because my oven is also on the small side. In fact, I took tape measure with me and we measured the turkeys until we found one just the right size to fit in the oven whole. This was pretty easy to fix, actually. I cooked it at 350 degrees for 4 hours, taking it out and basting it after two hours, putting it back in backwards so it would brown evenly, and let it settle for an hour (continuously basting) before cutting and serving. There were only 2 small issues. 1) For a small turkey it was heavy for me and my oven is precariously placed in my kitchen. It was quite a bugger to get they turkey out without dropping it or spilling all the juice or burning myself. My neck and shoulders were extremely sore by dinner time. And 2) In traditional Chinese style (even though Chinese don’t cook or eat turkey) the neck was no mere neck, but the whole head. It was quite unexpected and so ugly that at first I didn’t know what was wrong with it. But it was the eye, the EYE, that finally made me realize that it was a whole head. So, just be aware of that if you ever decide to make a turkey here in China for yourself.

I made biscuits from scratch on my own for the first time in my life. They came out a bit small, but they were really good and everyone gobbled them up. Just like mashed potatoes, you need milk and butter to make them, which (like a turkey) you usually will not find in China outside of an import store (pasteurized milk, anyway).
I cheated on the stuffing. I had never made it from scratch before so I picked up a stuffing mix while in Hong Kong last week. However, I did find this super-easy recipe, so next year I think I will just make it on my own.
I also made broccoli-cheese-rice casserole with Velveeta cheese Seth’s family was kind enough to send us (I always ask for Velveeta, lol), but I could have made it with cheese from Metro. Also the gravy and green beans were pretty straight forward.
Finally, though, we did get a bit of help from Bach’s Bakery. I had everything to make pumpkin pie except the pie crust. I was planning on using pastry shells from Metro, but they didn’t have any this year. I simply ran out of time to make a crust on my own so Seth went to Bach’s because they usually have a pumpkin bread on the shelf. But this week, they actually had amazingly delicious little pies. They really came through for us and we were so grateful as it was the perfect end to the meal.
A better look at the food

So it was a great meal, and good company. Next year, though, my plan to not to cheat and make as much as I can from local sources so I can truly teach other expats how to have a thanksgiving in China. Cheers!