Thanksgiving is an American holiday. Therefore any Thanksgiving holiday that you might celebrate overseas is going to require creativity and effort. If you cook your own Thanksgiving meal overseas, you can probably approximate most of the conditions of a good old-fashioned American feast. If you go out to eat, don’t expect a restaurant to cater to your patriotism or nostalgia. Rather, choose your venue carefully based on the menu. This article details advice and experience of myself and fellow international travelers for enjoying Thanksgiving dinner overseas.
Turkey in Turkey: I lived in Istanbul, Turkey for three years, during which I cooked two full Thanksgiving dinners for myself, my wife and assorted friends that we invited. Our first dinner was so successful that our foreign guests were asking about it a year later. Part of the fun was ransacking the supermarkets, butcher shops and import shops for the necessary ingredients. We easily acquired potatoes, green beans and corn. We were lucky to have an oven but it was the size of a microwave so a full turkey was out of the question. We instead cooked a dozen or more drumsticks in an oven bag. Since Stovetop hasn’t made a big splash in the Middle East, I had to learn how to make homemade stuffing, which usually involved cutting up bread into little squares a week in advance and putting it into a paper bag to let it go stale. The hardest item to come by was cranberry sauce: we found one charcuterie in Bebek that sold small cans of Ocean Spray for about ten dollars each.
Our feast featured music, friends and, since I had a season pass to NFL.com, American football played on my laptop. We invited our downstairs neighbors as well, so as to avoid any noise complaints. In the end, there was nothing particularly Turkish about our Thanksgiving parties. Rather, they illustrate how the spirit of the holiday can be evoked anywhere with the right food and friends.
Paris: In 2004 my wife, her sister and much of her extended family travelled to France for Thanksgiving week. The excursion was organized by her uncle, who generously paid for accommodations and frequently treated the whole clan to dinner, including on Thanksgiving night. Their experience, I would say, represents the proper way to do Thanksgiving at a foreign restaurant. First, since there were ten of them, they brought the holiday with them. Secondly, they chose to embrace the foreignness of their surroundings as part of the uniqueness of their holiday. While some of my wife’s family had duck, goose or rotisserie chicken to approximate turkey, her grandfather ate pork chops, her uncle had pate and my sister-in-law ate escargot.
Years later my wife and I would repeat this lesson during our Christmas trips to Venice and Romania where we carried on our own traditions but didn’t try to pretend we were back home.
Munich: I’ve been to Munich but not actually over Thanksgiving. However, of all of the cities in Europe and Asia that I have seen, I don’t think there’s any other city that captures as much the culinary diversity and sheer hominess of American Thanksgiving. First of all, Munich is surrounded by mountains and forests, which means the tables of Bavarian restaurants are graced by all manner of game meats from duck and goose to hare and wild boar. Secondly, drinking is practically a way of life in Munich -the originator of Oktoberfest. The cities beer halls are cathedrals of alcohol infused camaraderie. Finally, with the arrival of Christmas season, you can enjoy shopping in the city’s boutiques and peerless toy shops.
Picture: Credit Rich Carriero, Creator Rich Carriero, Caption: a homecooked meal in Bavaria.