By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Turkey consumption has doubled over the past three decades, according to the National Turkey Federation. The average American eats 16 pounds of turkey per year.
Count me out. I belong to the impartial camp. My record speaks for itself. For over 300 days this year, I have eaten less than one thin slice of turkey. I must be one of those few Americans who often say, “Turkey, no thanks.” I have to confess, the only reason I bought a pound of smoked turkey a few months ago was because I didn’t know what to serve for family dinner. Although the turkey I bought tasted better than many turkey sandwiches you get from retail stores, it’s still not my kind of food. Bless my family, they would devour anything I put on the table. It’s hard to avoid repetition when designing your daily family meal. Our family favors meat. And my American-born sons like turkey, so it is a decent alternative after I have already served pork, chicken, and beef for the week.
I am not anti-turkey, I just prefer not to have it if I have the choice. The native bird does have its appeal. For athletes, turkey is a great protein source with fewer calories than chicken. The next benefit sounds interesting — it contains amino acid tryptophan, which produces serotonin, boosting your mood. Also, it strengthens your immune system. The best part of the turkey is its skin if crispy, and bones if it’s cooked right. The bones are great for a delicious soup base. Don’t worry about the oily skin. Current studies have found that turkey skin is a good source of fat.
So why have I chosen chicken over turkey during the past few Thanksgivings?
The reason is straightforward — turkey, to me, tastes awful. Its texture is rough, it takes a huge amount of effort and a lot of time to cook it just right to taste fabulous, and there are way too much leftovers afterwards.
Believe me, if I don’t eat that bird for Thanksgiving or Christmas, I won’t miss it at all. However, when given a choice between a turkey and veggie sandwich at some lunch meetings, I would prefer turkey.
Many immigrants would echo the same sentiment — turkey is an alien. The common festive food in Asian cultures is chicken. Duck, goose, and quail come second. You don’t find any turkey items in Asian restaurants’ menu, do you?
What’s good to know is, many Chinatown barbecue restaurants have adopted the American culture by offering a unique service. If you bring the Chinese barbeque restaurants a turkey, they will roast it Chinese-style for you at a reasonable cost. Our staff did it a few times. Unfortunately, I cast the same verdict — the turkey tasted good with Chinese barbeque sauce, but the meat is overcooked. Since the bird is so big, it requires long hours of cooking to make the meat taste moist. Commercial kitchens don’t have the time to cook the turkey properly.
For big celebrations, I desire to have more than just one main dish. It doesn’t feel festive enough if there is only turkey and side dishes like stuffing, salad, and potatoes. The table should be filled with many entrees, such as prawns, fish, ducks, and other goodies. That means Asian style dinner for my Thanksgiving.
My first Thanksgiving
My first Thanksgiving in America was not what I had imagined. I was in Oregon. My host family spent the night before baking a 20-pound turkey. My late host mother foiled it carefully and set the oven at 100+ degrees. Seeing her excitement in preparing the bird, I was curious about the foreign animal. The thickness of the meat, especially the drumstick that was bigger than my arm, actually scared me. How come the bird was so gigantic? In my mind, the turkey was just some type of chicken.
The next day at 2 p.m., the thermometer showed that the turkey was fully cooked. I expected the taste to be supreme. After one piece, my host father offered me more. I declined. Yes, it was overcooked. To my host family, it was perfect. I didn’t enjoy the turkey, but I pretended to.
What I loved most was the desserts. My host family made three kinds of pie: apple, minced, and I forgot the third one. I was content to stuff myself with those pies. After dinner, we sat down, chatted, and had tea or coffee. When I went to bed at night, I looked at the stars through the skylight, realizing I was 5,000 miles away from home. I was homesick.
While I was grateful to spend Thanksgiving with my host family that first year in America, I decided right then that I didn’t want to spend the next Thanksgiving eating turkey.
What Thanksgiving taught me
My second Thanksgiving was different. I had just transferred to the University of Washington (UW). There was no turkey, no fancy meal. Solitude was my choice.
A group of Chinese students had efficiently cooked a Thanksgiving dinner for many of us international students in a dormitory, McMahon Hall, with just a couple of rice cookers, a few plates, some chopsticks, and forks — whatever we could find, like we were eating in a wild jungle. It was a simple, yet good meal. Hungry and lonely for some, getting stuck in the dormitory with no place to go, it was the perfect place for me to celebrate Thanksgiving. We managed to find enough chairs to huddle together around a small table without a tablecloth. No one mentioned the word “turkey.”
There was no dessert or music, just gratitude and warmth among us in a cold space without heat, in an almost-empty dormitory.
Immediately after dinner, I hastened back to my room to study since the library was closed. On my way, I felt the peace and quietness. I was thrilled to attend UW. Studying was my priority. I was too busy to be homesick or call long-distance to my family. Those four days were exactly what I needed to finish my term paper and prepare for my finals.
My roommate was gone for Thanksgiving, and I had the whole room to myself. It was the first time in my life that I had my own room — at UW — in America. For the first time in my life, I felt free. Those four days of productive isolation and devotion to my school work were splendid. I was alone, but never felt lonely. Thanksgiving was a meaningful break from my chaotic world of hopping to classes, the library, and eating routines.
Since then, Thanksgiving has been restorative and reflective. Black Friday has never thrilled me. The true meaning of Thanksgiving is not about the turkey, but being with friends and family. It doesn’t matter what you eat, but gather together for a hearty meal.
In the name of gratitude, remember what you have. Give thanks that you are still alive, even in unimaginable tough times. Happy Thanksgiving!
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.