Word of Mouth
12:21 pm
Wed November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving's Hybrid Of Cultural Traditions

Thanksgiving: Korean Style. Turkey is still the star, but green bean casserole and yams are replaced by namul, fishcakes, and three different kinds of kimchi.
Credit Hane C. Lee via flickr Creative Commons

This year the overlap of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving introduces a whole new element to what's on this year's Thanksgiving menu. While we've heard plenty about how "Thanksgiv-ukkah" could change our Thanksgiving eating habits, for millions of Americans, a hybrid holiday meal is their tradition. Food writer, chef, and public radio personality, Kathy Gunst has been reaching out to friends, chefs, and food writers from across the country who incorporate foods and habits from their original lands in to the great American Thanksgiving meal.

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Well, Thanksgiving is always a funny time for us. It's always held in my 3rd Aunt's McMansion somewhere around the Short Hills mall in New Jersey. My mother has two sisters that live in New Jersey -- 2nd Aunt and 3rd Aunt. She comes from a family of 7 girls and 1 boy. The rest of her family is out in Seoul. My father has no family stateside so we always spend it with the aunts. My 2nd and 3rd Aunt each have one son.

Anyway, for as far as I can remember, Thanksgiving was always treated the same way. My 3rd Aunt would toil away cooking a beautiful turkey that she will always brag about, how the secret is cooking the turkey in bacon fat or brining it in apple cider, etc. She'll have all the traditional sides -- mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, yams, cranberry sauce, and green beans. But in addition, she'll make sure to also cook the Korean dishes that one might have at such a ceremonial event -- slow cooked beef stew, house made kimchi, an entire tray of assorted banchans. 

We would sit for dinner. My uncle would pour everyone red wine from a decanter. My father would say grace. My cousin would carve the turkey. And then we would eat. And it is always the same. No one every touched the turkey. Not even my aunt who cooked it. Maybe I've seen her eat a slice or two just to see if some new method she employed made it better. But I know she didn't enjoy it. 

"It's too dry." "I don't like the taste." "What's the difference between white and dark meat?" "It's just too gamey for me."

We all have our excuses. Sometimes we would politely take a slab of turkey and pretend to eat it. Or even try to eat it and see if maybe this year we'll like turkey. But we usually don't. Our chopsticks usually crave after all the colorful pickled veggies, the fish and peppers that are cooked in egg batter, that slow cooked beef slabs that just fall off the bone. The turkey mostly just rests at the center of the table, looking completely perfect, especially beside the giant sushi boat that usually provided us with our appetizer.

Then, when Thanksgiving dinner is over and we're all stuffed, my aunt will always cut the turkey into slices, stick them into ziploc bags, and pawn them all off to us even against all of our wishes. So my parents would take them home, stick it in the fridge, and it'll sit there for a week before being cleaned out into the trash. 

It's so curious and strange, I realize. Once I think I even asked my aunt why she even cooked a turkey, when literally nobody ate it, and she just kind of shrugged and told me, "it's what you do on Thanksgiving!" 

And so that's usually our Thanksgivings! It's almost always the same. With little variations here and there. I'll almost always shovel a giant thing of mashed potatoes onto my plate next to my rice. Actually mashed potatoes with a little bit of kimchi, super tasty. But I won't touch the turkey.

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