This year I participated in two Thanksgiving dinners. Now who can turn that down? The first one was on the eponymous day itself. In Xi’an, unlike Beijing, English First offers students what we call “Citywide Lifeclubs” whereby students pay money and teachers take them out to explore some aspect of the city that’s food or activity related.
So we offered the opportunity for students to experience a Thanksgiving dinner which was hosted at my favorite brewpub, Xi’an Brewery, located near one of the major tourist attractions called Big Wild Goose Pagoda which dates back to the seventh century A.D. and is a very pleasant thirty minute walk from my apartment.
Along with another teacher, we accompanied twelve students to dine on fare that only slightly resembled a traditional Thanksgiving repast. After all, it did involve turkey. Any other resemblance was strictly coincidental. The menu (see below) designed for the occasion did the usual “hash job” on English with the following description: “Main Course: Roast Turkey Leg- Matching with special make brussel sprout and mashed potato the texture of meat is completely visible.” Simply mouthwatering!
As it was, it was a small pile of deboned leg with a generous heaping of roasted red bell peppers on top, which I mention, because those who know me well, know I detest bell peppers in all its nefarious varieties. The menu helpfully offers the recipe too. No thanks! I think I’ll use my own for the Thanksgiving dinner I put on at my home, the Sunday after T-Day for the teachers in the two centers in Xi’an.
I had previously written that there was only one place in Xi’an likely to sell turkeys for the occasion and that turned out to be the case. Evidently, turkeys are not commercially produced in China and the one I obtained was imported from Chile, frozen, of course. Nonetheless, I was thrilled because it did offer me a chance to actually host a dinner party for the first time since I moved to China in April, 2016. My apartment in Beijing, despite costing three times what I pay here, was simply too small to have more than four people over for dinner.
So I dusted off my long dormant hosting skills and decided to pull out all of the stops for the simple reason: because I could. As the dinner was on Sunday and I have Fridays and Saturdays off, I was able to work around the clock putting together a dinner to remember. Keep in mind, Thanksgiving isn’t “a thing” here (why would it be?) so one can’t simply go into the local supermarket and acquire all of the necessary items. I quite literally spent my days off traipsing around town piecing together the disparate elements necessary to replicate a- more or less- traditional Thanksgiving meal. For example, I discovered all things cranberry aren’t easy to come by and thought I would have to forego the sauce that I never really cared for anyway, until I went into a gourmet market I hadn’t visited in months and lo and behold, found cranberry sauce. Pumpkin pie or canned pumpkin is non-existent but the administrator who organized the Xi’an Brewery outing knew a lady who made the pies, two of which she brought to the brewery and as only one was consumed, I took the other with me for my party. Having said that, if you did a blind tasting of it, you would probably not have guess the flavor was pumpkin. Still, it looked genuine.
In addition, I made the usual stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, substituting pecans for the more typical, dreadful marshmallow topping, gravy and salad. I also bought a beef tenderloin, something you simply cannot order in a restaurant and in any case, restaurant beef and the vast majority of store bought steaks are all pancake flat and therefore impossible to cook or order, rare. Not surprisingly, Chinese are unfamiliar with anything other than well-done and that’s their preference. I knew I could shock them with a huge thick slab of red meat. For the record, I rarely eat red meat anymore. Special occasion, you understand.
The entire affair went off without a hitch. As anyone who puts on a dinner party for sixteen people, knows there are so many “moving parts” to go awry. I am happy to say, without hesitation, it was a very successful event. A good time was had by all. Also, for the record, the turkey came out perfect; no small accomplishment as anyone who has tried to cook one, knows full well. Here’s a link to YouTube of a three minute video I made as I walked, randomly through my party. It’s unedited, obviously.