I’ve found living in the big city rather than small town Luzhou has a lot of perks. One of them is turkey for Thanksgiving.
Turkey is not a bird found commonly in China nor eaten here. I have only seen turkeys once in my 20-odd years of being in this country and that was several years ago in tiny Longzhou, my former teaching placement near Vietnam. A farmer had loaded onto his motorbike cages stuffed with flapping, squawking fowl of all sorts and 3 turkeys were in the midst of the feathery mess. I remember being so excited that I ran back to my apartment and returned with my camera for a picture.
I have no idea what happened to the gobblers, if they were sold in our village town or sent off to a bigger city for purchasing, but I’ve never seen any others since.
Because there is no Thanksgiving Day holiday in China, the only place to find turkey and the fixings of our traditional dinner would be in Western restaurants in bigger cities, where we have communities of foreigners. Along the Yangtze in Luzhou, we never had food establishments offering such things, but in Chengdu, Thanksgiving Day dinner possibilities can be found in abundance.
LIVING AMIDST THE FOREIGNERS’ HAVEN
I live in Sichuan University’s West Gate area, which happens to be about a 10-minute walk from the US Consulate. So aside from the foreign college students, we also have the American employees and soldiers not far away as well. This makes us a very lucrative business district for overseas’ guests.
This is why the West Gate touts numerous restaurants catering to foreigners’ tastes. We have Casa Mia (Italian), Vanilla Sky (higher end European), Peter’s Tex-Mex (American and Mexican cuisine), St. Paddy’s (British pub with snacks), the Bookworm (cafe with light sandwiches and pastas), just to mention a few.
TURKEY DINNERS EASILY HAD . . . FOR A PRICE
Quite a few of these have special holiday meals served up to the Chengdu community. The most notable dinners are at Peter’s, which has a traditional Thanksgiving Day meal served every year for lunch the day of and dinner the day after.
7 years ago when I was studying Chinese in Chengdu, I had the day-after full course turkey dinner at Peter’s for 78 yuan (about $10) and it was well worth it. Everything was homemade, including the stuffing and mashed potatoes, not to mention the pumpkin pie.
Last week, I excitedly high-tailed it across the street to Peter’s to check up on this year’s holiday turkey meal. I found out two surprising things.
First, the meal was a more elaborate affair than in 2006, adding mulled cider, cream of pumpkin soup, waldorf salad, turkey with yams, dressing, steamed broccoli, and cranberry sauce, along with pumpkin or keylime pie for dessert. That’s a lot of food for a person such as myself and I wondered if I could even eat it all.
The second thing I discovered was the price: a wopping 128 yuan, or $21.50 per person. Over double what I had paid before.
Something else new on the menu was the alternative Thanksgiving day feast, the main entree being U.S. Angus grilled rib-eye steak.
How much does one fork over for that one? 268 yuan, or $44.70.
Needless to say, I decided this year in China, a Thanksgiving Day dinner would most likely be a miss.
DO IT YOURSELF
A homecooked holiday meal can also be had for those Americans here with a fully equipped overseas’ kitchen (i.e., a conventional style oven, which Chinese don’t use or have) and money in their pockets to purchase all the required ingredients.
The best imported food store in the city is Sabrina’s International Food Store, just around the corner from me. It is often filled with those from the American school and the consulate looking for their U.S. comfort foods or curious Chinese trying to figure out what all those bizarre, foreign items are used for or taste like.
Sabrina’s has neatly stacked shelves of foreign goods, a majority American. The owner does a booming business among the expats. Chips, cookies, soft drinks, breakfast cereals, condiments (mustard, ketchup, relish), canned soups, cake and brownie mixes, baking goods (cocoa, chocolate chips, powdered sugar, Pillsbury flour) . . . . This store has it all, albeit for a hefty price. (Usually, items are double or triple what we’d pay in the States.)
And that does, indeed, include all that’s needed for a home-cooked Thanksgiving Day dinner.
Just last week, Sabrina (the Chinese owner) had huge shipments of canned cranberry sauce, pumpkin, instant mashed potatoes and gravy mixes stacked on the floor, waiting to be shelved. Also available were American brand frozen turkeys, which had to be ordered ahead of time to be flown in from Shanghai or Hong Kong.
And how much does a frozen turkey go for at Sabrina’s? Her posted sign announced: “Frozen Turkeys: 58 yuan per kg” which roughly converts to 28 yuan ($4.70) per pound.
Nor were the ones I saw ordered very small. I took a peek into the freezer section to see just how big these turkeys were that Americans were purchasing for the holidays. We are talking 20-25 pounders ready to be picked up, which brings us roughly at $94 – $117 a bird.
Especially as this year, the average price in the States was listed as $1.36 a pound.
In other words: “Dig down deep, oh, ye Pilgrims in China.”
GOING NATIVE . . . ALMOST
Along with the rest of the Chinese, I was just about to forego any such turkey eating luxuries when one of Sabrina’s store clerks surprised me with a special gift. While I was checking out the aisles the day before Thanksgiving, Ms. Gao dug through her bag and pulled out a can from Britain, John Lusty’s Turkey Soup.
“The owner gave this to us because it wasn’t selling,” she said. “Take it! I won’t eat it.”
Ms. Gao and I have a special relationship due to her love of my former dog, Little Flower (LF). Every time we visited, she’d give LF bits of cheese crumbs from the pantry or let her lick the tiramisu plate after all the slices had been sold.
She and I both miss LF immensely. Without my little Chi around, my visits to the store are not as joyful or uplifting for either of us.
Ms. Gao’s holiday offering was a way to bring a little of that long ago happiness back: She in the giving; me in the receiving.
I certainly am not one to turn down free food, even if John Lusty is not a brand I’m familiar with. And let’s not forget how appropriate a food it was: Turkey! Even if it was soup, I’d be getting a wee bit of my holiday bird after all.
THANKSGIVING DAY, HERE AND GONE
Classes went on as usual last Thursday but I did enjoy my little Thanksgiving Day feast of Lusty’s soup. It isn’t anything I’d like to eat again but it was still very special, especially because of who gave it to me and the reason behind it.
Hope you Thanksgiving Day was just as meaningful and thankful as mine. From China, Ping An (Peace)!