Last Updated on November 22, 2021
What’s on your table every year at Thanksgiving? For some families, the turkey feast never changes, it always includes mashed potatoes and green bean casserole, and people like it that way. But despite the static image of the holiday, Thanksgiving looks different depending where your family’s from.
Whether your holiday table includes tamales instead of turkey, mac and cheese alongside the stuffing, or your grandmother’s lasagna recipe without fail, this feast day gives us the chance to explore and celebrate foods that connect us to our heritage. Which begs the question: Where does that leave green bean casserole?
We surveyed a few folks—many of whom write about food or cook for a living—to hear about what dishes make their Thanksgiving table unique. From mincemeat pie to candied kimchi, read on for a peek at their holiday menus.
Fitting in Noodles:
My maternal grandmother or my parents almost always hosted Thanksgiving when I was a kid, but there’s one single year that always stands out in my head, when my paternal grandmother hosted. My dad’s family is Italian-American and before we could move on to any of the “traditional” Thanksgiving foods, we had to have a pasta course—manicotti! I just remember being so overwhelmed by the notion of eating that heavy dish before all the other wonderful things I liked on Thanksgiving.
As a German family, we eat fried egg noodles at Thanksgiving. I never realized it was different until I grew up and found out eating fried noodles was not something most Americans did. In fact, I ran into two of my aunts recently (married into the family) and one of them was complaining to the other about how she gets so sick of frying noodles, always noodles. The other one was nodding along like yup, this family is so strange!
Pairing Sweet, Savory – and Spicy
I am Korean American and my family back in the US celebrates traditional Thanksgiving with the usuals, but also kimchi! I now live in Paris and still throw Thanksgiving dinners every year (last year was for myself and partner only) but a dish I make is sweet potato casserole topped with candied kimchi. Kimchi and sweet potato is a popular snack in Korea so I used that as an inspiration for this dish! It’s always a hit because it combines sweet, salty, and spicy.
Something Altogether Different
In my family, my Persian mother always made a dish called ghormeh sabzi, which was a stew with a variety of herbs, lamb or beef, and kidney beans. The secret ingredient was dried Persian Limes and it was served with Persian rice. It’s a dish I love but I remember being super irritated as a child that she always served something other than traditional turkey.
During Thanksgiving dinner, we usually have the standard fare of turkey with all the sides, including a few Filipino dishes. Pretty standard fare. But the next day, we all get up early for our “Black Friday” lunch where we head to the docks at Half Moon Bay to buy Dungeness crab. Each family buys a bunch of crab and we pool all our seafood purchases together. Then we head over to my aunt’s house to prepare and serve them. Usually I am tasked to do the cooking so I steam some the regular way to be enjoyed with melted butter and lemon wedges. We also make small batches of chili crab and crab in coconut milk served with rice. All in all, it’s a Dungeness fiesta, and I believe we look forward to this more than Thanksgiving dinner.
Ditching the Bird to Go Whole Hog
My family is Cuban, so my grandmother rarely cooks a turkey. Sometimes my grandfather will spit roast a full pig and my grandmother will cook traditional Cuban recipes like arroz con gris and ropa vieja. Thanksgiving isn’t a huge deal except for the food, which feels like a “greatest hits” of Cuban cuisine.
A Different Kind of Pie
My mother’s side of the family are French-Canadians from Maine and have a pretty huge pie-making tradition, so along with the usual apple and pumpkin suspects, there was always a mincemeat pie on the table. Our family’s mincemeat pie straddled such a delicious line between sweet and savory: Dried fruits and warming spices and venison, all encased in a buttery crust. No one in my family was really a hunter, so we relied on our very enthusiastic neighbors to provide us with the venison and they never failed to deliver! Even as a kid, I loved the way the sweetness of the dried fruit offset the gamey-ness of the venison—it’s such a balanced, beautiful dish that is really reflective of the season.