Guten Truthahn Tag! An Expat Thanksgiving

“Is this your first Thanksgiving?” asked my creative director, when I introduced her to Tim at our office Thanksgiving celebration.

“Oh, no,” he replied cheekily. “I’ve had 27. I just didn’t know it was a holiday then.” Smart-assery aside, Germans obviously don’t celebrate the quintessential American holiday. It’s a little strange to treat such a major holiday as any other workday—last year I took the day off in solidarity, and ate all my homesick feelings at the Christmas market. This year, however, we decided to go all in and host our own Friendsgiving / housewarming. It surprised us by not being as difficult as we thought it’d be, but it did have some challenges. Mainly…finding where to buy a turkey.

Hosting Thanksgiving as an Expat

Challenge: Where to Buy a Turkey

Germans love their turkey—as parcel meat, it’s as common as chicken in the grocery aisles (so common, in fact, that friends encouraged me to double-check my chicken when I first arrived, so that I didn’t purchase the wrong bird by accident). But finding a whole one wasn’t so simple. The trick? Foresight. Many butchers have turkeys, but you’ll need to call ahead and let them know you want it whole. We got an amazing turkey from Ullrich’s Putenhof—an organic farm that sold us a 6kg (12 lb) bird for 11/kg, and delivered it to us to boot. Other butcher shops in Berlin also had birds, but they were either sold out when we called a week ahead, or they were much more expensive (averaging about 14/kg). Call us crazy, but we believe you can really taste the “happy life” in these free-range turkeys.

The two local butcheries I contacted were:

  • Fleischerei Uwe Bünger in Wedding sells free-range Neuland turkeys whose living conditions are carefully monitored. Order by November 17th at the latest.
  • Fleischerei Gottschlich in Prenzlauerberg sell turkeys, and have also accomodated requests for turducken and short ribs. Order by November 20th at the latest.

Challenge: Defining the Menu

One of the most interesting parts of our Friendsgiving meal was defining what, exactly, are Thanksgiving foods. I grew up in a bi-racial family, which meant that our Thanksgiving was chock-full of Filipino favorites like lumpia, pancit, adobo, and rice. I spent several years in the South, where I was introduced to mac n’ cheese as a side dish staple (and all the more grateful for that). We never had the “typical” foods of sweet potatoes and marshmallow or cranberry sauce that didn’t come from a can, and we rarely had stuffing. Non-Americans who were invited know Thanksgiving mostly from the infamous Friends episode, so we wanted to straddle the line of embracing the traditional model while also honoring America’s multiculturalism (my own included). So our menu was planned to include (among others): turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, mac n’ cheese, roasted veggies, lumpia, feijoada, and rice.

Challenge: Ingredients and Supplies

Germans love cakes and tarts and cookies and doughnuts—and all of this is reflected in their bakeware aisle. Plenty of shallow pans and springform cake molds, but no matter where I looked, I couldn’t find a classic, deep pie dish. Thankfully we live in 2017, where the internet provides all we cannot find ourselves in-store: pie pans, pumpkin puree, serving dishes, cranberries, liquor, and of course, the turkey.

And so it came to pass, that on the fourth Saturday of November, people from all races, cultures, and countries joined together on a Biergarten bench and an IKEA couch to enjoy food, friendship, and a tankard of Fireball, in the spirit of Thanksgiving. Thanks, danke, obrigado all.