Western-style ovens are not common in China. I own a sort of toaster oven on steroids, large enough to accomodate a dozen very strategically placed muffin cups. It is not large enough to handle a chicken, never mind a turkey. So, when questions of Thanksgiving dinner arose, my American friends and I were at a bit of a loss.
There were restaurants in Beijing selling cooked turkeys at the outrageous price of around 1,200 RMB on average ($190 – ouch). Our British coworker helpfully suggested we buy some roast duck instead; we helpfully suggested that he shut his damn dirty mouth. I thought all was lost, when I got an email ad about a Chinese turkey farm offering cooked birds for 40 RMB/jin (about 500g). Too good to be true?
Cut to Monday evening, where I’m confirming with a go-between that I would in fact like for him to order me a turkey and that, no it wouldn’t be a problem that the smallest bird available was 20 lbs. I told Mike (my Thanksgiving partner-in-crime) the good news and he proceeded to, as he later admitted, “panic” at the size of the bird and invite everyone in his phonebook to dinner. Oh dear.
I started stressing out trying to organize side dishes, clean my apartment and invite my own friends, all while waiting anxiously to make sure the turkey actually arrived. Luckily for me (and my mystery house guests) the bird showed up to my office on Thursday morning, fully cooked, and accompanied by a ziplock bag of turkey innards and a pouch full of mystery sauce.
In the end, Thanksgiving turned out to be a major success. All the things I worried we would be missing (pie, gravy, cranberry sauce) miraculously appeared at my apartment in the arms of
strangers new friends. Due to the lack of proper carving tools, I managed to rip the turkey wings and legs off with my bare hands (while another person held it down). And, in a classic “Oh, China” moment, I noticed that the bird had been sewn shut for reasons unknown to me.
Upon snipping one of the threads, rice started pouring out the bottom of my giant bird. That’s right, rice. Turns out the nice Chinese farmer who cooked my poultry thoughtfully included his version of stuffing when roasting the turkey. I can safely say this is the first Thanksgiving where I’ve had to yell, “Quick! Someone get a plate! There’s rice shooting out of the turkey!”
Ultimately, as cheesy as it sounds, I am thankful for the sense of family that so quickly develops in the expat community. I knew less than half the people eating from paper plates on my sofa (and every possible chair I could gather), but from the start of the evening we were laughing and chatting like old friends. There was delicious turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes (“The secret ingredient is butter,”) and even homemade sweet potato pie. Americans, Brits, Australians and Chinese came together to celebrate togetherness. It doesn’t get much better than that.