At home my mother would cook the turkey, my brothers would mash the potatoes and cut the vegetables, my dad would set the table (and drink the beer), and I’d help with the deserts, but in Hanoi this year I had only myself, my non-American (non-Thanksgiving-celebrating) boyfriend, and a tiny apartment kitchen with no stove at my disposal in which to create a holiday atmosphere.
But I was determined not to miss out on the festivities of my home country while in Vietnam, so yesterday I embarked on a journey to create an excellent Thanksgiving dinner despite a lack of an oven or any cooking supplies to speak of.
Last year, while living in the Czech Republic, I was too caught up in work and nearly forgot all about Thanksgiving, that is until I got a Skype call from my family that brought me nearly to tears and sent me out in search of a Thanksgiving meal. The result of which was the only turkey meal I could find on short notice in Prague: turkey breast wrapped in cheese and deep-fried.
It was delicious, but not quite what I was looking for.
This year I decided not to make the same mistake. Briefly I considered reserving a table at a restaurant that would be serving a Thanksgiving meal, but where’s the fun in having someone else cook for you? After searching on internet forums about where to find some of my more unusual Thanksgiving ingredients and seeing the despair of the commenters on The New Hanoian, I felt somewhat resigned to not finding the majority of my list. Determined not to give up I set off for the nearest Western store armed with a notebook full of googled ingredients.
Low and behold, Dan’s Shop and Bistro, at the end of the road between Trúc Bach and West Lake, actually had almost everything I needed. I was even able to pick up molasses and canned pumpkin, something the internet had informed me would be impossible. The shop owner was particularly helpful, digging through rows of spices to find nutmeg for me.
I bought all of my complicated/Western ingredients here, including canned pumpkin, walnuts, brown sugar, and several spice packets.
Then my boyfriend and I set off to the wet market.
I wouldn’t fairly be able to call this a Vietnamese Thanksgiving without a trip to the wet market. We went to the one on Chau Long. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to master the art of bargaining. Often when I’ve finished my market transaction, one vendor will turn towards another and cackle maniacally about how much I’ve overpaid. Oh well, a fool and his money… are still able to buy a lot of food. I managed to procure sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, mushrooms, broccoli, and chicken.
Yeah, I know, but with no oven and no friends with ovens, I decided the Thanksgiving tradition queen would forgive me this one holiday transgression.
So yes, we ate fried, breaded chicken instead of turkey, but overall, our apartment smelled appropriately seasonal with meat on the stovetop, sweet potatoes frying in cinnamon and brown sugar, and a lovely vegetable mixture simmering to perfection.
My crowning achievement this Thanksgiving came in the form of pumpkin spice cookies which I cooked in the toaster oven. Ha ha! The trick is to only put in small cookies, six at a time, and they taste just like you cooked them in the oven. I was so proud of these we even shared them with our landlord and neighbors.
So it might not be exactly the meal that I would have eaten back home, but I felt seasonal and happy while cooking this home-away-from-home, modified Thanksgiving meal.