Thanksgiving in SoCal: What are your Thanksgiving food traditions?

This table has a mix of
This table has a mix of "traditional" American Thanksgiving foods and some Arabic additions.
Courtesy of Rana Redfield

Listen to story

Download this story 2MB

Thanksgiving week means recipes and last-minute cooking tips for a traditional Turkey Day meal are in abundant supply: How to roast a turkey without burning your house down. How to make the creamiest mashed potatoes, the most savory stuffing, the most mouth-watering pumpkin pie.

But lest we forget: We’re in Southern California, land of mashed-up cultures! And that means mashing those cultures into our Thanksgiving dinner recipes, too.  

Why opt for gravy when you can drizzle on some mole? Why have cornbread stuffing when you can have sticky rice? In fact, do we even need a turkey at all? (One KPCC staffer's Chinese-American household’s annual meal: takeout Peking duck, complete with a hot pot smorgasbord. No turkeys to be found here.)

In that spirit, here are few food traditions some listeners have shared with us:

Melissa Alvarenga, who describes her family as “large, loud and loving,” tells Take Two:

“For Thanksgiving, we usually have an offering of Central American tamales from El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and even Mexican (my favorite are the Salvadoran variety).  We also have Honduran stuffing, which is sweeter than traditional savory stuffing.   It is also a lot more meaty and includes olives, chickpeas, and raisins — although it is not for everyone, I love it!”

Greg Matuskiewicz tells Take Two:

“I grew up with a strong sense of my Polish heritage attached to the holidays, watching my grandmothers and my mom make my favorites like golumpkis and pierogis, and I like to keep this tradition going. In addition to the Thanksgiving standards like turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie, we will also include kielbasa, sauerkraut and fresh horseradish.”

Darren White hails from Inglewood, but his family is from a much sunnier place: Trinidad and Tobago. "I feel great about my family traditions," White tells Take Two, "because it's a part of our family identity, it's part of who we are."

Thanksgiving morning in White's household entails codfish, hot chocolate and the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. After that, the household descends into chaos.

"Since my family's from the Caribbean islands, my mom prepares traditional Caribbean meals such as...rice and peas, chicken, fish, callaloo, peanut punch, mauby, ginger beer and macaroni pie." 

Jenny Yang is a writer and stand-up comedian. She lives in Highland Park and her family is from Taipei, Taiwan.

"What really makes my family's traditions important and unique is we are really just celebrating American holidays as well as the Chinese Lunar New Year holidays because it brings us together as a family."

Yang describes her Thanksgiving household festivities as a "hybrid" between Taiwanese and American styles. The kids of the household would introduce the traditional Thanksgiving dish, and their mother would adapt it.

Confusion over what stuffing is led to the creation of a sticky rice dish.

"It's this yummy mix of shiitake mushrooms, dried shrimp, soy sauce and deep fried red onions. And it's so fragrant and yummy and umami."

Abelardo de la Pena Jr. describes his family as “polycultural with a lean toward Latino,” and typically has a vegetarian Thanksgiving.

“We experiment most years, some dishes are mainstays. One long-time favorite: My wife makes an awesome soyrizo dressing/stuffing.”

And Maria de Jesus Lopez, who owns the Koreatown-based Oaxacan restaurant Guelaguetza, explained to KPCC in 2012 what goes into their signature Oaxacan style stuffing:

"We use bell pepper, celery, rosemary and jalapeño chile and some walnuts and apples. We put it with bread, Mexicans we use bolillo, like a french roll, and we want to put some chorizo.”

What kind of spin are you putting on your Thanksgiving meal this year? Let us know in the comments, on Facebook or on Twitter. Happy eating!

To hear SoCal residents share their Thanksgiving traditions, click the blue play button above.