Thanksgiving is a national American holiday celebrated annually on the third Thursday of November. This year, mark your calendars for 22 November 2012. Traditionally, this harvest festival celebrates the supposed day when the Pilgrims and the Native Americans sat down and broke bread in peace. I’m sure we all know that history tells a different tale of what went down back then, but we’ll skip the sobering history lesson for now. Today, Thanksgiving is about taking pause for one day and acknowledging that we have it pretty darn good. It’s in the name – giving thanks for our food, giving thanks for our friends, giving thanks for life’s little pleasures, like football (American-style of course).
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because in its current form, it’s not about presents; it’s not about religion, it’s not even about the silly decorations that often go along with the whole thing; it’s about food and sharing that food with your friends and family. Okay, and American football, it’s also about watching American football or at least having it on in the background while you cook. We are a simple people.
While you’ll definitely find a number of local restaurants that cater to the homesick expat, nothing beats a homemade meal and after two years here in Amsterdam, I think I’ve pretty much nailed down where to get the elusive ingredients.
Usually turkey, maybe also ham, salmon, or tofu
Mashed potatoes with turkey gravy
Sweet potatoes or yams (candied or with little marshmallows)
Sweet corn (on the cob or loose)
Green beans (usually in a casserole, but come on, yuck!)
Usually pumpkin pie
No Thanksgiving is complete without the main course, which is typically turkey – or some tofu variant of it (i.e. “tofurkey”). In the United States, turkey is a typical alterative to chicken especially in a delicatessen’s sliced meat counter. But for a dinner, you want to buy it raw of course, so let’s talk turkey. I usually order my meat from one of the outdoor weekly markets. Since turkey is kind of a rare bird here, you’re better off ordering it a few days in advance from one of the many poeliers (poultry butcher), just to be sure. I recommend Natuur Slagerij Rob Rijks because they slaughter fresh and you can also put an order in online.
For the side dish ingredients, check out the weekly or daily outdoor markets like Dappermarkt in Oost or Albert Cuyp Markt in de Pijp. White potatoes, sweet potatoes/yams, fresh cranberries, green beans, and corn on the cob can be found at many of the produce vendors. For me, cranberries are always the hardest to find even though they grow cranberries in Friesland. If you’ve scoured the markets days in advance and still can’t find a specific ingredient (say, canned pumpkin for the pie), try a health food store like Ekoplaza or Markt.
This year, I’ll be spending my third Thanksgiving here in Amsterdam. Maybe there’s the wrong kind of football on the TV, but with the right ingredients and a kitchen full of friends, I’m planning on making this one another Amsterdam Thanksgiving Spectacular.