Food is often celebrated as the most universal way of appreciating those in our lives. It is a love story unique to you and your family, whether it’s recipes passed down through generations or memories of preparing favorite foods or sharing a meal with loved ones. By participating in culinary traditions, you open a window into the very blueprint of your family.
Growing up, preparing for Thanksgiving was no easy feat. It usually meant a dozen email threads and lots of strategic furniture rearranging. You see, my father has nine siblings, which means there are now about 60 of us scattered around the country. Somewhere along the way, Thanksgiving was deemed the one holiday we could all make time for. This means that, once a year, a lot of relatives gather under one roof . . . and if there’s one thing the Chinese know how to do, it’s feed their families.
A Chinese Thanksgiving Menu
Our Thanksgiving dinner starts after lunch with the arrival of the furthest relatives; after all, preparations need to begin posthaste. By mid-afternoon, appetizers are already trickling onto the island, immediately snatched up by snacking hands, while the football game plays across the room. Lo bak go (turnip cakes), tea leaf eggs, tripe, and chicken feet mingle with a platter of chips and salsa and a charcuterie board. It’s not your typical game day spread, but nobody minds.
Once everyone arrives, my father prays a blessing, and we dig in. The spread is a bountiful array of flavors, colors, and textures. A whole pig, fresh from the backyard spit, shares the limelight with the traditional turkey. Plates of roast duck and char siu (Chinese BBQ) pork rest by dishes of sweet potato casserole and broccoli salad. A stack of sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves towers next to a bowl of homemade stuffing. Pickled vegetables and loaves of cornbread sit side by side.
Later in the evening, black sesame ice cream and matcha biscotti are pulled out onto the table for dessert, along with apple and pecan pies. Red bean soup is ladled out by slices of cheesecake and scoops of chocolate mousse. It is a literal cultural smorgasbord.
Passing Along the Food Heritage
I love that our Thanksgiving dinners celebrate the different cultures, both ancestral and contemporary, gathered around the table as one family, and make up my family’s unique food heritage.
Just as I hold memories of my năinai’s (grandma’s) parting gifts of vegetables from her garden and homemade sticky rice, and learning to fold dumplings with my mom, I hope, one day, my children will look back fondly on such times — like making baozi (steamed buns) with me and rolling burger patties with their dad — and pass those memories to their kids.
Here are six practical ways you can pass down your family’s food heritage.
- Prepare foods intentionally with your children and grandchildren, and let them be an important part of the process.
- Celebrate the food you grew up eating and/or put your own spin on it.
- Share the significance of special heirloom dishes with your family and use them; don’t let them collect dust in the top shelf of your kitchen cabinet!
- Collect a physical (or digital, if that’s your thing) cookbook of weekly, seasonal, and celebratory family favorite recipes.
- Visit with family members and share memories of meals shared together.
- Create your own unique food traditions that your children can pass down.
What food traditions do you enjoy with your family? Let us know in the comments below.