My sister was involved with a speech team in junior high school, and I remember her telling me this story from one pre-Thanksgiving session. A bunch of participants were passing the time talking about their plans for the upcoming holiday: where they’d go, who they’d see, what they’d eat, and so on. Someone asked my sister about her plans. Being from a family of caterers, she replied that we don’t really do anything for Thanksgiving. Said person then went, “Oh I’m sorry. What do Koreans celebrate?”
At the time we were all like LOL RACIST. But later I learned that it wasn’t just us: many many Koreans don’t know a turkey dinner from a hole in they ass. This is why my mom’s business blows up on Thanksgiving.
Koreans don’t do turkey. (It took several Googles to find a reference to a Korean turkey dish, and even that is considered an “oddity.”) And so these Korean-Americans pick up their Korean phones and order a Thanksgiving spread from the same Korean place that caters their other Korean events: my mom’s store. But they forget that my mom’s store is also Korean, which means that their turkey dinner is prepared by people who are equally perplexed by this culinary tradition. And unfortunately, this means that it comes out awful.
To explain: Once a year, my mom’s store sells four things they never sell for the rest of the year: turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and cranberry sauce. And once a year, my mom’s store purchases four ingredients that they never use for the rest of the year: turkeys, mashed potato mix, gravy mix, and cranberry sauce in a can. This is what they sell to fellow Koreans. I’ve been informed that this year they sold 86 of these atrocities. Koreans apparently don’t know the difference, or don’t care enough to say, “Hey that wasn’t so great, can we go another route next year?”
This sounds harsh. But anyone who’s spent a good amount of time in an typical asian person’s kitchen – or at least, read food blogs by asians – is probably familiar with the all-too-accurate stereotype of how oven-averse they are. Take a look inside a very traditional Korean person’s oven and you’ll probably see something like this:
So it shouldn’t be surprising that my mom also doesn’t brine her turkeys or slip little pats of seasoned butter under the skin or anything like that. And her store doesn’t even acknowledge stuffing, which is the best Thanksgiving food anyway THAT’S RIGHT I SAID IT.
So in light of a long day of slinging sub-par turkey dinners, I like to visit her and do it up right. Since it’s only the two of us (my sister usually spends T-day with her roommate’s family in DC, and my brother does stuff in New Jersey with his wife and their friends) it’s pretty scaled down. This year I made sausage stuffing, green bean casserole, and sweet potatoes (click the link for a bomb-ass recipe). I also warmed up a small turkey ham because ham is my holiday meat of choice and the turkey part made it seem more seasonally appropriate.
Over dinner I asked my mother if she’d ever eaten turkey at all in Korea. She confirmed that they’re not really a thing there. I said, “Not like chicken, huh?” And she said yes, not like chicken, but that also they didn’t have a lot of meat growing up. She really liked it, but it was hard to come by and expensive. Even fish? Even fish, simply because her village wasn’t near any body of water. Remembering how much shit she gave me when I went through this phase in high school, I pointed out that she was kind of a vegetarian, too. Heh.
I decided right then to add to the list of things-that-I’m-thankful-for the fact that my mom can have meat at every meal if she wants to. Yes, part of that is due to industrial farming which is awful and ruining our environment. But I bet my mom thinks she’s kind of a baller now, and do you really want to take that away from her?
Happy Thanksgiving, folks! I’m thankful for everyone who’s given this little navel-gazing blog a chance.