Thanksgiving (Far) Away from Home

So, it’s Thanksgiving Day in the U.S., when families come together to give thanks and share high calorie, delicious foods. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green beans, pie, and more. It’s all so good we are willing to brave a day of family dysfunction just to eat ourselves silly.

It’s funny because it’s true.

Traveling for long periods of time means missing out on these important holidays every once in a while. Like this year.

But it’s also times like this when we have the opportunity to start new traditions. Back in 2011, R and I were traveling through Guatemala and found ourselves in Cobán on Thanksgiving Day.

If you’ve ever been to Guatemala you know that there are precious few options for food. It’s mostly Plato Tipico all day every day. Don’t get me wrong, Plato Tipico is pretty good stuff. It’s beef or chicken, whipped black beans, rice, guacamole, plantains, and tortillas. We were happy campers, but we’d had it for two weeks straight. And it was Thanksgiving Day.

We drew from the traditions of our Jewish friends and found a Chinese restaurant. (Ok, ok, our Jewish friends go to Chinese food on Christmas because nothing else is open; it’s not an exact parallel. Still, it was a holiday that no one else was celebrating. We find commonalities where we can, no?). There was red paint on the walls, tassels hanging from the lamps, and a waving cat statue. What could go wrong? I ordered the chow mein, R ordered the curry.

You guys, it was not good. The chow mein was spaghetti mixed with black beans and broccoli, and the potatoes in R’s curry were those crinkle cut french fries you can buy in the frozen foods section. We can’t fault the proprietors. They were working with what they had available to them, and they had to cater to the tastes of their customer base.

As hilariously bad as that first foreign Thanksgiving was, it’s also now a tradition to find Chinese food if we’re in a foreign country on this very American holiday. We’re in Coimbra, Portugal, this year. It was pouring rain so we took a taxi to the closest Chinese restaurant we could find. Turns out they only did take out, so we walked another 20 minutes in the rain to the next one on the list. Success! Restaurante Fu Hua – Boguang Jin was seating customers. There was carved wood paneling and red paint and tassels and a waving cat. What could go wrong?

You guys, it was delightfully mediocre. We had spring rolls, chicken in chili sauce, orange duck, and beer. It didn’t taste anything like Chinese food – either the authentic or American varieties, but it wasn’t crinkle cut french fries in curry either.

And we had each other. Our small, two-person family out for a meal to give thanks for what we have, for the ability to be on this trip, for our health, for love. Cheers.

The spring rolls were more like Hot Pockets filled exclusively with cabbage. Photo by T.
The orange duck (foreground) was better than we were expecting. We were expecting breaded and deep-fried meat like in the U.S. The chicken (background) was just ok. Either the palates of the Portuguese are very different or traditional Chinese spices are hard to come by. Photo by T.


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