Thanksgiving might be the most difficult holiday to miss as an American abroad. As far as Christmas and New Year’s go there’s a good chance you may get to go home in December to experience familiar holiday cheer. Or it’s likely that your host-country can provide a less-familiar, albeit still pleasant, Christmas and New Year experience. But there’s nothing quite like a good old-fashioned American Thanksgiving anywhere but… the United States.
Despite several challenges, we eight American SRAS students in Bishkek pooled our resources to create quite possibly the best Thanksgiving feast Central Asia has ever seen.
First, we had to plan our dishes. Everyone was willing to contribute something. It was difficult to determine what could be cooked in the dorms without ovens, as all but three of us reside there. This made the question of a turkey, most important to any Thanksgiving feast, the main challenge to overcome. Luckily, one of our students’ host mothers is a culinary genius and was inspired to cook us a turkey for our celebration. Ross and his host mom bought the turkey at Orto Sai Bazaar and delivered it to us the day of our feast (opting for the sanctity of a taxi over a crowded marshrutka). If you happen to make a friend that lives outside of the dorms or you yourself have a host family that is willing to lend their kitchen, a turkey is certainly an option. If not, you may just have to buy a rotisserie chicken.
We had other challenges in that no one thought to bring American measuring cups from home so there was a lot of eyeballing measurements. Whoever is living in dorm number seven next can thank me and my roommate for buying a pot, pan, baking dish, whisk, and two full-size plates to accommodate the food we’d be indulging in.
Potatoes are a dime a dozen in Bishkek, making mashed potatoes a breeze. Following any standard mashed potato recipe will be quite easy with what’s available at the grocery store and in the dorm kitchen. Gravy was also not a problem; we used drippings from the turkey and a standard brown gravy recipe. You can also find sweet potatoes at Globus. I contributed candied sweet potatoes and walnuts. Dark brown sugar is available in Frunze, but keep in mind that it contains more molasses than regular brown sugar and needs to be diluted with regular white sugar. Marshmallows allegedly exist in Bishkek because you can order it with hot chocolates at cafes, but I was unable to find any at Globus or Frunze.
Lacking Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup and French’s crispy fried onions and oven space, a classic green-bean casserole was out of the question. One student compromised by sautéing green beans with mushrooms and onions and it almost filled the green-bean-casserole-sized hole in our hearts. A student living with a host family used the oven and contributed stuffing, which turned out deliciously. All the ingredients were easy to find within Globus and Frunze. We also found rolls and muffins, in addition to two cakes that complimented our meal well. No pies were attempted. I made a punch with cranberry juice and Sprite and we had mulled wine with our dessert.
One of the downsides of living in the dorms is the lack of common space. The tables in each unit are perfectly sized for approximately two people to sit at. We compiled these tables in the landing, where we fit quite snugly with the doors to all the rooms closed to afford more space. Clean-up in such a tight space wasn’t ideal, but we split dishwashing between three units which went well, even though everyone’s silverware and cups got all mixed up.
Post-dinner, a student wanted to share his family’s Thanksgiving tradition of watching Planes, Trains, and Automobiles with us. We asked the security guard if we could use a classroom’s projector and he obliged, probably quite pleased that we offered him a plate of our traditional American cuisine. We chose room number five, next to the English teachers’ lounge, so that (after asking permission, of course) we could move the comfy couches and armchairs into the classroom so that we didn’t have to sit in the uncomfortable desks.
With all eight of us working together to cook, clean, and move some furniture, the celebration went off without a hitch. Before eating, we went around the table and each person said what they were thankful for and it was clear that in a city halfway across the world from our hometowns where our families were celebrating, we had created something unique and special with one another.