Thanksgiving Around The World
Many cultures around the world have, for centuries, celebrated Thanksgiving during their mid-autumn festivals.
The European custom of coming together to celebrate a plentiful harvest has changed through time, but the main component remains: to give thanks.
Given the difference in climate and crops around the world, harvest festivals can be found at various times in different places.
1. Thanksgiving Day in Canada
In Canada, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in October;
Canada’s Thanksgiving traditions are similar to their American counterparts and many of their food staples are featured on their holiday menu, with some variations.
Turkey is frequently found in Canada as the centerpiece on a Thanksgiving table but there’s no surprise if sometimes it’s substituted with ham or other roasts.
Sweet potatoes are baked or mashed into a puree on their own with no butter. Bread crumbs or rice are used in the turkey stuffing rather than corn and the Canadians serve wheat-based bread rolls while Americans tend to have cornbread rolls, sliced loaves, or muffins.
North of the border, pumpkin pie has a spicy twist, with ginger, cloves nutmeg and cinnamon, giving a different bounty of flavors in contrast to the American pie, which is sweet and has custard in it.
But the turkey is not the only centerpiece in Canada. They have another harvest symbol borrowed from European farmers that they are very fond of: the cornucopia tradition.
This custom requires filling a goat’s horn with fruit and grains, and the best looking ones, nowadays, are made of pastry.
A Canadian Thanksgiving menu could look like this:
2. Chuseok – Korea
15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar on the full moon;
Literally “autumn eve”, the Korean Harvest Festival is also known as Korean Thanksgiving Day and it’s similar to the Americans’ custom of coming together to celebrate with the family.
On this special occasion the menu usually includes special food that is not eaten daily, and much of the work falls to the first son’s wife. For the family’s ancestors, she has to prepare a table consisting of 3 to 5 rows of Korean dishes that start with rice, hot soup, Korean rice cakes, chestnuts, fish, beef, a host of traditional food, drinks and desserts.
Fruits are also present: Asian pear, jujube (local dates), Korean melon, apples, chestnuts, and persimmon. The table must follow a particular order: in the front are the fruits, behind them namul vegetables and jean pancakes, meat and fish.
Then at the back are placed chopsticks and spoons with soup and rice and finally alcohol for the ancestors.
The whole family can help prepare Songpyeon.
This is the Korean rice cake made from finely ground new rice and dough that is kneaded into small half-moon shapes. Then the rice cakes are filled and steamed. They can have a variety of fillings: chestnuts (made from canned chestnuts with syrup or regular cooked chestnuts), sweet honey sesame (crushed sesame seeds mixed with honey), edamame (green edamame beans cooked and salted) and mung beans (steamed mung beans mixed with sugar).
Traditionally the steaming is done on the top of a layer of pine needles that act like a non-stick liner, giving the cakes a wonderful evergreen aroma. It is believed that the chi of the pines gets absorbed into Songpyeon and is then transferred to whoever eats them. The rice cakes are white by default but they can be colored with traditional natural pigments: mugwort powder makes green; pumpkin powder or gardenia seed pods produce yellow; cockscomb flower and beets make red; youth berry, raspberry juice or magnolia vine make pink; purple grapes, purple sweet potato flour or blueberry juice produce purple.
Chaltteok is another rice cake made from sweet rice powder, black soybeans, dried jujube, and dried pumpkin seeds, which are traditional ingredients.
A more modern recipe allows any combination of sweet rice powder, some beans, nuts, and dried fruits to give you tasty, healthy rice cakes.
A Korean feast always includes a variety of jeon, a pan-fried battered food. It varies depending on the ingredients used: hobakjeon is made from zucchini, saewoojeon from shrimp, and saengseonjeon from fish, all battered in eggs and fried.
Kkaennip jeon is stuffed with perilla leaves, an Asian herb that tastes like anise or licorice.
Among the popular choices is Goji Wanjajeon, a pan fried meatball in egg batter, but most families’ favorite is a savory mung bean pancake called Nokdujeon. Some side dishes are: Sigeumchi namul (made from spinach), Doraji namul (bellflower root), Mu namul (with radish), and Gosari namul, which is fiddlehead of bracken seasoned and stir-fried. It has an earthy flavor and a chewy texture.
A beautiful colorful centerpiece is Gujeolpan, meaning platter or nine delicacies. Eight delicate fillings are served around miljeonbyeong thin crepe-like wheat flour pancakes. This plate, historically known as a royal court dish, is also a part of New Year’s menu.
The most common soup for this occasion is Toran guk, made with taro the “earth egg”, which is a root that looks like an egg. Taro has the same texture as mashed potatoes when it’s cooked and the taste rather resembles sweet potato but is more nutty with a reminiscent vanilla flavor.
Known as a harmony of meat (beef), vegetables, and noodles, japache is another star of the Chuseok menu. Although this dish looks easy to make, it actually takes some work because each vegetable is individually sliced into small pieces and lightly cooked before finally being stir fried together.
Starch noodles that look like glass are stir fried with beef and vegetables. First the food is placed in special dishes made from brass for the memorial services. And because the dishes are only for the memorial table, when it’s time to eat, all the food has to be plated on regular dishes.
3. Erntedankfest – Germany
First Sunday in October;
Translated as “Thanks for the harvest festival”, this fest takes place on the first Sunday in October for many communities but others may celebrate it later in the month, depending on the crops harvested. In wine growing regions they celebrate Winzerfest.
The custom of feeling grateful may be the same as their American counterparts but not everyone chooses the same menu. But while they can vary from house to house depending on their customs and preferences, wienerschinschnitzel is never absent.
Due to the juicy and tender meat (and its television appearances), Truthahn (turkey) has become popular among Germans during Erntedankfest, slowly usurping the Gans (goose), more traditionally used on special occasions.
Turkey can be stuffed and prepared in similar ways to goose. Alternatively, in rural areas, roasted Kapaun is served. This is a castrated rooster that is fed until he’s heavier than the average rooster. Other turkey substitutes can be Masthühnchen, a chicken fatten up for more meat, or Die Poularde, which is the equivalent of a hen or pullet that is also fattened up.
A special decorated loaf of bread is cooked for this occasion alongside other traditional foods typically made from loads of freshly harvested produce.
Very popular is the scrumptious Rouladen, made from thinly cut seasoned slices of chosen meat rolled up with pieces of bacon and vegetables – pickles and onions are a great choice. Even cheese can make it in the filling. They are fried in a heated skilled with melted butter.
After beautifully browned on each side, they are served with potato dumplings and red cabbage.
Thüringer Klösse are dumplings made from potatoes. Variations of the recipe are often handed down within the family, but it requires grating raw potatoes and squeezing out the liquid. A little bit of butter, salt, and cream of wheat are added to a boiling cup of milk and then mixed with the grated potatoes to form round dumplings.
Each one is tamped with one or two croutons and then boiled for 15 minutes. They go with anything that comes with gravy.
The well-loved dish Spätzle comes from Swabians and means little sparrows, which are in fact tiny soft egg noodles. All-purpose flour, eggs, salt, and water are mixed together to make the dough that is then scraped down into a boiling pot of water. Once they float, they are done. This side dish pairs well with lightly sautéed diced bacon or fried onions.
There is no mouth-watering childhood memory without Sauerbraten, traditional roast beef that is first marinated in red wine. The whole process is time consuming with prepping and all, but it is well worth the wait! For starters, the meat is marinated in a sauce made from red wine, cloves, bay leaves, peppercorns, vinegar, and a sliced onion for between 3 to 5 days, and it must be turned once or twice a day. The meat is then drained and roasted with carrots, onions, and celery in a deep pan with bacon fat, butter or oil. Then a cup of broth or water is added and it is left to cook over low heat for about 3 hours while the meat gets tender. Once cooked, the meat is removed and the gravy continues to cook with added corn starch, sour cream, salt and pepper.
It’s time for a quick dessert recipe and Blitz Torte is a perfect combination of delicious taste, effortless cooking and sumptuousness. This fluffy treat bears many names, from Berliner Luft Torte (Berlin Air Torte), Himmelstorte (Heaven’s Torte), Tausenblättertorte (Thousand Leaves Torte), Jensen Torte, Jensen Hansen Torte to Schwimmbadtorte (Swimming Pool Torte). Two layers of almondy batter with meringue on top are baked and then filled with delicious vanilla custard. Kӧstlich!
Another simple dessert, a quick sour sweet roulade, is a real savior during busy days: Cream Roll or Biskuitrolle. A tray of sponge cake is baked, then rolled up and filled with whipped cream, jam, and fresh fruits. All desserts should be this stress free on holydays!
4. Zhōng Qiū Jié – China
The 15th day of the 8th month in the lunar calendar;
Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival is also known as the Moon Festival and it’s been celebrated since the early Tang dynasty with an 800 calorie cake.
Moon cakes are offered to friends and eaten at family gatherings as their round shape symbolizes reunion. This delicacy consists of a thick, tender pastry skin enveloping a sweet, dense filling of lotus seed paste or red bean paste, and may contain a whole salted egg yolk in the center as a symbol of the full moon.
There are regional variations of moon cakes and because they are more of an acquired taste, contemporary recipes have developed to please every taste buds. There are some crust choices and the fillings vary from cream cheese, chicken floss, durian to tiramisu, ice cream, chocolate, coffee, nuts, pandan, and fruit.
Traditional moon cakes are imprinted on the top with the Chinese characters for “longevity” or “harmony”, as well as decorations that celebrate the legend of Chang’e who flew to the moon with her jade rabbit.
Duck is served as the main course, its taste and texture varying depending on the cooking technique preferred in different parts of the country. In Beijing they like roast duck with its thin and crispy skin, the people of Jiangsu love sweet scented Osmanthus Duck best, while in Sichuan they prefer the rich, flavorful Smoke-Baked Duck.
In traditional medicine, duck is considered a cooling food and is therefore consumed in autumn to discharge heat from the body, but also to keep the balance between Yin (cooling) and Yang (warming) to improve health.
Prepared as a side dish or even dessert, taro is a versatile and nutritious vegetable, also popular with the Chinese. It can be boiled, steamed or cooked. This starchy root is also thought to bring good luck by the people of Zhejiang and Jiangsu Provinces.
Eating pumpkin at harvest time comes from an old story of a family in dire straits with sick parents. Their daughter found two large pumpkins and after cooking them, fed them to her parents who got increasingly better. Consequently people believe that eating pumpkin at this time brings good health and longevity.
Round shaped foods are preferred during Moon Fest. Pomelo is an offering for the Moon Goddess in exchange of blessings of good luck and happiness. The juicy fruit also cleanses the taste buds after the sweet and rich moon cakes.
A seasonal food and centerpiece of a Chinese Mid-Autumn Fest table since the late 14th century are hairy crabs. The best crabs come from Tai Lake and Yangcheng Lake in Suzhou and are highly sought after.
For the people of Guangdong, river snails are a must-eat food at harvest time to assure good future harvests. They are also believed to brighten your eyes and drive away bad luck and evil spirits.
Autumn provides many crops, including the fresh flowers of Osmanthus. Many families use them to make a variety of specialties such as syrup, naturally caffeine-free tea, cakes, Osmanthus jelly, and rice wine. Delicacies made from these sweet and fragrant flowers give elegance to the dining table and signify wealth, sweetness, and reunion. On the night of the festival celebration, the menu includes Osmanthus Wine, Osmanthus Sorbet, Osmanthus Lotus Roots and Osmanthus Sweet Balls.
5. Kinrō Kansha no Hi and Tsukimi – Japan
23 November– 15th day of the 8th lunar month;
Kinrō Kansha means Labor Thanksgiving Day and is the modern name for an ancient celebration of the harvest of the Five Cereals. It was once a fall harvest festival but has since changed in meaning and nowadays is celebrated among workers in Japan. It takes place a few days before the American Thanksgiving but unlike their big celebration that gathers friends and family to enjoy the traditional meal of turkey with cranberries, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie, the Japanese take a day off work to rest or shop. They have a small potluck with Noribachi fish, rice, seaweed salad, and tea.
Another national fall holiday is the solemn Tsukimi, translated as moon viewing, which is a festival to honor the autumn moon. It usually falls in September or October and was introduced to Japan by China during the Heian period. Moon Festival is a variant for the Mid-Autumn Festival.
The most traditional food associated with Tsukimi is known as Tsukimi Dango, which is small and plump rice dumplings piled in a pyramid shape on a tray on the family altar and is seen as an offering to the moon. Tsukimi Dango by itself has no flavour, so it is often served with red bean paste, brown sugar syrup, kinako or painted with teriyaki sauce. They are served along with other seasonal foods like taro, chestnuts, and edamame while the family gathers in a place with a clear view of the full moon. These dishes are known as Tsukimi dishes or Tsukimi ryori and are accompanied by sake, offered in the hope of achieving an abundant harvest. In regions where the crops are abundant in sweet potatoes and taro, the Festival is referred to as the Potato Harvest Moon.
Particularly associated with this festival are Tsukimi soba or Tsukimi udon, which are thin buckwheat noodles or thick wheat noodles boiled in water and topped with raw egg and nori. On top of that is poured a lightly flavored broth. In other parts of the country, yaki udon is served with an egg and it’s called Tenmado. During this period, Tsukimi style sushi is served, a variation of hand rolled temaki sushi that gets elevated with a raw quill’s egg placed on top. Other snacks enjoyed on this occasion are moon cakes.
Today, you can even see Tsukimi burgers on fast food menus in Japan, where a fried egg is added to the sandwich.
6. Moon Festival – East Asia
15th day of the 8th lunar month;
The Harvest Festival is celebrated by all East Asian countries, who also share traditions of worship of the moon and a lantern parade. The traditional festival food in most of these countries is moon cakes and although they all may look the same, the pastry and filling differ in different countries. The durian filling is preferred in Singapore and Malaysia, which has the snow skin crust.
Vietnam has two major types of moon cake. One is baked moon cake, which is similar to Chinese ones. These carp-shaped and moon-shaped cakes are highly popular and common fillings include mung beans, egg yolk, and lotus seed paste. Another popular moon cake in Vietnam is soft white moon cake, made with glutinous rice flour and has no filling.
Moon cakes in Hong Kong have a lot of flavors, including the traditional lotus seed cakes, sesame bean curd, and the newly fashionable snowy moon cake, smooth milk tea cake, precious black truffles, French foie gras, and moon cakes with soft fillings. Hong Kong has always led the moon cake fashion trend.
Taiwan moon cake has its own characteristics and the flavors are mostly salty sweet. The famous varieties are egg yolk, red bean paste moon cake and small sized glutinous rice moon cakes.
Eating pomelo is also a custom of the Moon Festival in Taiwan because the pomelo has the homonym of “blessing kids”. The skin of pomelo is not peeled randomly; it is usually fashioned into the shape of a flower for a child to wear on their head for good luck.
Cambodia doesn’t have an autumn/winter season but they do have a Moon Cake Festival and in addition to the round shaped cakes they have rectangular ones. In Thailand they offer peach-shaped cakes to the Moon.
7. Liberia – West Africa
First Thursday of November;
Liberians’ special meal for gathering together and giving thanks for the freedom and foundation of the country consists of fried chicken, green bean casserole, and mashed cassava. The starchy root vegetable is the Liberian alternative to mashed potato and it’s made from yukka, a nutty-flavored tuber native to South America. Cassava is a major source of calories; it is high in carbohydrates but low on the glycemic index. And because they like their food hot and spicy, they add cayenne and other peppers to the Thanksgiving dishes.
8. Thai Pongal – India
Usually celebrated from January 14 to January 17;
India is well known for the variety of flavors and colors that depict their cuisine and what better feast for the eyes and taste buds alike than a national holiday? Thai Pongal is a four-day festival celebrating the Sun God for providing a successful harvest; it is also known as the Harvest Thanksgiving Festival. Pongal is also the name of a sweetened dish of rice boiled with lentils served on a banana leaf and ritually consumed on this day.
As a special dish dedicated to the Sun god, Surya, cooking is done in sunlight, usually on a porch or court yard, and it has two variants: sweet and savory. It can be made in many ways. Besides rice and milk, the ingredients of this sweet dish include cardamom, raisins, green gram, and cashew nuts.
Ven Pongal is one of the savory variants, a popular breakfast in Southern India, made of rice mixed with moong daal, ghee, cashew nuts, raisins, and mild spices. Side dishes for Pongal are several gravies called gosthu (such as tomato gosthu and brinjal gosthu, which is made from eggplant), several chutneys and sambars, a lentil-based vegetable stew.
Avarakkai is a plant that flourishes at this time of year and it’s the tastiest ever. So it’s only normal to find Avarakkai Kootu (broad bean lentil curry) on the table for the festival. The beans are cooked in a lentil and coconut gravy and then simply flavored with cumin and red chilies.
Pumpkin is an American staple for Thanksgiving Day and it also stars in a dish favored by Indians: Parangikkai Mochai Vella Kuzhambu (sweet pumpkin and field bean gravy with jaggery). This is sweet and spicy gravy made with tamarind, jaggery, and sambar powder. The pumpkin and mochai are sautéed in oil and then boiled in spiced tamarind water with sambar powder until they soften and become golden.
The sweet potatoes enter the scene on a dish called Sweet Potato Karamadhu. They are lightly steamed until soft, when the dried red chilies, curry leaves, and mustard seeds are added. And then the curry is finished with salt and fresh grated coconut.
Vadas, donut-shaped fritters made from various pulses, sago or potatoes, are very popular. Spices are added to the batter which is then deep fried in oil until golden and crispy outside and fluffy inside. They are often eaten as a snack or as an accompaniment to another dish.
A traditional Indian dessert made on various festivals and celebratory occasions is Payasam, a delicious, creamy, rice and milk pudding with cashews and raisins.
9. Norfolk Island – Australia
On the last Wednesday in November;
The remote island of Australia has imported Thanksgiving Day, which is celebrated during the Food Festival called Norfolk Island’s Taste. Being a fusion of traditional Thanksgiving foods and Norfolk Island cuisine, the Thanksgiving meal has no turkey but instead roast pork takes center place with chicken, and a lot of banana dishes: banana pilaf, which is bananas baked in a bread form, green bananas cooked in cream, and dried bananas. Although it’s spring in November in Norfolk Island, the menu includes cornbread and pumpkin pie for this special occasion.
Each festival from every part of the world has a folklore attached to it. And while traditions and histories may differ from country to country, celebration and gratitude are universal values.