by Miriam Priborkima and Kavya Sridhar
Thanksgiving is a major festivity for most Americans. Families across the country come together to give thanks to those they love. However, many families have unique traditions, often owing to an immigrant background. Opening one’s mind to learning these cultures opens the doors to a whole new world of flavors and practices.
For instance, Kavya’s family is influenced by Indian traditions. Like many American Thanksgivings, family dinner is always a conjoined event; everyone pitches into the meal. In most cases, her aunt, uncle, cousins, and family friends come to her house for the meal, which means around fourteen people end up helping with dinner. The kitchen is always filled with laughter and warmth as her relatives and family cook.
A Thanksgiving staple includes vegetable or chicken biryani, a mixed rice dish with several different spices, such as bay leaf, cardamoms, cloves, cinnamon, star anise, shahi jeera & mace to add a savory note. Then, her mother’s signature dish is a spicy egg curry, complete with tomatoes, onions, and ground spices, like turmeric, cinnamon, and cumin.
The curry is the main course, and the biryani acts as a complement. Her mother also makes familiar and delectable Indian foods, like paneer tikka masala, naan bread, and butter chicken. These curries contain a creamy tomato base, making them savory with a hint of a sweet aftertaste.
Afterward, they all huddle together in the living room, watching a movie while eating ice cream, usually from a local Indian grocery store. These ice creams vary from malai kulfi, mango, and pistachio. Overall, it is not just the food that brings her family together but the love poured into each and every morsel.
Much in the same way, Miriam’s family is influenced by Russian culture. While her family does have the stereotypical turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and stuffing, they also serve traditional Slavic dishes. For example, Miriam and her father make olivier salad, potshuba salad, syrniki, vinaigrette, and kotlety. Each of these dishes are iconic in Russian and Slavic culture, which makes them a must-have at her dinner table.
Olivier and potshuba are Miriam’s personal favorites. Olivier salad is a heavenly mixture of carrots, peas, ham, potatoes, eggs, and pickles drizzled with mayonnaise. Potshuba, meanwhile, is a layered dish, with beets, carrots, white herring, potatoes, egg, and mayonnaise. Miriam also enjoys the other three dishes as well. Syrniki are cottage cheese pancakes commonly eaten with sour cream or jam, while vinaigrette is a salad consisting of potatoes, beets, sauerkraut, pickles, carrots, and olive oil. Kotlety, which are meat patties made of mainly beef, were something Miriam had always enjoyed. As a child, most of these dishes were not Miriam’s favorite, but their inclusion in Thanksgiving dinner helped expand her palate.
Much like Kavya's, Miriam’s kitchen bustles with noise; the room is filled with the sounds of the television as her father watches a soccer match, the voice of her mother as she tells him a story, and their hurried movements as the whole family cooks. After the meal, she and her family clean while listening to her mother’s favorite Russian music. “Tsunami” and “The 7th Element” are all too familiar after so many celebrations, but they are a part of her traditions. Miriam’s household listens to corny Russian songs during Thanksgiving; they love it! Her family is one of warmth and love, something that their meals represent.
Overall, these differences and similarities in culture, religion, experiences, and location help contribute to a diverse and unique world. Thanksgiving, in particular, carries a bevy of traditions and associations. Learning how Americans of all backgrounds celebrate Thanksgiving is the first step to exploring new practices and cultures.