11/25/2013 04:35 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Putting the 'Thanks' in Our Expat Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving (or as our Canadian expat friends call it, American Thanksgiving) could be the single biggest holiday that expats celebrate together in their chosen countries.

Despite how many other nationalities show up for the barbecue, Fourth of July is pretty exclusive to Yanks. And if expats have close family or friends in the States, they'll often choose the December holidays for their annual trip back to the old country.


In Latin American mercados, your bountiful Thanksgiving harvest is fresh and organic and you can buy more than you can carry for just a couple of dollars.

Photo courtesy of Suzan Haskins,

Which leaves a lot of expats home at their overseas abodes around the end of November with a terrific excuse to get together. It's also a great excuse for all the cooks among us to try to recreate our favorite Thanksgiving recipes, because more than any other holiday, Thanksgiving is about the food... and very particular types of food at that. The types of food that bring back memories.

Roast turkey is, of course, the obvious leader in that field, and "pavo" as it's known in our parts is almost as widely available as chicken, which is everywhere. We may not be able to get trussed-up Butterballs with pop-out timers, but we can usually find big birds on which to lavish our attention and oven time.

Potatoes likewise. They pretty much invented potatoes up here in the Andes, and we have our choice of dozens of varieties. Again, we may not get the industry standard, uniformly sized/shaped/colored Idaho baking variety, but we have potatoes to spare.

However, where expat cooks shine is in recreating the side dishes that often say "Thanksgiving" more subtly and convincingly than even turkey and mashed potatoes.

For example, we personally have profound memories of green bean casserole made with Del Monte French-cut green beans, Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup and Durkee's french-fried onions. Recreating that without having the exact ingredients brought down from home is challenging, but we've done it. (And in our humble opinions, with fresh ingredients we've actually improved it.)

Cranberry sauce is another Thanksgiving staple that is possible to make locally with creative thinking and clever substitution. (We've heard that with enough looking it's even possible to find the kind that comes to the table still in the shape of the can it was packed in, but we can't swear to it.)

The list goes on... yams with marshmallow topping, buttermilk biscuits, Jell-O salad, pumpkin pie, and the item that seems to display the most variety, style, and individuality of all...stuffing.

Naturally, in places with large enough expat populations, there will usually be at least one restaurant featuring a traditional Thanksgiving dinner on the menu. This is where you'll find a lot of the folks who moved abroad specifically so they'd never have to personally stir another pot or lift another pan again... which is entirely possible in many expat havens.

But no matter who we are or where we come from or why we moved in the first place, there is something about Thanksgiving that--somehow, somewhere--brings us together. Even Canadians, Europeans, and locals.

It has a lot to do with the mouthwatering tastes and smells of the holiday and the creative challenges of recreating them to match as closely as possible all of our collective childhood memories.

But we think it also has to do with the "Thanks" part of Thanksgiving.

The original Thanksgiving was at its heart a celebration of simply having enough to eat after a tough year. That's hugely important on a very fundamental level.

Because like the original Pilgrims, many expats have come from places and situations where their lifestyles and livelihoods were not so secure or easy or enjoyable. To be able to leave that behind and live well on what you have in a new and welcoming land...that's a tremendous blessing, and one that our expat friends are deeply grateful for.

Which is why we'll be celebrating right along with everyone else this Thanksgiving.

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