Lassi with Lavina’s evergreen Thanksgiving story – a little bit of every immigrant’s memories!
Did you ever hear of the arrival of the turkey on to the Thanksgiving table being heralded as the arrival of the ‘dulhan’ or Indian bride? For Sunita Advaney’s family fixing the 30 lb bird was like preparing for an elaborate Indian wedding. Trust desis to bring their own take on this American holiday, imprinting it with their own special flavor!
For immigrants, it has been a gradual acquaintance with this American festival, and many have grown to love it and make it a part of their own traditions. I had interviewed Sunita Advaney 7 years ago for Newsday when I did a feature about immigrants celebrating Thanksgiving. She had mentioned how when she was seven years old, she had come home from first grade and asked her immigrant parents about the story behind Thanksgiving. Her father Lal Lakhati didn’t just explain the holiday to her, he actually went out and bought a small rotisserie bird and all the trimmings for the family’s first ever Thanksgiving dinner.
She recalled, “My father taught me how to sew and stitch the turkey and we invited family over. That first year we did two turkeys – one was traditional and one was tandoori turkey – a bright red because we coated it with tandoori spices and coloring and stuffed it with biryani and boiled eggs. We need our chilies and it was a good way to ease people into turkey because turkey is not part of our culture.”
That was then – this is now! You even had cooking guru Mark Bittman suggesting spicing up turkey leftovers by transforming them into a coconut based curry in the NYT article The Turkey that went to India . Now he’s really talking our language!
I caught up with the Advaney family and their turkey adventures after seven years and found out that Thanksgiving has become a family tradition. It is still such a favorite holiday that even though Sunita was going to be away in Barbados on Thanksgiving Day , she pre-celebrated the holiday by gathering 30 of her closest family and friends at her home with a potluck dinner, a nice mix of traditional and Indian cuisine.
For the feast, she had a 30lb turkey with all the trimmings from stuffing to creamed spinach, coupled with her mother’s famous chicken biryani and raita, spicy yogurt.
“It was a bit challenging this year, in terms of serving the food. We had booked the party room in our new building and although there is a catering kitchen, there is no oven,” she says. “As you can imagine it’s not easy carrying a 30lb turkey from the 3rd floor, even with an elevator. Luckily, we have a trolly in the building. We ended up putting the turkey on the trolly, lighting candles all around it and rolled it into the party room.”
And that grand entrance allowed her father to make the quip about the turkey being like the ‘dulhan’ or Indian bride, whose pending arrival is anticipated by guests at the wedding. Says Sunita: “My father is the keynote speaker for every Thanksgiving since we began celebrating this tradition 20 years ago. It is his favorite American holiday because it brings all our loved ones together. I guess that’s why it’s my favorite as well. Like father like daughter!”
Sunita’s son Akshay, who was a baby when I first interviewed her 8 years ago, is now a big kid who relishes Thanksgiving, a holiday he has grown with and which is his own.
Ask Sunita about her menu, and you see how Thanksgiving is getting redefined by immigrants and their children. The appetizers included lamb chops, spinach dip, chilli shrimp, mushroom puff pastries while dinner consisted of creamed spinach, garlic mashed potatoes, garlic bread, spinach lasagna, lamb stuffing, baked macaroni and cheese, raita, chicken biryani and of course, spiced stuffed turkey. Truly, this turkey has traveled to India!