Variety is the spice of… Thanksgiving.
There are a few items that are just about guaranteed to show up on any Thanksgiving table—the most obvious being the turkey, closely followed by some sort of potato dish, gravy, and cranberry sauce. However, given that every family has it’s quirks and special traditions, many of us relish the atypical dishes, the ones unique to our own upbringing and family, that appear on the table each Thanksgiving the most.
My mother is Jamaican and every year, she makes a big pot of soup called Mannish Water to serve as guests start to flow in. Consider it our non-traditional Thanksgiving appetizer. It’s a Jamaican goat soup made with various parts of the animal. She grabs a coffee mug (yep, a coffee mug) to ladle the soup out, making sure every guest gets all the chunks of green banana, yams, and dumplings in their serving. Mannish water is not for the faint of heart considering my mom throws in 2 to 3 whole scotch bonnet peppers, along with a handful of pimento seeds. The soup warms your body in preparation for the big meal to come (and it’s also rumored to have aphrodisiacal powers, but that’s another story). I never considered the soup out of the ordinary growing up, but once I realized it was a tradition of my Jamaican family, I cherished the fact that it’d probably be considered a weird way to kick off Turkey Day to most. With Thanksgiving on the brain near constantly in the past week, I started to wonder what other out-of-the-ordinary food items are staples for my coworkers’ and friends’ feasts. Turns out, non-traditional is the tradition at more tables than I expected.
Stacey Rivera, Time Inc. Food Desk Director notes that it depends on which side of the family she is having dinner with. If it’s the Italian side, she is having lasagna. If it’s her Puerto Rican side, she is having rice and beans.
Jamie Ritter, Digital Associate Editor says her family alway has a bowl of olives on the Thanksgiving table.
Jennifer Skarda, Assistant Design Editor says “My fam likes to play up their Bohemian heritage and serve sauerkraut with caraway as a side.”
Arielle Weg, Cooking Light Diet Fellow has a personal tofurky roast (turkey roast made with tofu) to herself each year. She adds, “The few times Hanukkah falls on Thanksgiving, we serve latkes.”
Antara Sinha, Associate Social Media Editor usually goes to a close family friend’s house where there are guaranteed samosa and pakora (vegetable fritters) to snack on before dinner.
I also took to Facebook to see what other types of dishes showed up on friends’ tables and I ended up with a wide range of answers. Among various former classmates from college were folks claiming rice and peas, hot tamales, applesauce jello, and Momofuku pork butt as parts of their individual Thanksgiving traditions. (Side note: I definitely need to incorporate that pork butt into my family tradition this year.) Another commenter that says his family serves a whole fish steamed in soy sauce, ginger, and green onions. A chef friend claims gumbo as his go-to Thanksgiving dish. And it seems I’m not alone in my family’s Jamaican traditions, as other commenters also serve curry goat and jerk pork on their holiday menus.
I’ll tell you one thing, beyond being highly interesting/envy-inducing, hearing about such a range of “weird” Thanksgiving dishes among my colleagues and friends makes me all the more appreciative for the vast diversity of food culture we each bring to the table every day.