Tamales, Chinese cod stew, Greek favorites like baklava. An actual turkey might even show up. Chances are that if your Thanksgiving dinner is at a home where people from different parts of the world will be milling about, there’ll be a mix of foreign foods, too. For a look at what some immigrants are having for their Thanksgiving meal, The World’s Monica Campbell went shopping earlier this week in San Francisco.
Here in San Francisco, like many places that immigrants call home, what’s on the table for Thanksgiving can vary pretty widely. Many stick to the usual: turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, but not everyone. Just ask Lea Nicolaides, from Brazil.
“The turkey is not our favorite. So, I like to have a good chicken, roasted. All the greens, you know, all the condiments. That’s the way we celebrate Thanksgiving.”
At an Asian seafood market, Mai Lam watches her customers inspect crabs and lobster from massive water tanks. Chinese cod and black bass are laid out on beds of ice. Lam is gearing up for her own 70-person feast. She is from Vietnam, but she’s doing seafood, Cajun style.
“A friend of mine lives in New Orleans and sent me a recipe and all the ingredients for the Cajun,” she said. She said she will mix like crab, clam, corn and potato. “And then some other appetizers like bacon wrapped with scallop, bacon wrapped with oyster. And for the kids menu we have mac and cheese.”
Not far away, on San Francisco’s Mission Street, there’s the go-to Middle Eastern shop, Samiramis. It sells everything from food to small rugs and hookahs. And its young, new manager, Wadee Imseeh, arrived a year and a half ago from the West Bank city of Ramallah. People from throughout San Francisco shop here, including immigrants from Egypt and Syria, Greece and Latin America.
“They buy the spices, they buy the nuts,” said Imseeh. “They buy Turkish delight, figs, apricots, and all the dried fruit, and the baklava, and they buy the phyllo dough.”
Customer Kay Kostopoulos is shopping with her son, Andre.
“I’ve been coming here forever,” Kostopoulos said. “I used to be a belly dancer when I was young. And this is where we’d come to get our finger symbols.”
But today, she’s picking up stacks of phyllo dough for Thanksgiving.
“We’re making spanakopita,” she said. “We’re Greek-Americans, and we’re also making some pastitsio, which is kind of a Greek lasagna.”
“We always do turkey, but we always try to throw in some Greek elements with it as well. So the Greek stuffing has sausage in it and celery and always oregano, which some people aren’t used to with a turkey. And sometimes we have dolmades as an appetizer also.”
Down the street is the Mission District’s Fish and Poultry market. After a long wait in line, Maria Estella Escobar puts in her Thanksgiving order: three chickens for tamales. Typical Salvadoran food. She has already bought the banana leaves that she’ll use to wrap the masa, chicken, and potato. Escobar and her husband are here in the United States alone. They send their earnings home to support their kids back in El Salvador. Still, Escobar will cook for a big group anyway. She says Tamales are too much effort to only make a few.
“I’ll make about 100 tamales, she says, and share them with my neighbors.”