Who, really, likes turkey? It’s such a dry, tasteless bird that we have to cram its ass with flavorful, spiced dressing and slather it in rich gravy before we’ll admit to enjoying it. Even then, it’s a stretch. That’s no surprise, of course. The Puritans who gave us the core of this half-hearted feast weren’t exactly purveyors of corporeal pleasure. Given what they had, and given that they were cooking with food either made with the first batch of decent crops they’d ever seen or gifted to them by American Indians (and thus food with which the Puritans were unfamiliar with), I guess we should be glad that the food wasn’t worse than it was.
Still, I like all the dishes around the turkey much more than I like the main dish itself. It’s a terrible base around which to prepare a meal. It’s worth noting that, here in the South, people risk house fires and amputation through explosion by trying to deep-fry the turkey—anything to make it taste better. I sympathize with them.
I propose that we find an alternative. Rather, I suggest alternatives. Instead of a singular Thanksgiving dish, each region of America (yea, each city, town, and even borough!) should celebrate the occasion with dishes appropriate to the area, and that mean something specifically to the area in which you live. Obviously, the kind folks of southern Louisiana will have a distinct advantage over the rest of us. But they live in a corrupt state with a tropical climate and earth that’s gradually becoming sludge and eroding into the Gulf of Mexico, and under the continual (and, last year, realized) threat of destruction by hurricane, so they should have something to lord over the rest of the country. So, give Louisiana its cuisine—I’d kill for a Thanksgiving meal that begins with beignets and chicory coffee, and that ends with jambalaya, a side dish of gumbo, another side dish of fresh oysters, a bouillabaisse as a palate-cleanser, pecan pie for dessert, and chased continually with hot toddies.
I live in Jackson, but I’m in my hometown (Dallas, Texas) for Thanksgiving. I’ll drive from suburb to suburb—my mom lives in Mesquite, to the east; my dad lives in Duncanville, west of Dallas—and will likely have multiple plates of a dish that I can tolerate only because I’m with family, while watching a sport (football) for which I’ve never understood the appeal.
Here’s what I’d really like to eat on this day. Consider it a true Texas Thanksgiving, Quiet Bubble style:
Let’s start with guacamole made of ripe avocado, chopped tomato and red onion, paprika and cumin and chili powder, sprinkled with salt and a generous squeeze of juice from a fresh lime. Eat with corn chips. A simple, large plate of nachos comes next, set in the center of the living room—corn chips doused with melted cheddar cheese, salsa, sour cream, pico de gallo, and chopped jalapenos. The guacamole and nachos go in the living room, so people can nibble and pick at their leisure, while mingling with family members.
A spicy bean soup—meaty and garlicky broth—follows as a palate cleanser; this is the first part of the meal that’s eaten at the family table.
Then the host—that’s me—offers the family a choice of one of three dishes. Hell, you can have a taste of all three if you wish. First, chicken and cheese enchiladas, made with flour tortillas, and lightly covered in a green chili sauce; spinach enchiladas, doused in a cream sauce, are an alternative for the vegetarians. Second, fresh pork tamales, tender and steamed so you can taste the corn. Third, barbecued beef brisket, drowned in a sauce of peppers, tomatoes, a hint of orange juice, and slow-cooked for 24 hours over burning hickory firewood. All is served with refried beans, Spanish rice, black-eyed peas, and—what the hell—green beans.
To drink: frozen lime margaritas, sangria, cold Corona beer, and hot apple cider.
For Texas, as much as it might hate to admit it, is as much Mexican in its cuisine (and in other things) as it is American.
Thanksgiving should be exactly that—giving thanks to God and country for their catholic bounties, be they cultural or gustatory. So, here’s my Thanksgiving prayer:
Oh Lord, I give thanks that, in Jackson, Mississippi, I can revel in the most tender sushi I’ve ever eaten at Little Tokyo; I can sniff the curries and chicken tikki masala at Ruchi/Taste of India any damn time I please; I give thanks that Saigon, a Vietnamese restaurant worthy of the name, is a 15-minute drive away from my home; I give thanks to Thai Taste, with its wooden elephant sculptures and spicy pleasures nonpareil. Oh dear Lord, I give thanks for the fact that this is a country bountiful enough that our palates are subtler, stronger, more adventurous, and more willing to be coaxed to orgasmic ecstasy than those of the Pilgrims. I give thanks that we no longer have to rely on unseasoned vegetables and a flavorless poultry dish, that the Pilgrims probably cringed at, back in the day, for our harvest meal. Amen.
We should all give thanks for these things, and then act upon our knowledge. Let the turkeys fend for themselves in the outer reaches of Antarctica, where they can’t hurt anyone.