Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving in Cambodia

It's Thursday here. Just Thursday. No sign of Thanksgiving at all. But lots of things to be thankful for. Too many to count, actually. And since I'm sure you've read blog after blog about what people are thankful for, I thought a better account might be what is different about celebrating Thanksgiving here in Cambodia.

First of all, it doesn't FEEL like Thanksgiving. It's still in the high 80's, sometimes low 90s. It's humid and sticky and there isn't a colored leaf in sight. I miss wearing sweaters and drinking cider and seeing pumpkins everywhere and knowing Christmas and snow are just around the corner.

But the bigger thing is no one knows what Thanksgiving is! I have to share a funny story with you from my Cambodian friend here. She told me that she heard about our holiday and here is how our conversation went, with a few comments from me inserted in italics for fun:

Her: "I heard about your American holiday when you celebrate how the Americans take land from the other people and you have a big party every year to be happy about that."
 Me: laughing "Well, that's not exactly right..." (I then explain a little more in the same way I explained it in our kindergarten  homeschool lesson this week)
Her: "I do not understand the difference.  And I understand why you celebrate that happy time." What?  She thinks taking someone's land is cause for celebration?
Me:  explain again, trying harder to explain the thankful part
Her: "but what does this have to do with the turkey and pie with pumpkin?"
Me:  Sigh.  Try again.

So funny trying to explain it to someone who doesn't understand the history or language!  Oh, my goodness!

And what's even funnier is they don't have a word for turkey in Khmer!  They call it a foreign chicken.  That cracks me up.  Especially because I have seen turkeys here in Cambodia.  For sure I've seen those foreign chickens on the road out in the provinces.  I know it.  Foreign chicken.  So hilarious!

Here's another challenge to Thanksgiving here in Cambodia...  you can't just buy a foreign chicken at the market to cook, and even if you could, you can't cook it in our teeny ovens, and even if you could, they don't sell roasting pans big enough to put one in. So many challenges to overcome. Well, since I'm not the only American here, these are challenges that have been overcome by entrepreneurs here in the city!

One local vendor... Dan's meats, sells a cooked turkey with stuffing, imported from New Zealand, I think, for a US Ben Franklin Bill and a few more bills... just over $100. It's not that big, either. An international hotel, Sofitel, here in Phnom Penh has a restaurant where you can get a 5-6kg turkey, which comes to just 11-13lbs, cooked with 6 sides and a pie for just $90, so that seemed like a better bargain. We're doing that tonight with the other IJM interns. I am excited because I don't have to cook anything. Don't get me wrong, I love to cook, but Saturday we are getting together with 3 other American families and we're all cooking some side dishes for the big event, where we also ordered a precooked turkey. I didn't want to cook twice in my tiny oven and make the apartment all hot and steamy.

When I ordered the meal from Sofitel, though, I was blessed with a conversation that once again brought me more laughter. Here you go:

Me: "Hi, I am calling to order the turkey dinner from your restaurant?"
*This was followed by repeated transfers to more and more people as they tried to figure out what in the world I was talking about.  I tried substituting turkey with Thanksgiving but no luck. Should have tried foreign chicken, I guess!  Finally I got someone who understood.
Him: "Yes, madam, I will take your order.  Please can you give your name and phone?"
Me: give that and say "What are the sides included with this package?"
Him: "Yes. Sides. There are 6."
Me:  "Oh yes, that is good. But what are they?"
Him: "I cannot tell you that."
Me: "Um, you cannot tell me?  Why?  What?"  laughing to keep from getting frustrated
Him: "It is what the chef makes. I cannot tell you them."
They had told my friend just a couple days before, I just forgot what they said!
Me: "I just want to know what some are so I know if my friends will like them."
Him: "I cannot tell you.  (long pause) They are American, madam, so you will be happy."
Me:  Sigh.  "Okay.  Thank you."
Him:  "If you do not like I am sorry."

Oh, boy. This should be exciting.

For Saturday I'm making a green bean casserole, but have to do the fried onions from scratch, a sweet potato casserole and almost had to make my own marshmallows but a friend found me some, and I had to order a pecan pie.  It was $21. Seriously, $21. I can't believe that. But, it's the holidays, right? They don't have karo syrup here or pecans, so I had to do it, and I guess that's why it costs so much for them, too.  My Cambodian baby sitter is making a pumpkin pie for me.  With real pumpkin.  I hope it's good.

Reminds me of when I first got married and tried to do just that.  Stephen told me that his mom always made pumpkin pie with real pumpkin and we were newlyweds, so I wanted to make him happy.  We carved a pumpkin, roasted the seeds, and I found a recipe for a pie with pumpkin.  I didn't know you had to use small pumpkins because the recipe just said pumpkin! I tried it with the big one we carved. I did everything it said and it was awful.  Terrible.  Disgusting.  I mean, I couldn't even eat it it was so stringy and gross. I was so sad I had ruined it and that Christmas I asked his mom how she made such good pumpkin pie and she said she just used the canned pumpkin and the recipe on the can! I laughed so hard.

Kind of like I've been laughing all day today.  So much to be thankful for!

Thanksgiving in Cambodia.
More adventure every day.

Everyone keeps asking what the mystery sides were... Here you go:

Roasted pumpkin, mashed potatoes, gravy, butter & bread, broccoli, carrots, cranberry sauce with apples in it, and some mystery meat dish we think was the innards of the turkey. The turkey was wonderfully delicious and moist and the sides were good but not very big so I added a few from my kitchen, too. The pie was some sort of pumpkin we think but had yellow raisins in it.  It wasn't nearly as good as the one our babysitter made.  We had a great night!  Happy Thanksgiving all!

I hope you enjoyed your own adventures this Thanksgiving!

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