After a gruelling journey across the Atlantic, through hurricane winds and vengeful rain storms, Admiral Pedro Menendez and his 500 infantrymen landed on the shores of what would later be called St Augustine, Florida. Their mission was the capture of Fort Caroline, a French settlement near what is now Jacksonville. During the journey, each man had with him a 12-pound bag of bread and a bottle of wine. Before they set off on September 20, 1565, to overwhelm the French and take up the post, the men sat down to replenish, feasting on what they had to eat. It was September 8, 1565, and they were celebrating their safe arrival to the New World. Though they had not been there long enough to plant and reap the rewards of a harvest, these men had a lot to be thankful for. And their inaugural meal marks the first Thanksgiving dinner.
It couldn't be more of a contrast with the image in the classic Norman Rockwell illustration of a woman laying a perfectly roasted turkey down on a dining room table, much to the delight of everyone seated. But if you are far from home this Thanksgiving, take comfort in the fact that the 1950s image and the American Dream moment it captured will not be difficult to recreate here in Abu Dhabi. Thanksgiving is truly about the art and pleasure of feasting. Roast turkey is central to the most traditional meal, and though there are variations according to where the dinner is served, cranberry sauce is a requirement. Mashed potatoes are a usual side dish, often accompanied by other seasonal vegetables such as sweet potatoes, squash, Brussels sprouts, turnip and the much-loved pumpkin pie for dessert.
Though preparing a Thanksgiving feast in a desert city may seem a panic-inducing challenge, gathering the necessary ingredients doesn't have to be the uphill battle it may first appear. Your first step is to get your hands on a turkey. Abela grocery stores sell Butterball turkeys during the winter season; frozen whole birds sell for Dh24/kg and fresh turkeys need to be ordered in advance. The earliest that orders can be placed is December 1, too late for Thanksgiving but good for the rest of the festive season.
The Abu Dhabi Co-operative Society tries to keep a steady supply of frozen turkeys, which are sold for Dh17/kg. Spinneys in Khalidiya has received its frozen Butterball turkeys - Dh16/kg. Frozen turkeys are at Lulu Hypermarket all year round, with prices changing according to the season; they are selling now for Dh18.95/kg. Abela has jars of cranberry sauce in two sizes, one for Dh10.95, another for Dh14.95. It also keeps stocks of cranberry jelly, Dh10.95 per jar, all year round. Pumpkin pie filling can also be found here for Dh17.75, though this grocer doesn't sell ready-made pumpkin pies. Two varieties of apple pie are available, for Dh7.95 and Dh10.25.
Carrefour Marina Mall sells frozen turkeys, Dh14.25/kg for small birds and Dh17.50/kg for large, but will not be getting any cranberry sauces, jellies or pumpkin pies. The bakery regularly bakes apple pies, although they tend to go quickly. Cranberry sauce is a constant at Lulu Hypermarket and Spinneys, along with pumpkin pie filling (Dh12.15). In its winter season flyers, Lulu has recipes for Thanksgiving dishes such as pecan and pumpkin pie; the flyers also show which pie flavours are in store.
Winter vegetables have come to Lulu as well, most of which have a place in the traditional Thanksgiving dinner: sweet potatoes, butternut squash, celery, apples and Idaho potatoes. Another good bet if you're searching for the ingredients for the perfect stuffing is to head to the Millennium Supermarket nearest you. Celery, apples, squash and a good variety of potatoes are available all year round and are comparatively cheaper than at a larger shopping centre. Seasonal produce such as sweet potatoes should be in grocery outlets now. These ones though, take a particularly long time to grow, and it is only just the beginning of their season.
For those who would prefer to skip the inescapable kitchen full of dishes left behind after a Thanksgiving feast, your options are limited. Though the American Embassy usually arranges a dinner for its nationals, those in Abu Dhabi are out of luck this year. The Beach Rotana may get a high volume of American guests because it is the only hotel in the capital offering Thanksgiving dinner, available at two of its restaurants.
Rosebuds - an open-concept restaurant located in the lobby with seating that extends onto the outdoor patio - will offer its regular buffet with the added treat of a traditional Thanksgiving turkey. It's Dh157 per person. The Beach Rotana's Rodeo Grill will also serve a Thanksgiving meal. The Grill's festive offerings will come in the form of a set menu. To start, diners can choose from a chicken liver pâté or clam chowder, followed by roast turkey and then caramel and pecan ice cream. The meal costs Dh280 per person.
The British Club has extended an arm to its émigrés - members only, of course - and will serve a full Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings. Though Canada and the United States - the two countries in which Thanksgiving is a national holiday - are some of the largest consumers of highly processed and readily available food, the roots of the holiday originated at a time when a successful and bountiful harvest could singularly determine the well-being and longevity of a settlement.
The first meal the Spanish had on the shores of present-day Florida is often overlooked, with some historians attributing the first Thanksgiving to the pilgrims of Plymouth, Massachusetts. This city marked the touchdown point of the English separatists who arrived in America on the cargo ship the Mayflower. They were welcomed to the New World by a new winter, more unforgiving than anything they'd experienced. And after roughly half the passengers of the Mayflower perished either during the journey or shortly after it, those who survived their first encounter with bitter cold and relentless snow rewarded themselves - when the winter had passed - with a Thanksgiving of their own.
They were taught by the Native Americans how to plant crops and harvest them. The gratefulness they felt after living through the winter and successfully learning to live off this new land resulted in a three-day feast during which 53 pilgrims and 90 Native Americans dined together. The Thanksgiving menu has changed somewhat since that first feast. The pilgrims ate fowl - but not turkey - which they hunted and cooked over a fire. In the absence of ovens, there was no pumpkin pie, no pecan pie, no apple pie - no pie at all. But boiled pumpkin was a staple. Cranberries were not part of the meal, though they are native to Massachusetts and other parts of New England and eastern Canada. Bread was not eaten because of the scarcity of flour at the time.
The annual feast has, since then, become a much easier affair, even for expats. email@example.com