x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Thanksgiving in cultural translation

It is astonishing how easy it is to recreate one of North America's most cherished, food-driven holidays.

I had to use the Google converter to understand for how long my friend was going to have to leave a 4.55kg turkey in the oven. North Americans like to brag about the size of the birds that grace their tables in pounds. Having partly grown up in Canada, so do I, but it was going to be my third Thanksgiving dinner in the UAE, where every year I marvel at how easy it is to recreate one of North America's most cherished, food-driven holidays.

Apart from a few weight conversions, the rest of it is a proper celebration that makes it as traditional as they come. A quick trip to any supermarket and every ingredient on your list is easily ticked off. It may be because there are so many expatriates living here, but it reflects greatly on a country that is able to cater to everyone's cultural holidays.

In Canada, I rarely spent time calculating these things. It was left to my Indian aunt who had created a tradition of sorts in her family to celebrate Thanksgiving every year. She wanted her children to grow up to understand the festivals around them. So every year, we would huddle in her kitchen to be ordered around to do a variety of disconnected things - chopping the carrots and setting the table to making innumerable trips downstairs to the basement to fish things out of the freezer. I never actually learned how to make a single dish from her. But now when I make my own, I do know how to dice carrots finely!

Thanksgiving was in part like celebrating Eid in India. I turned up at my friend's mom's place, got bossed around for a bit, fetching rosewater and other items and was rewarded at the end of the evening with the most fabulous meal I ever ate. From delicious biryanis in the Indian kitchens to wonderful leftover turkey sandwiches and soups in Canada, I had no idea how full my food memory bank had grown till I decided to pack my bags and move here.

Three years ago - and the moment has stayed with me since - it dawned on me that for the first time in my life, in Abu Dhabi I would be without the kind of familiar support where I simply transferred between bus and metro lines to reach my aunt's house and gorge myself on food. Here, it felt like I was suddenly charged with creating my own memories - from celebrating Diwali (and having to call home a dozen times to figure out what exactly the elders do) to putting together a Thanksgiving meal because come autumn, nothing reminds me more of my time in Canada than the smell of a turkey and the impending Christmas holidays.