It’s an hour before my family’s Thanksgiving dinner, and everything is as cozy as a Norman Rockwell painting.
I’m downstairs with my laptop, leisurely getting some schoolwork done, my dog is snoring softly in his bed, “Steven Universe” is playing in the background, and wafting faintly from the kitchen are the smells of boiling chicken broth and the earthiness of raw fungi.
I know, I know. This probably isn’t mouth-watering or heartwarming to anyone used to the typical traditional American Thanksgiving meal, and would probably become even less appealing after a comprehensive look at our dining room set-up — plates of thinly sliced raw meat, fish balls, fish paste, chunks of raw daikon and taro, tofu, leafy Chinese greens, and a number of other dishes surrounding a large pot of broth simmering atop a portable gas cooker.
This night, my family will be celebrating our Thanksgiving with Chinese hot pot, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
For those who need a crash course, hot pot consists basically of a large, constantly simmering pot of stock or stew in which raw ingredients are constantly thrown in and taken out to eat when sufficiently cooked. A dipping sauce is held in a large separate bowl for everyone to spoon as they please upon their own plates.
My parents are both immigrants to the United States. My mother was born in Hong Kong, and my father was born in China. The retention of Chinese culture has always been a part of our household, and in my opinion, practiced most clearly through food.
My father’s deep connection with Chinese food has been apparent for as long as I can remember.He had ambitions of becoming a chef and does all the cooking in the house. He is a quiet man, and one of the main ways he shows his love for me and my family is through the preparation of meals.
My mother raised my brother and me both to speak Cantonese at home, and really taught us the crucial role food plays in Chinese familial culture.
I learned through my mother proper dim sum etiquette, to serve my elders before serving myself, to never take the last morsel from a dish, and of course, to insist fiercely upon paying for the meal. These are habits I faithfully abide by to this day, and probably will for the rest of my life.
Needless to say, food has played a big role in my life as an American-born Chinese girl.
Truth be told, my family has never had a turkey for Thanksgiving — this is largely due in part to the fact that my mother dislikes how dry and bland it can be and does not want to bother with preparation.
Stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and all the rest of whatever The Food Network teaches you to prepare before the big feast have rarely ever made it onto our dinner table.
We’ve had honey-glazed ham and pasta before, but I don’t think I can ever recall a year in which my family ate something that was distinctly “Thanksgiving.”
Not to say that my family makes it a point to steer clear of all “American” food for holiday meals — along with the hot pot dishes, we had our usual bottles of sparkling apple cider, a large cheesecake waiting in the freezer for dessert, and a tub of raspberry chocolate chunk ice cream.
The truth of the matter is, the type of food we eat at this time of year has never mattered to me and my family as much as what the food symbolizes, and the fact that it brings us together in a way a regular family dinner doesn’t.
This night, the four of us sat around the table with the bubbling pot, wearing our pajamas, with my dog sniffing the air dazedly at his honorary chair located next to my mother’s.
My family joined hands and my father prayed over our Thanksgiving dinner, thanking God for our health, for providing us with everything we needed, and for the sheer fact that we had each other.
“I’m happy we decided to do hot pot this year,” I said as I watched my lamb slices cook in the stew.
“Me too,” my mother responded with a smile. “Cleaning up is going to be such a breeze.”