There may be no more iconic American Holiday than Thanksgiving, and the history of the tradition is a bit murky, from tales of a peaceful meal shared by European settlers and the Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans in 1621 at Plymouth rock, to historical facts, such as the nationalisation of the holiday by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. The president declared the holiday, a harvest festival, to be commemorated annually on the fourth Thursday of November, in a move that many assume was part of reunification efforts after the civil war. But no matter its origin, the heart of the holiday remains undisputedly centred on taking time to reflect on everything we have to be grateful for. Well, that, and turkey.
Cynthia, the director of sales and marketing for Laval Restaurant and Lounge in Ghala is an American with fond memories of Thanksgiving celebrations growing up. She wanted to introduce expatriates and locals here in Oman with her favourite holiday, and this year, the restaurant is offering a traditional Thanksgiving dinner on November 24, right here in Muscat.
“To me, Thanksgiving was all about family. My parents immigrated to New York from Uruguay after a military coup in their homeland, and after years of struggle and perseverance, became US citizens. Therefore, Thanksgiving was the first and only truly American holiday they experienced and eventually came to revere. Both of my parents love to cook — a passion they passed down to me and my sister — so every Thanksgiving my father and I would experiment with different Turkey brines at least 24-hours in advance. On Thanksgiving morning, we would all wake up early to prepare our own specialties. I was always in charge of the stuffed mushrooms, salads, and pumpkin pie, occasionally dabbling in sweet corn casseroles. Finally, after hours in the kitchen, close family and friends would come over, and we would all sit down to a late lunch and go around the table (which was pristinely decorated by my mother, of course) to say what we were thankful for — be it family, friends, health, or any recently good news such as engagements and new jobs. After, we would all fall into a “food coma” and curl onto the couches to watch a movie and nap away the turkey.”
The USA is a diverse country, so “traditional Thanksgiving foods” vary from place to place with bitter greens, cornbread stuffing, and sweet potato pie taking centre stage down south and serve roasted corn and rice and bean dishes adorning the tables of Latino-Americans in California. The tables in Norman Rockwell paintings and on the sets of Hollywood movies and television shows tend to include mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes (roasted, mashed, and sometimes topped with candied pecans or marshmallows), cranberry sauce, bread stuffing, and pumpkin pies, which are deemed by most to be “the classics”.
But no matter what side dishes are served, the most essential part of the meal, and the centrepiece of the table, is a massive roast Turkey.
Native to the Americas, turkeys were seen by the early founders of the country as a national symbol, and they are so important to the holiday that it is often referred to as “Turkey Day”. Even vegetarians started serving To-furky, a tofu-based dish in the shape of the iconic bird, in the late 1980s to celebrate.
Beginning in 1947, the National Turkey Federation started a tradition of their own, presenting a live turkey to the President of the United States in an official Thanksgiving day ceremony. Initially the unlucky birds were destined for the presidential supper, but as of 1989, the presidents began giving pardons to the fowl, sparing the gobbler from the fate of his counterparts around the country.
Although some people, especially in the southern United States, have taken to deep frying their birds, classically, the bird is stuffed with bread, herbs, and aromatic vegetables (called “stuffing” the mixture is served alongside the bird after roasting) and oven roasting remains the most popular preparation method.
To help out frantic home cooks who were not used to dealing with 20kg of poultry, the Butterball turkey company set up a help-line called the “Turkey Talk-Line” in 1981 to offer assistance to home cooks, walking them through the process and helping with any cooking emergencies.
Questions have ranged from the expected queries about how long to cook a bird, to the bizarre, as with one woman who called to ask the helpline how to retrieve her small dog who had climbed in her raw turkey and gotten stuck (the helpline was able to assist her in safely cutting the dog out of the turkey).
Beyond the pressure to prepare an elaborate feast for the entire family (and the rivalries that ensure between relatives who pride themselves in a particular dish), there can be immense emotional pressure on families who may not gather any other time during the year.
These stresses, along with the high expense of travelling during the holidays, inspired a new version of the tradition in which young Americans escape the family gathering all together, instead opting for a potluck-style “friendsgiving” party with other young adults, far from the potential holiday drama of their hometowns.
But the drama can be the best part, with many fond Thanksgiving memories resulting from the kitchen disasters, rather than picture perfect meals.
“One particularly funny Thanksgiving memory I have, is from when I was about eight-years-old. My father decided that rather than purchase a fresh or frozen turkey, he wanted a live turkey to get the real Thanksgiving experience. My sister (who has always had a terrible phobia of birds) and I woke up to gobbles coming from the garden, only to go out into the yard and see my father chasing after a huge turkey with an axe.
Needless to say, that year neither of us ate turkey out of sheer trauma,” Cynthia laughed.Though the potential for family drama is rather low at the Laval Thanksgiving dinner, the event does provide an amazing opportunity to taste the iconic flavours of a beloved American Tradition, from mashed potatoes to pumpkin pie.
No matter where you are from, taking an evening to reflect on all the things you are thankful for, in the presence of friends or family, is a wonderful way to spend a Thursday night.
And, if that’s not enough of a reason to go, just remember, there’s going to be turkey.
Classics On The Laval Thanksgiving Menu
Many additional items will be on offer, including a selection of salads, soups, cheeses, crudete, beef, chicken, salmon, and vegetarian main dishes, and spread of pastries and cakes. Below we highlight the classic Thanksgiving staples that are sure to be there.
Book Your Thanksgiving Dinner
Ghala Golf Club Muscat
+968 2450 5112
Thursday, November 24th, 7pm-11pm
OMR19 per person for Thanksgiving buffet and soft drinks. Special two-hour unlimited hops and grapes package for an additional OMR6 per person. Kids under 12-years-old are half price, and kids under 5-years-old are free.
From Qurum or Ruwi:
Take the Muscat Expressway heading towards Ghala; Get off on the Ansab exit (do not take the first right off at the exit, but rather the second right which is actually the Ansab exit.) Stay on your right hand side and take the flyover to get back onto the Expressway heading back toward Qurum; However, stay on your right on the service road. Take the third right, just before the large Sadolin Paint Billboard (there will be a smaller sign that reads Ghala Golf Club); then take the first left onto the Golf Club- LAVAL is located inside the Club House.
Get on the Muscat Expressway (most likely from Ghala Industrial side). Take the first exit- which is the Ansab exit; stay on the service road, and take your 4th right (just before the Sadolin Paint Billboard), then your first left onto the Golf Club.