For Thanksgiving Dinner, are you having turkey, cranberry jelly and rice? Yes, rice!

Rice, a standard fare on the Filipino Thanksgiving table

Rice, a standard fare on the Filipino Thanksgiving table

By Amanda Tira Andrei O’Connor

There are five types of carbs on my plate. Sure, it’s Thanksgiving, and you’re not supposed to think about calories from the last Thursday in November until the last day of December—so I don’t. This is a fact of Thanksgiving: in addition to the turkey and gravy, the cranberry jelly and pumpkin pie, you also gotta have the mashed potatoes, the sweet potatoes, the stuffing, the rolls of bread, and the pot of rice—wait, rice?

Thanksgiving was a new holiday for my Filipina mother and Romanian father, so they defaulted to American food with a few of their home country’s touches. One of these was the ubiquitous pot of rice.

Typically in Filipino culture, a good meal consists of three parts: ‘kanin’ (rice), ‘ulam’ (rice topping), and ‘sawsawan’ (dipping sauce). ‘Sawsawan,’ commonly in the form of vinegar or soy sauce, serves for you to democratically flavor your own food. ‘Ulam’ usually comes in the form of some meat, vegetable, or even another starch, but the ‘kanin’—that’s what makes the meal. Simple, unpretentious, right between the turkey (‘ulam’) and gravy (‘sawsawan’), the rice occupies a piping hot place of honor in this Eurasian American Thanksgiving.

One year I spent Christmas at another Filipino wasian’s house, although his mom was from upstate New York instead of the Balkans, so obviously she had these holiday traditions down pat. Amidst the carved ham and buttered potatoes, I was pleasantly surprised to see that ubiquitous pot of ‘kanin.’ It’s a subtle acknowledgement that we are doing more than eating food. We are enjoying ourselves. We are savoring flavors and smells. We are sharing a meal. And above all, we are thankful for every moment of fellowship and abundance with our loved ones.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Amanda Andrei O’Connor is a writer, anthropologist, and engineer based in the Washington, D.C. area. She has been writing for the Asian Fortune since 2007 and has covered topics ranging from the arts, education, health, youth, and other community events. She was editor of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program e-newsletter from 2008-2010.

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