With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I set out to find my own delights for a Beijing Thanksgiving. After spending four years in Texas, I came to appreciate the culinary delight of a great Thanksgiving feast. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday from the US; I think it’s one of the most well balanced menus a holiday can have. Sorry England, but the mince pie just does not do anything for me.
Living in Beijing has lots of fun factors, stepping on the bike and looking for groceries is one of them. Grocery shopping is almost like a puzzle, and it is so rewarding to find something I need, and get it for a reasonable price. Normal household items might not be so normal in China. So expats have to be creative if they don’t want to break the bank. I bike around Beijing, sourcing my groceries in Chinese supermarkets, import stores and markets. Moving to Beijing this summer from London broke the bank, and this made me worry about Thanksgiving.
This feast is always at the end of the month, so I set myself a goal of creating a magical first Thanksgiving here in Beijing on a budget, with a wonderful menu inspired by my time in Texas. Even though we had the most horrible experience moving to China, we still have lots to be thankful for. I armed myself with a list and pollution masks then stepped out on my bike with my daughter (3 years old). We searched for the hardest things to find on a budget, a whole turkey, rosemary, pasta, cheese, butter, bacon, cranberries, and pecans. I will add a few recipes underneath that I created with ingredients that will help you fake a Thanksgiving dinner like a Chinese pro. Remember a few things when grocery shopping in China: you have to be creative, have time, and most importantly, be able to settle.
Our Menu This Year:
Main Course: Brown Sugar Rosemary Turkey, Baked Mac and cheese, Corn Bread Stuffing, Oat and Corn Muffins, Green Beans with Bacon, Sweet Potato Casserole, and Orange Cinnamon Cranberry Sauce
Our Desserts: Pecan Pie, and Pumpkin Pie
I looked online for a turkey but was a bit disheartened, so we went to the Sanyuanli market to do some bargaining. Unfortunately, the cheapest turkey I could find was still RMB 400. So we had to settle, do the unthinkable and buy a chicken for RMB 2.23 instead. We will brine it to make it taste like a turkey. Underneath, find a recipe for chicken or turkey brine. It can be used for both, it just depends if you want to spend your money on a dodgy, expensive turkey or stay cheap and get a few chickens instead. All is not lost, we still have all the sides to make it taste like real thanksgiving feast for my family. We found a bag of pecans at 250 grams for RMB 35 this was a pretty sweet deal as I can make a seven person pie out of it. I calculated the total cost of the pie. It will be around RMB 50 bringing a budget price of around RMB 8 per person.
We continued through the masses of shopping people in the market looking for fresh rosemary and found a spicy deal of RMB 5 per bag. That’s cheap, even for European standards. After the market, we biked over to Jenny Lou”s in Sanlitun. We were still looking for fresh cranberries, cheese, pasta, and butter. We found a cheesy discount of two bags of grated cheddar for RMB 30.60 and a pound of butter for RMB 25.80. These are the small things that make me jump with joy. We found some pasta shells on sale for RMB 9.90, so the baked mac and cheese is sorted. Unfortunately, the cranberries seem harder to find, I didn’t fret when I found a can of cranberry sauce for RMB 19.90. This is where we had to settle. I added a recipe underneath to personalize your cranberry sauce. Nobody will suspect that it’s from the canned section.
We continued our shopping spree to the local Chinese supermarket called Jingkelong . With the help of my 3 year old, we tackled the hustle and bustle of this supermarket. Lots of ladies were screaming to sell their products and on another occasion an old lady walked away with my daughter in her stroller! Hold on to your blond children and get ready to do some cheap shopping. We were on the lookout for some pumpkins for the pie. I did find canned pumpkin pie filling but it was very expensive at RMB 35. Already cut pumpkins were only RMB 1.85, so making it yourself is much cheaper. Below is a recipe. Then we found some bacon for only RMB 9.90. That’s the best price I found anywhere, so I’ll be back for more to put in the freezer. Bags of milk are also a steal at only RMB 2.20 per bag. For the rest of the sides, we found green beans for RMB 4 for a big bag full and six enormous sweet potatoes for RMB 5. This will be a typical Texan thanksgiving feast with a taste of Chinese “fake it ’till you make it.”
Locations where I got the delightful ingredients:
Jenny Lou’s: http://www.jennylou.com.cn/
No.19 Sanlitun North Road, Beijing, China
Recipes designed to help you “fake” Thanksgiving in China on a Budget
Brown Sugar Rosemary Turkey or Chicken Brine
7 liters water
1 liter apple juice
3 cups brown sugar
1.5 cup of salt
6 rosemary sprigs
2 tablespoons peppercorns
4 bay leaves
- Heat up all the water and apple juice, bring to a simmer.
- Dissolve all the sugar and salt in the mixture.
- Add all the spices.
- Let the mixture cool down completely.
- Put the turkey in the brine for 16 to 24 hours
- If using a chicken you can use half the recipe brine recipe.
- Rinse the turkey or chicken after taking it out of brine and before roasting.
“Homemade” Cranberry Sauce
1 can cranberry sauce
1 orange zest and juice
1 cinnamon stick
Pinch of nutmeg
2 tablespoons butter
- Add all ingredients except butter to a sauce pan
- Simmer for 20 minutes so the flavors can marry.
- Turn off heat and mix in butter.
Oat and Corn Bread Muffins
1 cup oats
½ cup flour
½ cup corn flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ cup soft butter
1 cup milk
¼ cup brown sugar
- Soak the oats for one hour in the milk.
- Preheat the oven to 200.
- Stir all the dry ingredients together.
- Stir all the wet ingredients together.
- Stir both wet and dry ingredients together.
- Fill the muffin tray three quarter full
- Bake for 20 minutes turning the tray after 10 minutes of baking
- Check if the muffins are baked: stick a skewer inside one, if it comes out clean they are good to eat.
Homemade Pumpkin Pie Mix
3 cups peeled and cut pumpkin
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
3 egg yolks
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground glove
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup milk
1 cup cream
Pinch of salt
- Roast the pumpkin on 180 for 30 minutes till soft and tender.
- Blend in a blender together with all the spices and sugar.
- Let the mixture cool down.
- Mix the eggs, milk and cream.
- Mix all the ingredients together.
- Use as pie filling and bake till set.