Chinese Food for Thanksgiving?

Chinese sesame sticky rice


Nothing says Thanksgiving like turkey and cranberries, shiitake mushrooms and sweet rice.

I know… it sounds weird, but as I’ve been raising my own family, I find it more important than ever to incorporate elements of my heritage into this All American holiday. After all, the variety in our origins make the United States a unique salad bowl of different cultures, skin colors and traditions. But can you really serve roast turkey and gravy with Chinese food… and not have it feel like a mish-mash of flavors?


Immigrant families from Taiwan, China and the other regions of the diaspora have been been mixing traditional Asian foods with Western holidays. One of the most obvious ways to do this is by serving sweet potatoes. My family always had sweet potatoes (or yams) on Thanksgiving, and I thought they were as required menu item. Until I married my husband. He comes from a mashed potato only family. Read whatever symbolism you’d like into that. Because the sweet potato is actually a staple food of Taiwan, and helped the Taiwanese people survive through rough times. Plus they’re delicious. Who can resist chunks of yams coated in brown sugar and spices, maybe with some pineapple or marshmallows on top. And what better vegetable to give thanks for?

The other dilemma is what to stuff in the turkey. Sure you could go with cubes of sourdough bread or cornbread, but what I really crave is the sticky sesame oil scented rice called yu fan in Mandarin or yu beng in Taiwanese. There is some dispute over the proper way of preparing this dish. Some say you should steam the rice first, before sauteeing it with a mixture of shiitake mushrooms, shallots and dark sesame oil. Purists, such as my mother, say you must add liquid gradually while you stirring it with the other ingredients. And then there’s the add-ins: Chinese sausage? minced pork? chestnuts? dried shrimp? And it’s actually not that much of a stretch to use this as a Thanksgiving stuffing, as my family often ate yu beng with roast chicken or game hens. Check out these recipes for sticky rice stuffing:

 Food & Wine

The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook

Spicebox Travels

Tiny Urban Kitchen

I have to admit, I’ve been known to make both a Chinese sticky rice stuffing as well as sage sourdough stuffing. Celebrate the bountiful harvest, right?

There are many other ways you can bring the flavors of Chinese food to your holiday table. No Chinese meal is complete without a pot of tea or perhaps some Lychee champagne cocktails. How about stir-frying long beans instead of green bean casserole? Chinese corn soup for starters? What are your ideas?





  1. says

    In our family, Thanksgiving and Christmas always have some Japanese dishes. Usually tsukemono, sushi, and some sort of daikon or rice vinegar salad nestled right next to the smoked turkey, stuffing, and gravy. My grandmother makes candied sweet potatoes very similar to daigaku imo.

    I totally didn’t think of this at all, until my Caucasian boyfriend pointed it out. He says the flavors go together better than expected, with the tartness of the sushi rice being a nice palate cleanser to the turkey and stuffing.

    At that point, I’m usually in a food coma from the mochi!

    • says

      Hot pot… another topic altogether. I didn’t realize until college that many Chinese Americans did this instead of turkey. Hope you can join us tomorrow!

  2. says

    One year, I marinaded turkey thighs (dark meat, yum) with Asian seasonings and grilled. Stir fried brussel sprouts for veggie side. Worked out really well. Another year, I got roast duck instead.

  3. says

    I great up with a Chinese American Thanksgiving fusion so I can relate to your post. Makes for an interesting and yummy Thanksgiving. Sorry I missed your Twitter party about this topic, I didn’t see this until now – catching up!

  4. says

    I definitely grew up with a Chinese-American Thanksgiving dinner. In fact, for many years it was Chinese only and as I got older my mom incorporated turkey and mashed potatoes – but she didn’t know how to make stuffing. We’d get dumplings and homemade noodles instead. Oh man, I miss those days.

  5. says

    As a fellow Hapa Mama and Hungry Ghost, I love East meets West celebrations of food and family too! My parents flew in from Ohio for Thanksgiving. My mom made sticky rice and I roasted sweet potatoes.

  6. says

    i thought my mom was the only one to make turkey by stuffing it with sweet sticky rice! i’m glad to see that it’s more common because it is sooooo good.

  7. says

    Thanksgivings with the Chinese side of my family always involve Chinese elements, but I’m afraid it’s never a carefully considered incorporation of Chinese foods into the Thanksgiving tradition. No, it’s always the bowl of mashed potatoes sitting next to the dishes of jellyfish and pig’s ears. Maybe someday…

    • says

      Funny that you mention that, because that’s how my parents did it, too. Last Easter, my Caucasian in-laws and my mom joined us. My mom brought over some take out dim sum, which was set on the table next to the Ham, potatoes, etc. Everyone swarmed around the Chinese food, and there was so much of the other stuff leftover!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *