Thanksgiving: A Big, Fat, Filipino Eating Fest

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A Filipino rendition of Thanksgiving. This isn’t even the full spread – there’s a whole turkey not pictured that’s on the other side of these dishes.

FROM THE DESK OF: Nina

Thanksgiving is that time of year when we reflect on our lives and count our blessings… which we celebrate by gorging ourselves and engaging in some good ol’ communal gluttony.

Traditional American Thanksgiving fixins include turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and usually some veggie dish that’s coated in some creamy substance that negates any health benefits said veggies might’ve contained.

Filipino-American Thanksgiving fixins (or the ones by my family, at least) include all of that, plus lechon, menudo, pancit, macaroni and cheese, oxtail soup, humba, potatoes au gratin, garlic fried chicken, rice, Filipino spaghetti, a whole lotta other dishes I could never identify but name but have definitely eaten frequently in my life, and not a whole lotta veggies.

How the heck do you tackle this beast of a Thanksgiving spread, you ask? Well, let me give you a brief overview of how it usually goes down in my family.

STEP 1: Oxtail soup. Always go for the oxtail. Lolo Joe makes this out-of-this-world soup made from oxtail, greens, and… actually, I have no idea what’s in it. But the broth and the fall-off-the-bone meat with some rice is definitely my go-to warm-up dish to get things going.

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For those unfamiliar, oxtail soup can look a bit scary at first. But trust me: this fall-off-the-bone meat, soaked in a mild broth with greens and rice, is definitely not one dish to miss at the party.

STEP 2: Filipino food plate. Usually, at this point, I’m so pumped to find Filipino food that I go for those dishes first. (I don’t have Filipino food often, so these are the times when I get my fill.) This time, a huge slab of lechon ended up on my plate, so I worked around that by adding just a few other sides like rice, Filipino spaghetti*, lumpia, more oxtail, and some grapes (for color).

*Filipino spaghetti: pasta noodles with sweet, thick red sauce, hot dogs (yes, hot dogs), cheese, and I’m sure loads of sugar somewhere in there. So wrong, it’s right.

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Lolo Joe loaded my plate with a massive slab of lechon meat and skin, so that kind of threw a curveball into my overall vision for my first plate, in terms of variety. So I kinda just added some rice, Filipino spaghetti, lumpia, and a little more oxtail and called it a day. Oh, and a few grapes for produce, since veggies aren’t really a thing with Filipino feasts.

STEP 3: Take a break from the savory and dip into the dessert station. I always need a little sweet as an intermission before I resume my usual entree plate program. A few bites of cassava cake, a taste of ube, a tad bit of flan, maybe some fruit, and then I’m good to get back to business.

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Tiny sweet bites (Hans and Harry’s fruit strudel, ube, flan, cassava, grapes, and hopia) before I get into my next plate.

STEP 4: Back to the savory plates. Maybe a little more American this time. After my sweet fix, I get back to eating another plate. This time, it’s usually to get into traditional Thanksgiving dishes and maybe more veggies. I have no photo of this because today the lechon overshadowed most of my attempts to eat American, but typically this is the time when I go for the turkey, potatoes, mac and cheese, and maybe look for some veggies or fruit somewhere.

STEP 5: Repeat the process throughout the day. Eating is not a finite activity on these days; with the food on sternos throughout the day, it’s completely normal in this setting to keep eating and nibbling on different dishes. You want gluttony? Come check this scenario out. But this is how we spend our quality time together, and I wouldn’t want to have it any other way. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll head back to my food-drunk stupor now.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all! Hope you were able to spend it well surrounded by loved ones.