I’ve been curious about how Thanksgiving is celebrated in Paris. Of course I understand it’s not a French holiday, but for Americans there it surely has significance. So, how does one manage to recreate a quintessentially American meal when living in Paris? Is it even worth trying?
Debbie Gabriel has written this informative guest post and provided the photos. Debbie recently contributed another terrific post about the Fête du Jambon in Chatou. An American who lives in Paris with her husband and 3 children, Debbie has hosted Thanksgiving in her home for 15 years…and counting. Her family and friends (those lucky enough to score an invitation) are in for a treat. She has definitely figured it out. (32 guests?! Hope she has found a source for Joy dishwashing detergent too.) Thank you, Debbie, for this wonderful post.
Sending wishes for a happy Thanksgiving to everyone reading this, wherever you are and whatever might be on your plate. ~Marjorie
EVERY NOVEMBER, the excitement in our household begins to build for Thanksgiving – a holiday my children regard as a big party and a coveted invitation for my French friends, eager to experience something uniquely American. Over the years, our table has grown. We’re up to 32 people this year. The most important thing I’ve learned in my fifteen years hosting Thanksgiving in Paris is this: People want tradition — not a Frenchified version; they want the real deal. Being so far from home is sometimes difficult. Outside of the U.S., Thanksgiving is just another day. We have no Macy’s parade, no football games and no onslaught of stuffing recipes. In France, most of us who want to celebrate the holiday move it to Saturday, so we have time to prepare and enjoy the meal.
Assembling the ingredients for a traditional Thanksgiving Day feast is one of the biggest challenges. Pumpkin, brown sugar, cranberries, and butternut squash — even a whole turkey — are not easy to find here. At Marjorie’s recent book signing at the American Library of Paris, I heard a woman confide to a friend the name and address for her turkey source in the 7th arrondissement—and that was in September.
Before World War II, few Europeans ate turkey. The Americans are believed to have introduced it during the occupation of France. They, too, were homesick for a taste of America, “et voilà,” roasted turkey made its debut. France now is the European Union’s leading turkey producer. There are several breeds raised here, named for their color and origin: Sologne Black, Bourbonnais Black, the Normandy Black, Gers Black and Red Ardennes, the most popular bird.
In France, turkeys are typically sold in pieces rather than the whole bird. Christmas time is the exception. In December, the butchers and volaillers (a shop that only sells poultry products) will have whole birds available, but they are raised for Christmas. If you want a Thanksgiving turkey, you must order it several weeks in advance. I’ve found that it’s best to go back to the same butcher each year, because an order for a whole turkey in November is very unusual and they have a hard time wrapping their minds around it. And take care not to go overboard on size, because we have smaller ovens here. Many butchers will offer to cook it for you on the rôtisserie, but I want the drippings and the smell of roasting turkey to permeate the house.
Unlike the U.S., where Thanksgiving turkeys are cheap and plentiful, turkey in France runs about $5.60 a pound. The sticker shock that comes with a $112.00 price tag on a 20-pound turkey is hard to get used to, but it is worth it. For one, your local butcher will feel honored to provide the star attraction. Once you explain that it’s for a traditional American Thanksgiving, the butcher’s smile is priceless.
Local food markets, such as the Marché Avenue Président Wilson and Marché Grenelle, have Brussels sprouts and butternut squash. (Last Wednesday, I even saw the volailler selling a whole turkey! These are areas where a lot of expats live and the markets have adapted to their needs.)
For the rest of the meal, Americans in Paris are lucky to have several stores stocked with Thanksgiving fixings — pumpkin pie mix, fresh cranberries, cornmeal, stuffing mixes, corn syrup for pecan pies. For the non-cooks, they also offer Thanksgiving catering. “The Real McCoy” in the Eiffel Tower neighborhood (in the 7th arrondissement) and “Thanksgiving in the Marais” (in the 4th arrondissement) are full service. They even make pies to-go. The caterers at The Real McCoy whip up more than 60 Thanksgiving dinners a year in their small kitchen, but the price is dear. Ooh-la-la, a cooked turkey costs 10.00€ a kilo, or approximately $5.90 per pound. But, hey, it’s just once a year.
The local supermarkets, such as Monoprix and Carrefour, now carry Philadelphia cream cheese! This was big news among the American cooks in Paris. You wouldn’t believe how many phone calls I got announcing its arrival last year. Before, we were forced to buy small containers at 6 euros a shot. The ingredients for one homemade cheesecake cost about $40.00. The French are crazy about American cheesecake. Whenever I’m invited to dinner, the hostess always requests that I bring one. In a country where pastry is held in the highest regard, it’s good to know that the Americans have one hit, at least. But pumpkin pie seems to be an acquired taste. That suits me fine because it’s nice to have leftovers and a slice with coffee the next day.
In Paris, your friends become your extended family, especially during the holidays. Everyone wants to pitch in and bring a dish. Over the years, their offerings have reminded me that we all have something special that evokes the holiday for us. Whether it’s a 1960s-style Jello mold in colors not often found in nature, or a green bean casserole with crunchy fried onions, or corn bread studded with bacon bits, everyone has their own idea of tradition. Whatever it is, we welcome it to the table, where it can be shared and savored together, as a taste of home. Isn’t that what Thanksgiving is all about?
The Real McCoy
194 Rue de Grenelle
Phone :01 45 56 98 82
20 Rue Saint-Paul
Phone: 01 42 77 68 29
www.thanksgivingparis.com (taking on-line orders)