When I think about Thanksgiving, I start singing The Chicks' iconic song, “Goodbye Earl.” Not because I’m plotting some sort of epic revenge, but because I desperately want to say “GOODBYEEEE, TURKEY!"
I’m more sick of turkey than most people because my parents insist on having it for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. My dad buys a 20-plus pound bird for Thanksgiving. And then he gets a free turkey from work as a holiday gift—he’s an accountant, so I’m not really sure why. We are only a family of five and can never eat it all, so that means never-ending leftovers that get drier with each passing day. It’s simply too much turkey, and I’m sick of it.
This year, I won't be traveling home for Thanksgiving since I moved across the country from my family—flights are crazy expensive. So I’m Marie Kondo-ing a Friendsgiving with friends and chosen family, and we are striking turkey from the table. Instead of channeling nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake, everyone will bring foods that give them true comfort and that they actually love to eat, whether it’s customary for Thanksgiving or not. Friendsgiving gives me permission to break traditions, embrace the unexpected, and create a new, exciting meal that isn't tied to my family or what anyone thinks I have to serve.
For this year’s Friendsgiving, I plan to make Momofuku’s version of bo ssam—a fall-apart, tender, sweet-and-savory slow-roasted pork shoulder that is mostly hands-off cooking. I cook mine with a bunch of peeled garlic and shallots, which caramelizes in the pork fat, almost like confit—they’re great for killer schmears, spreads, and condiments. Bo ssam isn't just delicious, it’s an interactive, customizable experience—it's served with an array of condiments, like savory ginger-scallion sauce, slightly-spicy ssam jang, kimchi, and rice for tucking into handheld lettuce wraps. Ssam means “wrapped” in Korean afterall.
Plus, leftovers reheat like a dream and remain juicy and luxurious in sandwiches, mixed into soups or stews, tossed into stir-fries, or atop a bowl of rice and veggies. This isn’t the days-old sad, dry turkey I grew up eating.
Even though bo ssam has some Korean flavors, it has an umami-rich, super savory backbone that plays nice with almost any side dish, whether it’s classic for Thanksgiving or just your friends’ favorites. For instance, instead of mashed potatoes, we’ll have crispy-yet-tender potatoes, perhaps with bacon and caramelized Brussels sprouts mixed in for a touch of tradition. Even though I crave my mom’s savory rice pudding soufflé (oh, nostalgia!) I would rather have a big skillet of garlic fried rice or bouncy rice noodles with the bo ssam. And as a self-certified Dip Queen—turning iconic dishes into dips is my thang—I’ll make a bunch of dips as appetizers and call it dipsgiving. Plus, instead of pumpkin pie, I’ll serve a s’mores dip. Old traditions are out—I’m creating my own.
"Friendsgiving gives me permission to break traditions, embrace the unexpected, and create a new, exciting meal..."
In my 30s, I’ve finally learned to distinguish the difference between nostalgic foods and comfort foods. They can go hand-in-hand, but they are not always one in the same. Nostalgic foods are old standbys that can spark a memory and remind you of a loved one, but may not excite your present-day tastebuds. Comfort foods make you feel good without a tie to past memories. It can be a dish that just makes you feel satiated and happy. For example, while my grammy’s cheesy tomato egg noodles—it’s like grilled cheese and tomato soup in casserole form—is a delight and very nostalgic, in truth, it’s no longer a comforting Thanksgiving dish. It’s just so soft against the also-soft turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing.
Friendsgiving food can be what you want it to be. And just like I will, you can put a moratorium on all the expected Thanksgiving classics without disappointing your parents, family, or whomever you celebrate with. Get creative and embrace the various cultures, comfort foods, and evolving tastes of all of your guests. Afterall, isn’t that what Thanksgiving is all about? Feeling thankful for the comfort foods we love and the company we keep? Above all else, for me, it’s a reason to say goodbye, turkey—for good!