Happy ham and lap cheung day? – November 24, 2003
Turkeys are Thanksgiving meal for most, but not all
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS.MW) — They don’t call it Turkey Day for nothing: About 45 million turkeys will be sold this Thanksgiving, and turkey is 35 times more likely to be eaten this Thursday than any other day of the year.
But that doesn’t mean everyone will be gathering around a roast bird this week. Of the 64 percent of people who plan to eat at their home on Thursday, only about half will eat turkey, not quite the domination you’d expect.
Alternative occupants of the center platter include ham, chicken, an Italian dish such as pasta, or a family recipe involving meat, pasta or vegetables, according to a recent survey by The NPD Group, a consumer-market research firm.
Olives are 11 times more likely to be eaten on Thanksgiving Day than at any other time of year, and nachos are 10 times more likely to be eaten, according to The NPD Group’s research, which includes interviews with 2,400 American consumers.
A small vanguard of Americans is toying with tradition by seeking alternatives to the standard turkey, stuffing and cranberries, with part of that change driven by Americans’ increasing willingness to try food from all over the world.
“Our palates (are) being developed with more international flavors,” said Kate Heyhoe, executive editor of GlobalGourmet.com and author of the recently-released “A Chicken in Every Pot: Global Recipes for the World’s Most Popular Bird.”
Plus, “immigrants are introducing their own comfort spices and ingredients,” she said. For instance, “Chinese families might take a traditional cornbread stuffing and add Chinese sausage, called lap cheung.”
Other cooks agreed. “A lot of our clients in different parts of the country are exploring less traditional flavors,” said Tom Stieber, chief executive of Big City Chefs, a personal-chef service operating in about 10 cities nationwide.
Still, most Americans want just a slightly jazzed-up piece of traditional pie. “They want to be inspired with a little bit of something different, but most of the time they don’t change the whole menu,” Heyhoe said.
Others agree that Turkey Day is a safe bet as far as monikers go. “I’m sure all of us put our own little touches on (Thanksgiving dinner), but for the most part that bird’s going to be in the center,” said Harry Balzer, vice president of The NPD Group.
Cheap is good Americans’ penchant for turkey is driven in large part by our pocketbooks, Balzer said. Frozen whole turkeys cost an average of 99 cents a pound last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
That low cost may prevent many Americans from exploring alternative meals. “As diverse as we are as a nation, on that one day, since this country can produce cheap turkeys, they become the centerpiece,” Balzer said.
Plus, sometimes a desire to change a dish is stifled by the strong tradition surrounding the holiday. “It’s a tough holiday to mess around with,” Heyhoe said.
“As a cook, sometimes you get a little tired of doing the same old thing, but God forbid that you should change it,” she said. “You run the risk of sulking in-laws and stewing husbands. People are doing it in small ways … if you drastically change everything one year you may be taking your life in your hands, especially in the kitchen with sharp objects.”
A small but growing group of Americans is buying another kind of turkey altogether: free-range, organically fed birds, said to taste better than the turkey most Americans purchase on Thanksgiving.
Almost 10,000 such birds, called heritage turkeys, were sold this year, up from about 4,500 last year, according to Slow Food U.S.A., which advocates a return to the culture of food and high-quality ingredients, and is working to increase the population of alternatively grown turkeys.
“They’re juicy,” said Yuri Asano, spokeswoman for Slow Food USA. “The meat is much more succulent than a regular turkey. You can really taste a difference.” Still, they’re not cheap: $4 to $5 per pound.
Another trend is to buy two small birds instead of one large turkey, allowing cooks to experiment with different recipes for each. “They also will cook in less time, and you don’t have one big bird monopolizing your refrigerator afterwards,” Heyhoe said.
Deep-fried turkeys, a southern tradition, are increasingly popular nationwide, but be wary: Fire departments are warning that the combination of hot oil and an open flame is dangerous, and caused a number of fires last holiday season.
Andrea Coombes is a reporter for CBS.MarketWatch.com in San Francisco.