Text by Lisa Yamada, Hannah Broderick, and Anna Harmon Illustrations by Mark Ghee Lord Galacac
For Tiffany Huynh, the Thanksgiving dish near and dear to her heart is bun bo hue, a traditional Vietnamese spicy beef noodle soup made by her grandmother in a gigantic pot that is so big it has to be cooked on a special gas burner close to the ground. “There are many different parts that go into it,” Huynh says. “There’s someone separating the noodles, then adding the meat, then adding the green onion, parsley, and white onion garnish. The soup is added last, and you usually scoop that out yourself from the huge pot.” Bun bo hue originates from the Hue region in Vietnam, where Huynh’s mom’s side of the family is from. After the Vietnam War, Hue was battered and unrecognizable and a lot of rebuilding was required in the region. “I was really lucky to grow up in America,” says Huynh. “I am even more lucky to grow up with a grandma that is an amazing cook and has perpetuated the culture through all of these types of very traditional Vietnamese dishes.” Another of Huynh’s favorites is banh bot loc, which consists of a brown, jelly-like substance filled with shrimp and pork. The dish is served two ways. Huynh explains: The first is individually wrapped in banana leaf; the second, served boiled in a bowl with chopped green onions. Both are eaten with fish sauce and chili pepper to taste. “I can inhale about 20 to 30 in one sitting (not an exaggeration),” she says.
For as long as she can remember, Julie Tomlinson has spent Thanksgiving on the roof of her Kailua home. Her brother found some old crates washed up at Kalama beach, and they now serve as the foundation for the family’s feasting table. By leaning a white ladder up against the side of the house and devising an elaborate pulley system complete with assorted woven baskets and two pairs of hands, they hoist every dish up, then climb to the roof. Their spread, however, does not include turkey. Instead, the menu consists of toasted sweet bread buns slathered in butter (a favorite family midnight snack), roasted garlic that you can squeeze into your mouth, corn off the cob, cold turkey sandwiches, stuffing from a box, and sweet potato crumble. While Tomlinson’s mother nixed the turkey long ago for its dry traits, she spends the whole year accumulating wish bones for a post-meal Thanksgiving tradition: wishes and kisses, which involves the breaking of wishbones and the kissing of all in attendance. The guest list normally includes Tomlinson’s parents, her older brother, and her mom’s best friend from college who lives just down the street. The intimacy of the setting is furthered by the overflow of tea candles, long stemmed glasses, and silver napkin rings that have been passed down over generations.
For Hannah Broderick, sweet potato mashed potatoes is the dish that remind her of Thanksgiving, and now, Makahiki season. A few years ago, Broderick’s mother, Maile Meyers, who has always loved putting on family celebrations, turned Thanksgiving into a celebration of a Makahiki consciousness. Makahiki begins with the rising of the Pleiades in October/November and ends in February/March, and Hawaiians of old honored Lono’s season with competitive games, feasting, and reconciliation. “Mom started getting into the Makahiki mode a few years ago, replacing the fall leaves with ferns and throwing open the front door to hungry neighbors,” says Broderick. This year, the family is taking advantage of Kailua High School’s communal imu (anyone can buy cooking space for $25 per aluminum tray, with proceeds benefiting the school’s athletic department) to make their turkey. Then, they will head down to the ocean for a swim and enjoy a Thanksgiving-esque spread on the beach. Growing up, Broderick’s family tried to emulate her Italian father’s Philadelphia feast—the iconic, handmade everything made possible by an all day cook-a-thon—with the exception that her grandmother on her mother’s side added lup chong to the stuffing, and there was always fresh fish on the table.
Ask Matt Honda what the main food he thinks of when it comes to Thanksgiving is, and it takes him a moment. Maybe it’s the turkey, or the prime rib? What about deviled eggs? He spends Thanksgiving tucked away at his auntie’s house in ‘Aiea surrounded by his immediate family and his cousins, aunts, and uncles on his father’s side, who dish their meals up on paper plates. His mother, who was born in Korea, brings meat jun, and his father, who is Nisei, makes sure there is enough sushi to feed an army.
This year, Kaycee Macaraeg’s family is trying something a little different for Thanksgiving: turkey wrapped in bacon, cooked in a roaster. Otherwise, dishes will be what she remembers throughout the years—glazed ham with pineapple, stuffing, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, pecan or fruit tarts, and pumpkin pie, which they have had whether her family was living in Japan or Hawai‘i. “Nothing too fancy,” she says, and laughs. Her father, now retired, was in the Navy, so when he was stationed in Japan they lived on base in Yokosuka and got all their ingredients from the commissary. This year, her Thanksgiving will be an intimate affair, as it has always been. Her brother will be in Georgia, where he is stationed with the Air Force, so it will be her and her parents gobbling down the bacon-wrapped turkey at her parents’ home in Kapolei.
For Justin Grubbs, the dish that stands out most in his Thanksgiving memories—or memories of any family gathering or holiday— is pancit, a Filipino noodle dish, which his mom makes with long noodles because she believes they give luck for a long and good life. His Thanksgiving spread has always consisted predominately of Filipino dishes, including babingka for dessert, but pumpkin pie and turkey have been making recent appearances. “My uncle will buy a turkey from Costco and take it to a chop suey place, and they cook it for him with a mochi dressing,” he says. This year, he gathered with about 20 family members, friends, and his wife for an early Thanksgiving celebration on Saturday at his uncle and auntie’s house in ‘Ewa. “They have the biggest living room,” he says. People gathered inside and out, with beer to drink and karaoke to sing.
Note: In an earlier version of this story, Yokosuka was misspelled.