Fall in Indonesia looks a lot like summer in Indonesia, except with a lot more rain. Although my idea of November does not usually include mangoes, sweat, or mosquitoes, Thanksgiving doesn’t pay attention to geography, and it’s still that time of year to think about turkey and pumpkin pie.
As two of the few Americans living in Semarang, my site-mate, Emily, and I felt compelled to share the time-honored American tradition of Thanksgiving with our Indonesian friends. Our invitations were met with some confusion: “Miss, we just eat?” and “Thanksgiving dinner at 2:00pm? I think you mean lunch, Miss.” Once this was cleared up, it was time to plan our menu.
Turkeys are not a popular bird in Indonesia. I have to admit, we cheated with our Thanksgiving turkey and made it into a more readily available chicken. Actually, we made it into twenty-five chicken legs from a restaurant down the street filled with curious and confused waiters.
Besides our turkey-chicken, we cooked the rest of our meal from scratch using two stovetops, one little rice cooker, and lots of love. There were mouth-watering mashed potatoes, laden with butter and heaped high in a bowl. There were glazed carrots and onions cooked with honey, our secret ingredient. There was even pesto pasta cooked by our Italian friends.
Then there was the stuffing. How does one make stuffing when there is no turkey to stuff? You turn to the next best thing: stuffing the cute pink rice cooker with stuffing. We cooked a concoction of water, soto ayam seasoning (soto ayam is a popular Indonesian chicken soup), garlic, and onions on the stove, and then poured it over toasted bread in the rice cooker. It came out surprisingly delicious.
No Thanksgiving is complete without a pumpkin pie, so we cut up a pumpkin (hand-carried all the way home from a faraway mountain town) and mashed it with condensed milk, eggs, nutmeg, and cinnamon. We didn’t have the facilities for making a crust, but I wasn’t too concerned since, in my opinion, the filling is the best part of the pie anyway. We just poured the pumpkin mixture into our magic rice cooker, waited until it thickened, and spooned out delightful bites of autumn straight into our mouths.
Before long, our feast was ready to eat. We all sat around on the living room tile as the three Americans present related three different versions of the history of Thanksgiving.
Though our Indonesian guests seemed happy to partake in this traditional American meal, they still seemed a little perplexed. When they had finished eating, they looked up expectantly and commented, “In America, there’s no rice for Thanksgiving?” In Indonesia, a meal without white rice is not a meal.
While families across America pull out their best silverware and china for Thanksgiving, we ate our meal on the floor with our hands using paper plates – something that would never have flown with my mother, nor would she ever have thought to add white rice to the menu!
After appropriately gorging ourselves on food, we felt the need to move around. While thousands of families in the U.S. turn to football as their Thanksgiving entertainment, we grabbed our badminton rackets and headed out into the street to hit the birdie around. When curious neighbors peaked out from their doorways, we gave them some of our extra food. Later that night, we gathered around our kitchen table to blissfully enjoy a second dinner of our delightful leftovers, rewarding ourselves for successfully bringing Thanksgiving to Indonesia.
1 loaf of bread
8 cups of water
½ onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 package soto ayam seasoning
1 cup sautéed or cooked carrots, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Toast the sliced bread and cut into one-inch squares. Mix the water, soto ayam seasoning, onion, and garlic in a pot on the stove. Add some salt and pepper. Bring to a boil for five minutes.
Put the bread squares into a rice cooker and pour the water mixture on top, taking care to not make the bread too soggy. This may mean only using part of the water mixture. Add the cooked carrots. Mix lightly, and press “cook” on the rice cooker. When the button switches to “warm”, your stuffing is ready!
CRUST-LESS PUMPKIN PIE
1 medium-sized pumpkin
7 oz evaporated milk
1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp. nutmeg
Cut up the pumpkin into four-inch cubes. Scrape off the seeds and place in rice cooker with about 2 inches of water covering the bottom. Cook until the pumpkin is soft but has not lost its flavor. Scrape the pumpkin off from the skin and put in a large bowl.
Mix the rest of the ingredients in a small bowl. Blend the pumpkin and other ingredients in batches in a blender.
When all of the ingredients have been combined into a smooth mixture, pour a one-inch layer into the rice cooker and cook until the pumpkin thickens. This usually means you must press the “cook” button several times. Scoop out and repeat with the rest of the pumpkin mixture.