Recipe for an Indonesian Thanksgiving


–By Lizzy Hardison–

An American classic comes to the tropics in this adaptation of my favorite holiday. For best results, host this celebration on a day when you or your housemate can get out of school early.

Yield: a sink of dirty dishes, a fridge full of leftovers, and two very stuffed bules* and their Indonesian friends.


One pot of mashed potatoes

Three honey-roasted chickens

Green beans with lemon and garlic

Roasted yams

Chicken gravy

Apple crisp

Pumpkin pie

Two Americans

5 Indonesian friends


  1. Take stock of your kitchen equipment. Give thanks for your two burner gas stove and rice cooker, then appeal to friends. Acquire a toaster oven, dish ware, and — for good measure — a second rice cooker.
  1. Manage the guest list. Winnow it down to 10 or 12 invitees, who represent only a fraction of the people who have shown you kindness in the past three months. Issue invitations via Facebook and WhatsApp messages. Indonesians like to travel in packs, and most parties here have so much food on deck that the concept of running out of it is incomprehensible. Keep this in mind when your guests ask to bring three of their friends. It makes it easier to explain why you’re saying “no.”
  1. Do your shopping. Bliss out in a baking supply store where you can buy brown sugar and parchment paper; practice self restraint when presented with a 2-kilogram vat of imported butter.  Your housemate takes care of produce from the market.
  1. Outsource your birds. The night before the party, stop by the ayam bakar (roast chicken) stand up the street from your house. Explain to the ibu* working the grill that you need to order three chickens for a Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow evening. Specify that you want them sweet, not spicy, pay $10 USD for all three, and bid adieu until the next day.
  1. Get to work! Over the course of 24 hours, you and your housemate cook two pots of chicken gravy, a pile of mashed potatoes, a wok full of green beans, and yams roasted in the toaster oven. As you set your apple crisp to bake in the rice cooker, you marvel at the dedication of your housemate, who has roasted fresh pumpkin in the toaster oven to make a pumpkin pie. Marvel further when you see that she has managed to make pie crust in tropical weather (no easy feat.)dscf3645
  1. Clean your house. You are blessed with an empty room where you can store all of the things you can’t be bothered to properly organize. Load the clutter from the living room onto an ironing board, haul it into the empty room, and sequester it out of sight. Sweep your white tile floors, adjoin two tables in the living room, adorn it with candles, and queue up music (alright, your housemate does most of that).
  1. Shower. Go up the street to retrieve your chickens, pick up ice cream to serve with dessert.img_2539
  1. Heat up food as you wait for your guests. Worry that you will not have enough. As 6:30 turns into 6:45, begin to worry that nobody will come. This anxiety dissipates when everyone somehow arrives all at once at 7:00, half an hour after the designated start time.
  1. Dig in! Put all of the food on the table family style, giving quick explanations for what’s in each dish. After everyone fills their plate, you feel grateful that four people who said they would come did not show. Dinner for 12 becomes dinner for 7, which means leftovers.
  1. Give thanks. Explain the purpose of Thanksgiving and ask guests to share what they are thankful for. You give thanks for motorbike safety (knock on wood), your supportive family, Indonesian hospitality, and your housemate.
  1. Eat, talk, swap out dinner entrees for dessert. Even though most of your guests are meeting for the first time, conversation flows easily. Continue eating and talking until you reach the requisite level of Thanksgiving stuffed-ness.img_2543
  1. Pack up leftover desserts for your guests before they leave. When the house is empty, lie down on the cold tile floor. Bask in the afterglow of a successful meal and warm company.
  1. Spend the next day in recovery. Emerge from your room to eat cold pumpkin pie from the fridge. Have a makeshift Friendsgiving via Skype with friends who are celebrating in Seattle, call your boyfriend while he waits to board a flight to Jakarta, and take a two hour nap. Acknowledge that your first Thanksgiving out of college (and first one overseas) has set a high bar for those to come.dscf3636

*Learning Indonesian:

Bule: foreigner

Ibu: this word means “mother” but is used to refer to any woman who is older than you.

Lizzy Hardison is teaching at SMAN 3 in Pangkal Pinang, Bangka. When she isn’t in the classroom, you can find her reading on her kindle, doing yoga and muay thai, and baking banana bread in her rice cooker. This post first appeared on her personal blog, which you can follow here

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