For centuries, fall has been a time to celebrate a successful harvest, and many cultures across the world do so through annual days of thanks. Of course, we Americans (and several other countries) have Thanksgiving, but other nations have their own harvest festivals centered on local foods and celebrating the bounty.
Here’s a look at how a few other countries give thanks for their harvests. You might be able to find some of their foods right here in Houston.
Canada also celebrates its own Thanksgiving, which occurs every second Monday in October. For their feast, Canadians serve foods we’re all familiar with, like roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. They also celebrate with a bunch of regional dishes, like wild game, Jiggs dinner (salted or corned beef with various root vegetables), and Nanaimo bars, a dessert made from layers of wafer, nut, coconut cream, and custard icing, with chocolate ganache slathered on top. Lucky for us, there’s no need to make a trip north for this sweet treat—you can get it at Riel in Montrose.
In North and South Korea, people observe Chuseok (“Autumn eve”), beginning on the 14th day of the eighth lunar month and ending on the 16th day, to celebrate the harvest. People visit their ancestral hometowns and feast on all kinds of delicious foods, like songpyeon (small, plump rice cakes, often shaped into half-moons) and confections like gwapyeon (sweet fruit jellies) or dasik (bite-sized cookies eaten with tea). Accompanying all the sweets are Korean wines, like baekseju, and various other rice wines, like soju. Want to try these wines? Find them at Korean Noodle House and BORI.
Pongal is a multi-day harvest festival celebrated primarily by the Tamil community of South India. Observed around January 14—depending on the Tamil solar calendar—it's mainly dedicated to Surya, the sun god. Pongal, meaning “to boil” or “overflow,” is also the name of the main dish made and eaten during the festival. The dish is harvested rice that's put in milk, or ghee, and jaggery to make a sweet rice pudding. The savory version, or ven pongal, is also prepared with harvested rice and seasoned with black pepper, cumin, and salt. To try these dishes and their few other variations, you can check out Saravanaa Bhavan on Westheimer or Udipi Cafe on Hillcroft.
In a Puerto Rican Thanksgiving, there are all kinds of Latin and Afro-Latin staples, like arroz con habichuelas (rice and beans), arroz con gandules (rice and pigeon peas), perníl or lechón (roast shoulder of pig, roast pig), and tostones (fried plantains). One of the main dishes is pavochón, an American-style turkey stuffed with mofongo, a dish with fried plantains seasoned with salt and garlic, sprinkled with chicharrón (pork cracklings), and placed in a hearty meat broth. To balance out the savory, spicy, and umami flavors, there’s also tembleque, a coconut dessert pudding. Go to La Casa del Mofongo, Punta Cana, or Sofrito, which is located inside Dr. Gleem Car Wash on Ella Boulevard, to try these dishes and an array of other Caribbean dishes.
Thanksgiving is celebrated on the first Thursday of November in Liberia, a nation founded by freed American slaves, and is a day for Liberians to mark their independence. Instead of a turkey, their feast may include a roast chicken, but, similar to an American Thanksgiving, green bean casserole is served, too. One of the main dishes that’s eaten is mashed cassavas. It’s made from cassava, or yuca, a root vegetable that’s mashed into a creamy, sweet paste, which is seasoned with garlic, salt, and pepper.