For an American hostess/host, these 4 words are enough to immediately incite a light sweat and raise one’s blood pressure. Yet, dedicated expats living in Paris tackle this holiday year in and year out. Maybe it is because we find it necessary to cling on to the one truly American feast we have; giving us an opportunity to tastefully exhibit American pride, or maybe it’s an excuse to pass up sole meunière for some good old comfort food. Whatever the reason, executing a flawless Thankgiving meal in France is a challenge and without proper planning and shopping one may be left biting off more than he/she can chew.
For those that have never experienced a home cooked turkey dinner in Paris then I’ll quickly explain why this event is such a feat. First off, many apartments in Paris have kitchenettes instead of full-size kitchens that are equipped with a fridge not much bigger than those ubiquitous in US college dorms to stash beer. If one is so lucky to have an oven it’s generally not much bigger than a toaster oven; not surprisingly, small counter tops and seating accomodations follow a similar limited-capacity theme. Thus, storing food, fitting a turkey in the oven, managing various dishes in a small space and seating guests of more than four are the primary obstacles.
The secondary obstacles are obtaining the ingredients and keeping a tear-free face when you see the cost during check-out. The French have begun to catch on to the fact that Americans will pay a pretty penny for their birds. I’ve started shopping prices at various butchers who are familiar with our holiday and eager to secure an order at, on average, 14 Euros a kilo. For the seven guests, for whom I’ll be hosting this year, the math is: 6 kilos = 84 Euros= $107. Nothing will get the French pronouncing their “TH” properly in “Thanksgiving” than $100 dollars per order…
Sometimes I don’t realize how “American” certain ingredients are until I tackle a traditional Thanksgiving recipe abroad. For example, if you’re looking to make an ordinary pumpkin cheesecake you’re in for the task of procuring graham crackers (for the crust), cream cheese and canned pumpkin none of which are produced in Europe. Whereas in the US this simple dessert would costs close to $5-7 you’re probably looking at closer to $20-$25 not to mention however you calculate the cost of your time traipsing across the city to find specialty markets. Aren’t processed foods supposed to be cheap?
I recently thought I found the answer when I stumbled upon Thanksgivingparis.com– a one stop shop fully dedicated to relieving us expats from the T-day burdens. Upon visiting the store I quickly realized this is one of the places that thinks Americans live on a diet of Corn Flakes, Heinz products and Pop Tarts. Sure, you can order a ready-made pecan or pumpkin pie 29 Euros ($37) and a turkey at 12.50 Euros/kilo… though I’m suspect as they claim these turkeys are free- range organic when they promise 10+ kilo turkeys (22 lbs). Other butchers won’t promise anything over 5 kilos for free-range organic.
So instead of complaining here are some tips to make this holiday a little less hectic:
- Make sure to invite a couple non-American guests. If all guests are non- American even better :-)… this way you aren’t forced to live up to anyone’s expectations of what their Grandma made back home and if you can’t wing the candied yams last minute no one will know what they are missing. Only half kidding…no one should be denied candied yams!!
- If you’re looking to avoid the 4.50 Euro a can pumpkin prices (and commute) at the Bon Marché, just roast up your own sugar pumpkin which can be found at nearly all Paris produce stands this time of year. Plus it tastes better. You can do the roasting a couple days in advance so it isn’t a hassle the day of. 1 lb sugar pumpkin= 3 cups of canned pumpkin puree
- If you’re fighting the small oven problem, a couple butchers offered to cook the turkey before-hand. If you go this route it is essential to not mention it to your guests. It’s cheating! Above I added a picture of the ‘boucherie’ where I ordered my turkey. They will even tress it properly if you don’t intend to stuff your bird.
- If you are needing extra pots and pans or disposable kitchenware the following stores have a vast selection: Verrerie des Halle, La Bovida, A Simon (all located in the 2e). I found 14″ aluminum disposable pans (pic below) that will allow me to do the turkey and other sides as our AirBNB rental isn’t equipped with large serving platters or roasting pans.
- Evaporated milk is lait concentré which can be found at any normal grocery store for 2 Euros. At specialty stores the cost is 4 Euros.
- Secure your ingredients early . Last minute planning could leave you turkey-less in Paris. When I lived in Paris several years ago, as an absent-minded student, I tried to make a couple dishes the day-of ….not even the Bon Marché had what I needed. There are more expats in Paris than you might think.
- http://entrecavistes.com – this ingenious company realized that people, like me, get annoyed carrying three bottles of wine as they battle the already uncomfortable public transportation nuisances of Paris. Entre Cavistes will deliver your wine and champagne to your doorstep freeing up your strength (and patience) for your turkey pick up.