Thanksgiving Dinner in Shanghai

22 Nov 2005

It has always been my policy in China that if I can’t be with my family for Thanksgiving, I should at least try to get in some good Thanksgiving eating. Last year I had my Thanksgiving dinner with Brad at a Sofitel Hotel in Pudong. At around 200 rmb, it was pretty expensive, and not fantastic. This year I made some more phone calls to find out which American hotel chains in Shanghai were having Thanksgiving dinners. Most of the calls went something like this (in English):

> Staff: Hello, [hotel name].

> Me: Hi, is your hotel having a Thanksgiving dinner this Thursday?

> Staff: Let me transfer you to the restaurant.

> Me: OK.

> Staff: The Chinese restaurant or the Western restaurant?

> Me: Uhhh… Western.

> Restaurant Staff: Hello, [hotel restaurant name].

> Me: Hi, is your restuarant having a Thanksgiving dinner this Thursday?

> Restaurant Staff: Yes, we have a buffet dinner.

> Me: A Thanksgiving buffet dinner?

> Restaurant Staff: Thanksgiving?

> Me: Yes, Thanksgiving. 感恩节.

> Restaurant Staff: 感恩节? Oh, no. It’s Italian food.

> Me: OK, thank you.

I don’t think that the Chinese should all recognize and celebrate Thanksgiving or anything ridiculous like that. I just expected most of the nicer international hotels in Shanghai to offer some kind of Thanksgiving meal. I guess that’s just not always done.

After about 5 or 6 unsuccessful hotel calls, I did what I should have done in the first place. I Googled Shanghai Thanksgiving dinner. I found the following pages helpful:

1. SmartShanghai Dining Specials (this page is continually updated, so it features Thanksgiving specials only this week)
2. ShanghaiExpat: Thanksgiving Dinner (more expensive options)

I found two deals at reasonable prices: the Holiday Inn Vista Shanghai Thanksgiving Dinner for 149 rmb per person (I had called the Pudong Holiday Inn, and they were oblivious to Thanksgiving over there), and the Moon River Diner Thanksgiving for 150 rmb per person.

I chose the Moon River Diner dinner (the menu looks awesome!), but the Gubei restaurant’s Thursday night was already full, so I had to make a reservation at the Pudong location. I actually talked to the chef on the phone! He’s a guy named Micahel from New Mexico, and he assured me it would be authentic. As he pointed out, the few hotels putting on the super expensive Thanksgiving banquets hire European gourmet chefs, so they present distorted fancy-pants interpretations of Thanksgiving dinner. Totally not like mom used to.

So I’m looking forward to this dinner. If you’re in Shanghai and you want to seize your once-a-year chance for a Thanksgiving dinner, you better hurry up and make a reservation.

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John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

Comments

  1. I just made my first trip out to Gubei (aka the Boonies) Moonriver Diner last week, and it was great stuff. I saw the Thanksgiving menu; it looks like a great, authentic holiday meal. Apple-chestnut stuffing, yummm. A little expensive, but whatever. I was going to recommend it, and then saw that you ran across it yourself. Small town 🙂

  2. Will they have orange-cranberry relish?

  3. Justin (Parasite) Says: November 22, 2005 at 12:04 pm

    Hrm. Kind curious why you, or other expats, have all the enthusiasm about holidays of home. I mean — don’t you feel like a bunch of Chinese assembling together in ethnic enclaves (Chinatown) and celebrating Chinese New Year in the middle of America ? I mean, just seems if I draw that analogy — definitely NOT the role I would like to be playing. I take being out of the country as a good opportunity to have my phone ring on random holiday — family all like “Hey! Justin! What are you guys doing for Thanksgiving over there ?” And I’m all like “Uh… oh! really, I thought it was in October. Well, not much. Hope you guys enjoy.” click and then proceed to forget, again, within 5 mins that said holiday exists.

  4. Micah,

    A little expensive? Yes, but only when compared to an everyday meal in Shanghai. If you compare that price with other hotels’/restaurants’ Thanksgiving dinner prices, you’ll find that 150 is about as cheap as it gets. And if the dinner is as good as it sounds, then I’d say it’s a bargain.

  5. Tim P,

    No. 🙁

  6. Justin,

    To me, Thanksgiving should be spent with my family. Since I can’t do that, it loses a lot of its meaning.

    However, that doesn’t mean I’m going to pass up a once-a-year opportunity for a good Thanksgiving meal in Shanghai! Thanksgiving food is good!

  7. Do you expect every hotel to cater every unique event of every country in the world? Or are you just an arrogant American? And when you translate 200 RMB into euros, it’s a bargain. If you are so keen to celebrate your perculair event, then why not treat yourself. Go on splurge.

  8. huh,

    I think my expectations carry over from the time I spent in Hangzhou, where it seemed like all the major hotels in town had Thanksgiving dinners.

    How much 200 rmb is in euros is totally irrelevant. I live in Shanghai, I’m a student, and I’m not rich. For me, 150 rmb per person for one meal is splurging.

  9. Justin: I can’t speak for John, but Thanksgiving for me is an opportunity to get together with friends and eat a good meal. Please go back and read http://www.sinosplice.com/life/archives/2005/10/18/snobs-in-china

    Huh: Wow, you’re right! 200RMB is only 20 Euros — what a bargain! Can you believe some other restauraunts wanted 32 million Turkish Lira?

    John: I’m looking forward to a night of cultural hegemony in the laowai ghetto.

  10. Da Xiangchang Says: November 22, 2005 at 2:52 pm

    I wonder how strong the Thanksgiving tradition is stateside. I mean, how many families stay home to cook and all, and how many families go out to eat on Thanksgiving? On Christmas Eve and Day last year, I noticed a lot of American families (and NOT of Asian descent) in Chinese restaurants. Maybe they were Jews, I don’t know. And in China, aren’t people supposed to stay in for Chinese New Year’s Eve? But the Chinese restaurants that night are packed! So it’s sort of interesting . . .

  11. JOHN,
    YOU SEEM LIKE A NICE ENOUGH GUY,BUT ISN’T THERE A SMALL PART OF YOU THAT WOULD LOVE TO FIND THIS “HUH” GUY AND BITCHSLAP THE HELL OUT OF HIM? JUST A THOUGHT.

  12. sigh…after 7 months in tokyo, 150rmb for turkey-lurkey is like them paying me to eat thanksgiving dinner. i don’t think that would buy me a turkey sandwich and a cheap beer.

  13. Russell drinks beer?

  14. I’m English and I don’t know what a Thanksgiving dinner {?lunch?] is, so I don’t think you can expect many Chinese people to know either. I thought it was something you had on the 4th of July. Even big hotels in Shanghai cater to mostly non-Americans, so you’ll just have to remember that the rest of the world doesn’t know what you’re talking about.

  15. Ben Franklin Says: November 23, 2005 at 11:50 am

    Justin,

    You are right. Everyone should renounce any vestige of personal culture or tradition when they move to another country, even temporarily. How silly of an ethnically-Chinese family to observe an exclusive, non-American holiday on American soil. One observation: shouldn’t your post have been made in Chinese? Isn’t it obnoxious when foreigners come to your home country (USA in my case) and insist on speaking their own language?

  16. Rob: many of the big hotels are selling 200 RMB seats, so it’s reasonable to expect them to know what Thanksgiving is, on at least some superficial level. Of course the average Chinese or English person is ignorant about it and I’m sure every American expects that.

    DXC: I think plenty of people opt to have Holiday meals at a restaurant, Holiday traditions and going out to eat aren’t mutually exclusive. And back in the US, all my friends eat Chinese food for their other meal on the Holidays – almost all the other restaurants are closed! A simple congee is a nice counter-point to the foods you tend to eat for Holiday meals.

    Somebody pointed out elsewhere that Pizza Hut’s Ostrich Pizza is really Turkey Pizza. I’ve never gone there, but perhaps I’ll have to give it a try!

  17. In that case, you’re more than welcome, John, to share Thanksgiving with me and my friends. A [disease-free] turkey has just landed (which cost me more than a hotel buffet but it’ll be worth every succulent bite). There will be all the trimmings, a honeyed ham, roast lamb, fish, a crate of Bolly, Napa Valley wine, and pumpkin pie to boot. And as an added bonus you will be the only American in attendance so you can explain what it’s all about 🙂

    Have a good one 🙂

  18. I think you are getting off cheaply. I paid $80.00 for turkey one Thanksgiving in Hainan.

  19. Thanksgiving lunch was good. Had a scallop brisque and squash soup … both very creamy. The wild rice and chicken/mushroom soup was better. But the salads were various: prawns on one, sun dried tomatoes, feta cheese and candied pecans on another, pistachios, apples, walnuts, bleu cheese & romaine on the 3rd. The main entree was a choice of turkey, loin of pork, or salmon. But by the time the food was ordered, everyone was full so the entrees were taken home and I’ll be dining on it in a couple hours from now (nearing 6pm now). The desserts were to die for, not a huge selection, but it was pretty easy to sample them all:

    1) chocolate torte (creamiest, richest, chocolate crust to middle to top)
    2) lemon bar (powdered sugar flaking everywhere)
    3) lemon merenque (sp) with an ice cream texture middle
    4) cookie dough cheesecake
    5) almond cheesecake
    6) pumpkin pie – the classic!
    7) pecan pie – the second classic!

    Needless to say, even the 6 mile hike that was pre-meal needed a supplemental 2 mile uphill hike to settle down the bloated gut. Happy Thanksgiving everyone and hope I didn’t make you drool too much.

    p.s. most set meals in SF were $50.00+ but we managed to net a local meal for $30 a head (the above mentioned meal) and that was with latte’s, orange juice, cranberry juice and iced tea. To be honest, at the end of the day, a simple $7 Taco Bell meal would’ve sufficed.

  20. Unbelievable! I am an Aussie (well English really but been in Oz for 25 years) just moved to Shanghai. How can anyone NOT know what Thanksgiving is? Where on earth have you been hiding or do you not watch films/tv etc. Where I live they had an amazing TG lunch and dinner but it was I think the fancy pants version!

  21. It’s Thanksgiving Dinner, BTW, even if it is served during lunchtime. Stemmed from the days when “dinner” referred to the biggest meal of the day, not necessarily supper. Evidently, in parts of rural Illinois, “dinner” still has its original meaning.

  22. I’m a high school exchange student in Taiwan, and my host-mom wanted to have a Thanksgiving party so I could invite friends from school. Well… the meal turned out to be frozen chicket nuggets fried in the wok, frozen spaghetti microwaved, Chinese boiled dumplings, and some type of Chinese soup. She told me at the last minute that she couldn’t find the turkey she promised, so there was no turkey (but I know her well enough to know that she probably just balked at the cost of a turkey). I actually filled up on the dumplings and soup more than the western food she cooked, which were cold by the time she served them (and I don’t like spaghetti anyway).

  23. Xiaohao,

    There is also the possibility that she balked at the foreseeable difficulty/inability in cooking a turkey. And a word of advice, don’t eat western foods cooked by a Chinese cook — it was good you didn’t. Me usually stay away from any Chinese food cooked by an American.

  24. Sally,

    Your comment will only perpetuate the generalization that Anglo-Saxons are ignorant. Thanksgiving is strictly an American custom (i.e. invention) to show to show their appreciation to God for having helping them to secure the land and survive harsh environmental conditions (never mind that how many native Americans were murdered, raped and expoilted in the process). In any case, Thanksgiving has taken on a different meaning i.e. less to do with killing the natives.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if you could speak only English and spend most of your time in front of Hollywood brainless movies. Your comment amounts to asking a Brit or an Aussie about Guanyin. Are the Brits and Aussies stupid then just because they don’t know this Chinese deity/goddess celebrated by the Chinese across East Asia for thousands of years?

    Do yourself a favor, stop being ethnocentric.

  25. Thanks for making that choice. I hope your meal was great. (mike’s business partner)

  26. Cwazee-Canadian Says: June 1, 2006 at 9:24 pm

    Frank:

    You actually made me wanna barf in my own lung with that last comment!!! Thanksgiving is thanking god that we as a people can live among each other in harmony. It’s forgetting our oppressive past and embracing a multi-cultural future. Much love to all my friends there in China! eh? 🙂

  27. So hmm where do I begin Frank… First of all there is a big difference between a brit and an aussie knowing about Guanyin and them knowing about Thanksgiving. First of all, I would like to point out that the “first thanksgiving dinner” happened before America became a country and therefore was a tradition envolving people born in British, second of all, most of the prominent literature about the holiday is in English not Chinese, and third of all, Frank, where are you from? and I’ll call you ignorant, and I’m not an anglo-saxon.
    “Thanksgiving is strictly an American custom (i.e. invention) to show to show their appreciation to God for having helping them to secure the land and survive harsh environmental conditions”
    Yeah thats kinda missing the point, first of all Thanksgiving feasts were actually a native holiday celebrating the harvest. second, the killings of native Americans were carried out, not by the Pilgrams, but by other settlers from other various groups who settled around the large area of land which is the Eastern Coast of North America, and its really not a celebration of these activities, but of the aberation of such activities. So in closing Frank I would like to end with a quote, because I feel guilty in engaging in such petty squabbles with such petty fools.
    “If you win an arguement on an internet discussion board, your still, never-the-less, are a retard.” And in post script what does Sally’s linguistic ability have to do with her opinion? just a question.

  28. I worked at a Taiwanese kindergarten, where the management made an effort to celebrate what they perceived as the major American holidays, viz Christmas, Easter and Halloween. As a Christian from South Africa I was more than happy to celebrate the first two, but when asked about how Halloween should be ‘celebrated’ I responded (in a polite tone) ‘Don’t ask me, I’m not American.’

    I think Britons’ relative ignorance of American culture can be attributed to their relatively limited exposure to US TV programmes.

  29. […] has changed quite a bit since I last blogged about Thanksgiving dinner in Shanghai in 2005. And the Thanksgiving dinner buffer business is booming. Even the Mexican restaurants are […]

  30. I know this is quite an old post, but came across it when looking for Thanksgiving restaurants in Shanghai yesterday, and oddly now many many hotels serve a big, fat juicy turkey in their already full buffet… and so last night I went to the Longemont Hotel on Yan’an Xi Lu and I was the only one who ever ate from the turkey they had with apples and potatoes cooked with it….I know because I picked the table right next to it, haha! 🙂 It was 268 RMB for the buffet (plus service tax…ugh), but was really good…lots of seafood (I know, not very Thankgivingish)

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