Shanghai Thanksgiving Dilemma

Shanghai has changed quite a bit since I last blogged about Thanksgiving dinner in Shanghai in 2005. And the Thanksgiving dinner buffet business is booming. Even the Mexican restaurants are doing Thanksgiving dinner spreads. Here are some of the listings:

Thanksgiving turkey (LOC)

The Big List: Thanksgiving Dinners (SmartShanghai)
2011 Thanksgiving Dinners – Shanghai (Shanghai TALK)
Thanksgiving 2011 (Fields)

In 2005 I called “reasonable prices” around 150 RMB per person. Now it’s difficult to find T-Day dinner deals for less than 300 RMB per person, and many are around 5-600 RMB. Kinda makes you want to stay home and be thankful you don’t have to participate in the consumption orgy.

But what if you want to have an American-style Thanksgiving at home in Shanghai? It’s possible, but also not cheap. The biggest problem is that if you want to buy turkey, you have to buy a whole bird. I don’t quite understand this. Why can’t the birds be carved up and sold in pieces? Most Chinese people aren’t crazy about turkey, but would probably buy some to try out if it could be purchased in moderation. As for me, I’d like some turkey on Thanksgiving Day, but I’ll be staying in this year, and I’m certainly not capable of taking down a whole turkey.

Suggestions welcome!


John Pasden

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


  1. Invite some friends over?

  2. I heard the Parkyard Hotel has a T-giving dinner around Y158.

    I’m guessing only whole turkeys are for sale because the demand is so low…

  3. RMB 300-600 doesn’t strike me as outrageous, at least in light of the quantity and quality of food served at these dinners.

    It does, however, seem out-of-step with consumer price changes over the past 10 years.

    I recall paying roughly RMB 100 in Beijing back in 1998 and RMB 120 in Shanghai in 1999. China CPI changes since then suggest pricing between RMB 120 and 180.

    Forex shouldn’t account for the increase either. China probably imports much of its Thanksgiving turkey, as noted here a few years back. To that extent, RMB appreciation should’ve actually pushed down the price.

    Demand for these dinners is clearly booming and restaurateurs are happy to price the meal accordingly. No doubt an exponential increase in US expats (I don’t recall Thanksgiving being celebrated widely, if at all, on the Canadian date) can explain much of the increase in demand and price, but I’d expect that domestic demand has exploded as well, at least in major urban markets. Does anyone have any sense of this?

    A decade-or-so ago, these dinners were relatively hard to come by outside of major urban hotels. Even at those hotels, reception attendants, when called in advance for details on the dinners, would often have no idea that their hotels would be hosting Thanksgiving.

    As for suggestions on how to celebrate, I second DC’s notion above. Who among us can polish off a turkey by him/herself? Not hosting Thanksgiving because you can’t eat the entire turkey is kind of like not hosting Spring Festival because you can’t, by yourself, roll and eat a hundred dumplings. These days are meant to be celebrated in solitude.

    Get a tiny turkey. And if it’s still too big for your oven, fry the damned thing!

  4. We always went out for roast duck…. it isn’t a turkey, but now on Thanksgiving I really crave duck.

  5. My first Thanksgiving in Shanghai was 1989. We let our office manager arrange dinner for us at the Huating Sheraton (which isn’t a Sheraton any more). We ended up having the traditional Thanksgiving pigeon! (Not that it was bad.)

  6. We cooked whole turkeys. Or do you mean that you get a feathered carcass that you have to clean and then prepare?

    Have you heard of frozen entrees — what were formerly known as “TV dinners”?

  7. I think I’d have just bought a duck instead of a turkey!

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