The MVT for Thanksgiving

Back when I was teaching at Zhejiang University City College in Hangzhou (2001-ish?), I taught a course called American Society and Culture. I also had to introduce Thanksgiving. My students were especially interested in the food, so I found myself with an interesting task: coming up with a core set of dishes for an American Thanksgiving dinner.

Put another way; what is your Minimum Viable Thanksgiving? I mean, sure, you could get all sentimental and sappy and talk about your family and loved ones, but this post is about FOOD! Focus, please.

The list I came up with included these 5 must-haves:

  1. Turkey
  2. Stuffing
  3. Mashed potatoes
  4. Cranberries (in some form)
  5. Pumpkin pie

Then I’d make corn, green beans, and pecan pie runners-up, maybe.

Here’s an interesting fact: if you’re like me and eat out for Thanksgiving in China, even in Shanghai in 2021, it’s kind of hard to find a restaurant that will include all 5 of these items on their Thanksgiving menu. It seems like they always omit one of those core items. (This year it was pumpkin pie that my restaurant of choice left out, but fortunately I got some from another source.)

Anyway, this did get me wondering how many Americans would agree with my list. What would you sub in/out from the list of 5 MVT items? (Sound off in the comments!)

And, because my life is all about Chinese learning resources, here are some images with Chinese:


John Pasden

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


  1. Gravy, you fool!

    You’re gonna make turkey and just leave all those drippings to waste?

  2. My list is almost the same, but with cranberry whatever replaced by green beans. I’ve never been a fan of cranberry stuff. Anyway, I have yet to find a good pumpkin pie source here in Taipei. Unfortunately, no Mrs. Smith’s here in Taiwan. I’m thinking I will start experimenting now and bake my own come next Thanksgiving.

    p.s. it’s 馬鈴薯泥 here in Taiwan.

    Happy Holidays John!

  3. In the South of the US traditionally sweet potato pie instead of pumpkin pie

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