Thanksgiving in France: Sourcing the Right Ingredients

Some advice for finding the right menu substitutions for this iconic American holiday

Guinea fowl can be a Thanksgiving turkey substitute.

For the past two years, I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving in Dijon, France. It was my choice as a temporary expat to adapt some of my childhood holidays to my new home. This meant reimagining menus, exploring what was available at (nearly) every market in town, and coming to terms with the fact that Thanksgiving — in its purest observance — does not always mean cranberries, sweet potatoes, and turkey. It’s the thought that counts, right?

OK, beyond the poetry, I didn’t really have a choice. As I eventually discovered, whole turkeys, cranberries, and sweet potatoes (although not originally) are all very North American ingredients. They’re trendy in France, but by no means readily available in Dijon during the last week of November. But it wasn’t like I was trying to celebrate Thanksgiving in the desert. I was in France, after all…

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If you or someone you know is celebrating abroad, consider the following. I made some tough calls, but ultimately settled on a few key substitutions:

  1. Currants (or cassis) for cranberries
    I folded these into my "stuffing," or bread salad, in this case. They’re not quite as tart, but do provide that essential brightness associated with the staple sauce.
  2. Mashed parsnips for mashed sweet potatoes
    Call me crazy (especially being a native North Carolinian), but I actually prefer this substitution — so much so, that I might just make mashed parsnips one of my annual Thanksgiving dishes. These had a subtle sweetness, as well as a taste that was bit more earthy and nuanced than yam dishes that I’ve had in the past.
  3. Guinea fowl for turkey
    In full disclosure, I had no idea what pintade meant when I bought the bird. I was just looking for a whole poultry that most resembled a turkey and wasn’t a chicken. One of my guests was surprised when she learned that I would be serving a bird known for being dry and tough, but with plenty of olive oil, a cavity stuffed full of olives, and a couple of fresh sprigs of rosemary, it was succulent and delicious.