Squash and gourds, some cut in slices to look like flowers and arranged on a plate

The Changing Face of Thanksgiving: Many Culinary Choices Outside the ‘Turkey and Potato Box’


While much of the nation prepares for the traditional Thanksgiving feast—some variation of turkey, dressing, and pie— a growing number of households may opt for a meal of a more global variety. Considering the number of immigrants in Buffalo alone, the day of thanks might be celebrated with dishes such as curry goat, fried rice, tamales, baklava, or Gulab jamun.

Including ethnic dishes on Thanksgiving can provide a nutritious diversion, even for those who have lived in the United States their entire lives. Drew Hemler, registered dietitian and lecturer in Buffalo State’s Health, Nutrition, and Dietetics Department, pointed out the benefits.

“First, trying another culture’s foods can ignite our tastebuds, remind us of memories made during our travels, and spark engaging conversation with others seated at the table,” said Hemler, who lives in Toronto, Canada, which he pointed out is the most diverse city in the world. “Secondly, thinking outside the turkey and potato box is a chance to diversify our nutrient intake. After all, the USDA recommends we eat a variety of foods from all food groups.

And third, it’s inclusive.

 “Including dishes that speak to our guests’ nationalities is like a warm hug, an acknowledgment and celebration of others, and a sign of respect.”

- Drew Hemler, R.D., Lecturer, Health, Nutrition, and Dietetics Department 

“As family and friendship circles grow, diversity does, too,” he said. “Including dishes that speak to our guests’ nationalities is like a warm hug, an acknowledgment and celebration of others, and a sign of respect. Although Thanksgiving is celebrated primarily in the States [Germany has a similar holiday to give thanks, called Erntedank], we can incorporate foods enjoyed during other holidays by cultures around the globe.”

(See below for links to numerous recipes provided by Hemler.)

The Buffalo State community is invited to sample a signature Bangladesh dish, chicken biryani, as part of the Cultural Café on Friday, November 18, at 3:00 p.m. in Butler Library. The event, which is hosted by the Maurene Callahan Bouras Center for Global Engagement and the International Student Organization (ISO), will also culminate the campus’s observation of International Education Week and focus on giving thanks.

“Along with enjoying the food, students will decorate fall leaves listing the reasons they’re thankful,” said Tricia Herritt, director of international students and scholar services. “While Thanksgiving is pretty much only celebrated in North America, other countries celebrate the harvest and being thankful.”

Herritt said they chose to honor Bangladesh because of its growing presence in Buffalo and to welcome five Bangladeshi students who enrolled at Buffalo State this fall. Chartwells is handling the cooking.

The ISO has 78 members this year, a mix of U.S. students and international students from 26 countries. Buffalo State senior Seiki Kawahara, who serves as ISO president, said he got involved with the organization because he understands the isolation international students may experience away from home for the first time.

A native of Tokyo, Japan, Kawahara came to Buffalo as an exchange student when he was in high school. He lived with a host family and attended Cardinal O’Hara High School before enrolling at Buffalo State as a freshman in fall 2019.

“My English was terrible when I got here,” he said. “I learned it mainly during lunch at school by listening to the other students.”

ISO, he said, offers events throughout the year, such as Cultural Fiesta in the spring, where they feature dishes from several cultures and provide musical and dance performances. It not only connects the international students with one another, he said, but also introduces American students to different cultural traditions.

Events like the Cultural Fiesta and the Cultural Café especially help international students feel connected and included.

“In ISO, we support one another,” Kawahara said. “And I think the events we’ve held on campus have been successful.”

Appetizers and Side Dishes

  • Pierogies – A pillowy Polish favorite served with sour cream and caramelized onions.
  • Jollof rice – An African side dish usually paired with fried plantains, chicken, goat meat, turkey, or beef.
  • Baba ghannouj – A Middle Eastern dip enjoyed not just during the holidays; makes a great option during Thanksgiving, served with grilled pita bread.
  • Latkes – A Jewish staple made from potato, onion, and egg that’s enjoyed during Hannukah.
  • Polenta – A mild-flavored corn-based dish that’s enjoyed by many in South America and Europe as well as among Native Americans.
  • Beans and rice – A South American, African, and Caribbean dish that’s seasoned differently based on the region.
  • Salata de Varza (coleslaw) – Made from cabbage and carrots, this crunchy Romanian side dish adds freshness to any meal.
  • Dolma – A Persian Christmas feast staple, grape leaves filled with rice and/or meat.
  • Pakora – An Indian appetizer that uses chickpea batter to cover a variety of vegetables, which are then deep-fried.

Main Dishes

  • Curry goat – A Caribbean and African staple during the holidays.
  • Jerk chicken – A savoury, spicy dish enjoyed by Islanders in the Caribbean.
  • Pan de Jamon – A Venezuelan staple that tests your baking skills.
  • Beef stew – An African staple that can be customized with different proteins, vegetables, herbs, and spices.
  • Mince pie – A British holiday staple with a savory filling and buttery, flakey crust.
  • Lasagna – An Italian favorite, layers of pasta sheets, sauce, and cheese.
  • Halászlé (fisherman's soup) – An iconic paprika-spiked Hungarian dish.
  • Tamales – A Mexican must during the holidays: stuffed corn dough steamed in a corn husk or banana leaf.
  • Nem nướng (Vietnamese grilled pork skewers) – Made with pork and seasoned with fish sauce and garlic.
  • Egg fried rice – A Chinese staple that can be customized with different proteins that fit your budget and guests’ preference.


  • Baklava – a Persian favorite, layers of phyllo dough layered with nuts and drizzled with a honey syrup.
  • Rum cake – A Caribbean dessert fit for adults!
  • Gulab jamun – Deep-fried balls of milk-based dough soaked in rose-flavored sugar syrup, originating from India.
  • Bûche de Noël – A French cake resembling a log and symbolizing new beginnings and the end of misfortunes.
  • Rosca de Reyes – A Mexican pastry that symbolizes gifts of the Magi.
  • Quesillo – The Venezuelan flan that’s smooth, creamy, and delicious.
  • Bratäpfel – A German treat with a New York state staple—apples.

Photos by Nadine Primeau and Alex Geerts.