Turkey Twist

How Immigrants Blend American Thanksgiving Dishes With Their Own Culinary Traditions

We talked to six locals who moved here from elsewhere about how they celebrate this very American holiday.

By Kim Doleatto November 15, 2022

Enrique Pino and his extended family posing for a group picture in celebration

Enrique Pino and his extended family meld American tradition with Peruvian flavors.

Thanksgiving is an American holiday, with an established set of dinner table favorites. There will probably be a turkey involved, plus sides and sauces from sweet potatoes to green bean casserole, stuffing, cranberry sauce and gravy. For many immigrants who have settled in Sarasota, however, those are foreign dishes that maybe aren’t as yummy, since they aren't steeped in childhood memories. That leads many immigrants to blend their own traditions with those of their adopted home. Here’s how some locals from other countries are updating traditional American fare when the fourth Thursday in November rolls around.

Enrique Pino, photographer and cinematographer

When did you move to Sarasota?

"In 2004. My wife, Erzsebet Kocsis, arrived in 2000."

Where did you move from?

"Peru, and Erzebet from Hungary."

What do you think of Thanksgiving?

“It's definitely an American holiday. My family members take turns hosting it. Last year, it was my cousin Julio’s turn. He made Peruvian-style turkey with chicha de jora, which means 'beverage' in Peruvian slang. It’s basically a fermentation of corn. We used to have to sneak it in our luggage, but now they sell it in Latin shops.

“Some people make a turkey with wine or another reduction. We marinate it in chicha de jora. In Peru, we actually eat turkey on Christmas. The turkey was brought to Peru by  Americans and we adapted it. But you’re not going to see gravy or mashed potatoes or green bean casserole. We do a Peruvian version of Russian salad: red beets with green beans and carrots mixed with mayonnaise. And we don’t do cranberry sauce. Our potato dish is papa a la huancaína. It’s boiled and sliced potatoes topped with huancaína [a cheese sauce]. If you're a respectable Peruvian, there’s always white rice on the table, too, because of the Japanese Nikkei influence in our cooking. We also usually do a papa rellena [stuffed potatoes] or a lomo saltado [a traditional Peruvian stir fry].”

Fahd Farissi enjoying a beer in football attire.

Fahd El Farissi

Fahd El Farissi, Sarasota County Senior Probation Officer

When did you move to Sarasota?

"In 2014."

Where did you move from?

"I'm originally from Morocco. Before coming to Sarasota, I moved to Ohio in 2006 after living in Rome, Italy, for eight years."

Fahd El Farissi and his family

What do you think of Thanksgiving? 

“I gave it a try for 10 years and forced myself to like it. But it’s dry. The cranberry sauce– [Americans] force you to love it! I hoped it would click, because it just sounds and seems really good. I love the time off with family and friends, but food-wise, the main dish that I like is sweet potatoes.

"However, I've stopped cooking Thanksgiving, so now I just do a meal I like—like roasted chicken or steak and some fries. Often, my wife cooks tajin–a Moroccan clay pot dish with a variety of vegetables, extra virgin olive oil and chicken or lamb. For a sweeter version, we do lamb and prunes with caramelized onions and good Moroccan spices.

"The biggest excitement is that it’s a football day that I look forward to. When I moved to Ohio, the winters were depressing, and if you weren't a football fan there was nothing to do. The Cleveland Browns became my team while I was there."

Persian jewel rice

Jewel rice

Yasi Bahmanabadi, New College of Florida Student and Sarasota Magazine Editorial Intern

When did you move here?

"In 2017." 

Where did you move from?


What do you think about Thanksgiving?

“I learned about Thanksgiving through movies and books, so I knew a lot about the customs before coming here. One of my favorite movies is Hannah and Her Sisters, which starts with a Thanksgiving gathering and finishes with one, too. I have a Thai friend who makes it a big party and invites friends who don’t have their extended family here. They do a big turkey and inject it with gravy. Everyone brings something, so it’s an interesting meal.

“This year, I'm taking two Persian vegetarian dishes. One is herb frittata with parsley, dill, scallion, cilantro, and berbere spices on top. The second is jewel rice. My mom always made it in Iran. It’s a special dish for when we have guests or holidays. It’s saffron rice with cranberries, candied orange slices—the peel has been shredded and soaked in sugar—pistachio and almond flakes. I mix it all with butter and sauté it and pour it all on the rice. My mom talked me through it on the phone.

“The turkey thing is interesting. It seems to have a certain holiness here. I see this holiday just as a time to get together and be thankful for what we have. We need excuses to celebrate life. It can be any holiday. Time off is always good.”

Osso buco

Osso buco

Luigi Doleatto, Whole Foods Market Fishmonger, Former Chef and (Full Disclosure) the Author's Dad

When did you move here?

"In 1990."

Where did you move from?

"From Canada where I moved in '79. I moved there from Piedmont, Italy, where I'm from originally. But I also lived in Arizona and Bonaire for some years before coming here."

Luigi Doleatto and his grandson, with a Thanksgiving octopus.

What do you think about Thanksgiving?

"It's a bad memory for the country I think, and I think those people brought bland food, too, because I don't like traditional Thanksgiving foods much. I still never had a casserole. And someone ruined quattro formaggi pasta with mac and cheese.

"But we focus on the time off, or just making extra money at work, because I can have people over any day, but I can't make time and a half any day. So we chose the day, and I write the menu of what I might want after talking with the family. I do all the cooking. It's never the same thing, but whatever it is, it’s special. It depends on what I can get. So maybe it's all seafood one year, but everyone really likes osso bucco or rabbit if I can find it. One year we had octopus, but now my daughter thinks they're too intelligent to eat, so this year we’ll do osso buco. Where I'm from in northern Italy, it's a classic dish you eat in the winter. I know it's still warm here, but we can pretend it isn't. Getting the bone marrow from the middle is the best part. You can do beef or lamb. And in my region, we serve it with polenta. People here call them grits. But I don't like grits, and we would never eat them for breakfast. I like polenta. It's an old peasant dish of yellow cornmeal that soaks the sauces from the osso buco on top."

Nikki's vegan fusilli pasta.

Nikki Kostyun's vegan fusilli pasta.

Nikki Kostyun and Andres Concha

When did you arrive in Sarasota?

Both came to Sarasota in the late 1990s.

Where did you move from?

Kostyun moved from Tampa and Concha—also known as DJ Shambala—came from California. Although he was born here, he travels to Colombia often, where he still has deep family roots.

What do you think of Thanksgiving?

“We don't have it in Colombia, but when it comes to the meal, we do the traditional thing, because we want to be part of the culture," says Concha. "And, of course, we want to share it with our American friends, so we have to do it. We save our traditional Colombian meal for Christmas."

“When I was a kid, I thought Thanksgiving meant something because we were taught it did in school," says Kostyun. "I never enjoyed the food much, and now that I’m an adult, I love the fact I don’t have to take part. There was never any symbolism for me—just family and friends getting together to eat a lot.” As a vegan with her own vegan food business, Kostyun prepares vegan lasagna, fusilli, garlic bread and vegetable sides. “I’d call it Italian American-style comfort foods,” she says.

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