Nov 22, 2022 - Food and Drink

In Miami's melting pot, multicultural Thanksgiving traditions rule

Illustration of a turkey that changes into a heart icon.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

There's no one right way to celebrate Thanksgiving. And in multicultural Miami, it’s a challenge to find two holiday dinners that look exactly alike.

Some of us cook our turkeys differently or skip the bird altogether. The side dishes go well beyond cranberry sauce.

Why it matters: Miami is a community of immigrants, and the diversity of our traditions highlights how families pay respect to their homelands while taking part in U.S. holidays.

  • Learning about each other's traditions makes us a better city and serves as a reminder of the meaning of Thanksgiving — to spend time with loved ones and eat, no matter what the food might be.

We asked some neighbors how their communities celebrate Thanksgiving:

Carlos Frías, new host of "Sundial" on WLRN and former food editor for the Miami Herald, said growing up in a Cuban-American family meant turkey took a backseat to pork during his Thanksgiving dinners.

  • And the turkey would be seasoned like the roast-pork dish lechon, with mojo and onions and island spices. Some families cooked their turkey in the same caja China roasting box that they'd use for roasting pigs.
  • Cornbread and mac and cheese were replaced with yuca and rice dishes like arroz congris or arroz mojo.

What they’re saying: "To me, only in Miami can you find turkeys made in a caja China," Frias said, calling it the "perfect confluence of Latin American and American culture."

  • Frias, the son of Cuban exiles, said Thanksgiving dinners always felt like a warmup for Noche Buena (Christmas Eve), another celebration of pork.
  • "Thanksgiving was an opportunity to eat pork twice," he said.

Francois Alexandre, Haitian-born co-founder of the community empowerment group Konscious Kontraktors, didn't grow up celebrating Thanksgiving at home because he was raised a Jehovah's Witness — but he'd go over to his friend's house for Turkey Day dinner.

  • His typical Thanksgiving dinner features American staples like turkey, cornbread, collard greens and mac and cheese, with a Haitian twist.
  • The turkey was seasoned with a Haitian Epis marinade; the mac and cheese was baked and came with ham or turkey, vegetables and lots of cheese.
  • Haitian sides like the mushroom-rice dish diri ak djon djon and pen patat, or sweet potato pudding, mixed in with the American classics.
  • For dessert, you'd pair fluffy, homemade pound cake with alcohol-infused Haitian eggnog called kremas.

What they're saying: Alexandre, who said he's been on a diet and losing weight, joked that he doesn't know if he is strong enough to resist all the temptations on the Thanksgiving table.

  • "I don't know how I'm going to hold on to that come Thursday," he said of the diet.

Of note: Through Konscious Kontraktors, Alexandre distributed turkeys and other food staples in Little Haiti last weekend and is planning a Christmas toy and food drive, and a hot meal distribution Dec. 23.

Gabriel Groisman, a former mayor of Bal Harbour and an attorney, tells Axios that his Thanksgiving meals look a lot like his other family meals — and they both revolve around the Argentine asado barbecue.

  • Turkey is an "obligatory" participant in Thanksgiving dinners, Groisman says. It was the only part of the meal his mother would buy instead of making herself.
  • His Argentine family always cooks up a full asado with steaks, chorizo and chimichurri for Thanksgiving.
  • Sweet potato casserole with marshmallows had a place on the Thanksgiving table, too.

What they're saying: "We have the turkey. Nobody touches it," Groisman said.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that Gabriel Groisman does not celebrate Christmas because he is Jewish. We apologize to Groisman and deeply regret the error.


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