A non-traditional tradition

Ruth McCullagh

Thanksgiving celebrated differently by Indian professor

Swathi Ravichandran, assistant professor of hospitality management, is a vegetarian who will be eating traditional Indian food for Thanksgiving. Ravichandran will be spending time with her friends as well as being a host to an international student over

Credit: Ben Breier

Sophomore visual communication and design major Nicole Parker plans on spending Thanksgiving as she has in years past – at her grandmother’s house eating a traditional turkey-and-all-the-fixings dinner.

Like Parker, assistant professor Swathi Ravichandran is planning a traditional meal for Thanksgiving as well, only hers won’t consist of turkey and gravy.

The hospitality management professor will instead be hosting a traditional Indian dinner at her Kent apartment on a holiday she has only recently started to celebrate.

Ravichandran, who came to the United States in 2000 from her native home in South India, had never experienced Thanksgiving before moving to America.

“I guess we learned about the pilgrims in school, but I really didn’t know too much until I came here,” Ravichandran said.

She said she thought it was interesting how everyone comes together to celebrate the holiday.

“It’s kind of weird that in this country everyone is all spread out,” Ravichandran said. “I grew up with my family all around, including my cousins. For this country, Thanksgiving is a great way for families to get together and catch up.”

India doesn’t celebrate a holiday such as Thanksgiving, but September through mid-November is when most major Indian holidays happen.

“Nov. 2 (Diwali) is a very popular holiday,” Ravichandran said. “It’s as popular as Christmas is here.”

Since Diwali is a national holiday, everyone takes off work and is able to get together.

“We usually have fireworks and people spend time with one another,” Ravichandran said.

As an Iowa State University student working on graduate and doctoral degrees, Ravichandran would spend the Thanksgiving holiday vacation in nearby Minnesota with her sister.

“I came on the condition that I could lounge around,” said Ravichandran, whose birthday falls during the break. “We usually have a traditional Indian meal, but she does all the cooking.”

For this year’s Thanksgiving, Ravichandran won’t be lounging around. Unable to get together with her sister, who has since moved to Texas, she is planning on cooking a traditional Indian meal for friends. One is an Indian student.

“I received an e-mail from the Center for International and Intercultural Education saying they were looking for families to take students to Thanksgiving,” Ravichandran said. “I told them I wasn’t American, didn’t have a family and wasn’t cooking a traditional Thanksgiving meal, but if they knew of someone who was Indian and wanted to come over, I’d be glad to have them.

“I’m planning on taking her (the student) out to an Indian restaurant for one meal. I’ll cook for the other.”

Although the menu is not entirely set, Ravichandran said the entree will be a special type of bread with vegetables called Pav Bhajji.

“The Pav is the bread and the Bhajji is a vegetable medley, Ravichandran explained. “I will probably serve Indian fried rice or some type of rice dish.”

For dessert she is planning on making Kheer, or Indian rice pudding.

Ravichandran gets all of her ingredients at a local Indian food store.

“When I first got here I had no idea where anything was,” Ravichandran said. “I was out walking by my apartment and found another Indian couple who told me where I could find Indian food. Now I go there at least once a week.”

Normally, Ravichandran doesn’t spend much time in the kitchen.

“There are these really great Indian microwavable meals,” Ravichandran said.

The meals are not widely offered in the States, so she gets them in the mail.

“My mom sends me a package of things like that about twice a month,” Ravichandran said with a laugh. “I’m not quite sure why I don’t cook all that often. Indian cooking is very simple once you learn. I suppose if I have time for ‘Friends,’ I probably have time to cook.

“I guess Thanksgiving gives people a reason to cook. It kind of forces you in a way.”

Contact features reporter Ruth McCullagh at [email protected].