Mole and white rice
Mole and white rice. (Contributed photo.)

Believe it or not, there are options beyond turkey.

Pass the turkey and taters. It’s time for some festive food and fellowship with loved ones and football. Yep, it’s Thanksgiving.

But is the bird synonymous with the holiday found on every table throughout Virginia? Nope! In fact, for some families it’s totally traditional to celebrate Turkey Day without, well, the turkey. That’s because in our commonwealth, we have an incredible mix of cultures. 

The 2020 Census found that 60.3% of Virginians were white—that’s about 5.2 million people. Black or African Americans accounted for 18.6% of the state’s population at 1.6 million people, followed by Hispanic or Latino Americans at 10.5% or 908,000 people. Asian Americans, American Indians, Alaskan Natives, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders were also represented in the census, as were individuals with two or more races. 

With different races and ethnicities come different traditions and types of food.

An Italian Thanksgiving 

Sometimes, traditions mix. That’s how it goes in the Aversano family, who live in the Danville area.

20 years ago, Cristina Aversano’s family opened Ciro’s Pizza. The restaurant serves a robust menu of Italian and American options. Diners can order everything from a plate of spaghetti to a basket of fried chicken tenders for the kids. Subs, pizza, and calzones are also mainstays on the menu. 

On Thanksgiving, the Aversanos bring those delicious recipes home, cooking a traditional Italian meal for the holiday.

“My family comes straight from Italy and I’m the first generation Italian American,” Aversano said. “Obviously in Italy they don’t celebrate our beloved Turkey Day, but we still use that time to come together as a family—us and the owners of other local restaurants, such as Frank’s [Italian Restaurant]—to cook and eat a ton of food.”

On their table, there’s usually spaghetti, lasagna, parmigiana plates, homemade sausage, “and a lot of other things,” Aversano said.

Along with all of the delicious Italian food, there’s also something familiar. Yes, that’s right. The Aversanos also bake a traditional turkey. 

“We spend the day together to eat, laugh, and just take the time to be together as a family since we’re usually always working around the same times,” Aversano said. “It’s a lot of fun!”

A Mexican Meal

Yuri Hernandez said she could go on and on about her family’s traditions. Hernandez’s family moved to the Danville area from Michoacán, Mexico. They brought their delicious culinary talents with them, opening La Guadalupana in 1999. It’s a locally owned taqueria and Mexican store located at 10036 US Hwy 29 in Blairs. 

At home on Thanksgiving, the flavors of Mexico come together for an incredible spread of food. There’s mole—a sauce with up to 32 ingredients and spices often including bananas, peanuts, chocolate, chilies, and toasted tortillas—tamales, and frijoles puercos, a traditional dish from the states of Guerrero and Michoacán made up of refried pinto beans, chorizo, green olives, pickled jalapeños and Mexican cheese, Hernandez said.

The family also makes pozole one way or another; Hernandez explained that pozole is either green or red. Green is made with chicken and red is made with pork. The pozole is seasoned with jalapeños or guajillo chilies, oregano, and hominy.

“The pozole can be eaten with tortillas or tostadas—crunchy tortillas—and toppings include diced jalapeños, chopped cabbage, and radishes,” Hernandez said. 

Hernandez’s mother also makes a non-alcoholic ponche, which Hernandez described as a warm fruit punch made out of guavas, apples, and other fruit.

“We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Mexico, but of course being a Mexican American family and adapting and assimilating with the culture, we bring a variety of our own traditions,” Hernandez said.