John Jannuzzi

Put a Non-Traditional Spin on a Traditional Thanksgiving

John Jannuzzi
Put a Non-Traditional Spin on a Traditional Thanksgiving

By Andrew Richdale

Illustration by Levi Hastings

About five years back, I, unattached single dude, started a glorious Thanksgiving tradition that has really stuck. I don’t deep fry a turkey until it’s perfectly crisp. I don’t get a yearly dose of inspiration from a viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life. I don’t trade a night of awkward family interactions for a “Friendsgiving” at home, but I do spend the holiday with at least one loved one. I grab friends who feel like family, GTFO of town, and have a weeklong binge of good times.

The first year I played hookie, I hit Kauai. We got tans. We cruised down natural waterslides. We ate more than our share of flopping fresh fish tacos and it was not in the least bad. Another year, still reeling from a break-up, I wanted to rage. A friend paddling in the same boat and I booked a trip to Berlin. We partied every night, slept all day, and truth be told, didn’t see daylight the whole week. We made lots of new “friends” and memories, a few we both agree never to share with other souls. But something key was missing from my alt-Thanksgiving. Besides a few exceptional 4 a.m. falafel runs, the trip was absent of good food.

Then I made my premiere voyage to Tokyo, what I’d argue is the world’s best place to perform the American tradition of stuffing your face, loosening your belt, rinsing with alcohol, and repeating — and doing it all with style.

Around November, while other Americans opting out of Turkey day at home are flocking to warm-weather destination, flights to Tokyo are trending down. In fact, my first flight over the Pacific only set me back $600 — strange considering Japan is actually best experienced in Fall, when kaleidoscopic leaves blanket the ground and layering season, AKA the most fun season to cover your body with clothes, has arrived.

While it’s not home to a major fashion week, there is perhaps no city in the world more clinically obsessed with style than Tokyo. Locals spread their peacock feathers wide and proud, so you can never be dressed too over the top. A sharp Fair-Isle sweater is just as appropriate for a day of wandering as a velvet tuxedo jacket. The only dress code in town is to look like you give a bit more than a damn.

Once you’ve found your look, eat and make every last bite count. The best part about Tokyo is that it’s actually a challenge to find bad food. Malls even, in fact especially, have great on-the-go meals. Just walk to the basement of any department store to see for yourself. Even 7-11s, stocked with addictive rice balls and almond cookies, are a discerning snacker’s goldmine.

No, there will not be cranberry sauce or mashed potatoes, but there will be crispy pan-fried gyoza with ginger pork and scallions. My first Thanksgiving of two I’ve spent there, I had 25 in one day with no regrets. Go to Saikoro, walk up to the robot waiter, and roll the dice on any of the buttons, labeled in Japanese, for a bowl of rich, truly unforgettable ramen. Take a break for coffee at some point at the wildly stylish cafe Fuglen, which feels like you’ve crashed a Scandinavian remake of Mad Men. Eat late into the night at a quality yakitori, like Tatemichiya, where you can load up on grilled kobe steak and sweet charred garlic while listening to punk rock B-sides and after head to a cocktail sanctuary like Bar Ben Fiddich, where drinks can take up to 15 minutes to make and are worth every second of anticipation.

I could go on and on about the soba and eel tempura and as-good-as-Paris patisseries but let’s not forget the country’s most famous cuisine: melt-in-your-mouth raw fish. For the ultimate substitute Thanksgiving feast, I like to go big and reserve seats at one of the city’s many Michelin-starred sushi restaurants. While you can find OK cheap stuff, the masterfully made morsels are transcendent and worth the $300-plus they’ll cost. Devouring unctuous uni and toro in your most dapper as hell suit, I promise you'll never once think of dried out turkey.