Celebrating outdoors with food is a practice enjoyed universally. Favored occasions are national holidays but good weather on any weekend provides the opportunity more often. Picnics in the park, while familiar here, may not be the rule in every country, but dining alfresco in the company of family and friends is a pleasure savored around the world (photo courtesy of Pelican Hill).
In Vietnam, “picnic” is a relatively new concept according to Chef Haley Nguyen, who teaches culinary classes at Saddleback Community College. “Since we have street food vendors throughout the country, there’s little need to bring food to an outing. Communal eating is a norm in Vietnam and eating outside is a form of socialization,” she says. Banh mi, baguette sandwiches, and empanadas make great picnic food. Fruit and finger foods work well too.
Elizabeth An of Anqi in Costa Mesa and Crustacean in Beverly Hills agrees that picnics in the park are not a tradition in Vietnam except at beaches. “Viet New Year’s is a grand celebration where people cook food outside with their families,” she shares. They enjoy playing Vietnamese street games such as rolling dice (Bau Cua Cop), story telling and watching water puppets enact folk stories.
One item that works nicely from the House of An catering menu is the the trio box of Yellowtail Sashimi Wrapped in TiÃŒa toÃŒ’š Leaf (Vietnamese herb with peppery flavor), Shrimp Mousse Filo with Kiwi and Orange Dipping Sauce, and Grilled Eggplant and Asparagus with Wasabi Lime Drizzle. “The presentation is nice and everyone gets a variety,” says Elizabeth with the caveat to keep it chilled until served.
Picnic food looks different in Korea, “Picnics consist of home-made dishes of kimbab (rice and other ingredients rolled in seaweed), banchan (small dishes such as kimchi served with rice), or any easy-to-eat meal rather than barbecue or food that requires cooking immediately before eating,” explains Jenee Kim of Parks BBQ in Los Angeles. Picnics are held in parks, amusement parks, beaches or at concerts, and are viewed as a convenient option in crowded areas no need to waste time in line. “It would not be rare to see a group whip out a ready-made meal while waiting in line for an amusement park ride or during the intermission of a concert.”
Parks BBQ promotes to-go meals. “The best choice for a picnic would have to be our signature Park’s Galbi, short ribs soaked in marinade and seasoning,” suggests Jenee.
In Iran, the 13th day of the New Year, sometime in March, finds almost everyone outside; a tradition based on an old superstition. “13 is an unlucky number they believe the ghosts visit on that day!” says Hal Nabavi, a native Persian and food and beverage director at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. They may barbecue or bring already cooked food from home and warm it up on site. “Persians love family time together. They play music and dance.”
Chef/owner Azmin Ghahreman of Sapphire Pantry adds some details about the New Year’s holiday, “I have fond memories of celebrating the Iranian New Year, called No- Rooz which is symbolic for the first day of spring. The 13th day of the new year is called “Sizdah Bedar” and spent mostly outdoors. I have many memories of roasting skewers and kabobs on an open fire.”
For picnics, Azmin recommends Mezze, small dishes, for sharing or any prepared items that don’t need to be kept warm. “Sapphire Pantry offers iced gel packages upon request. Plain and simple, cool items should stay cool,” he says. Sapphire Pantry has themed baskets to choose from starting at $68 Wine Country, Mediterranean, California Coastal and the Vegetarian along with countless selections from the Pantry (see photo). Generously portioned for two, all baskets include a beverage, sandwiches, dessert, a cheese and fruit plate, and utensils.
Dancing and singing liven picnics in India too, “We really enjoy playing sports like cricket, badminton, soccer and playing cards,” says Executive Chef Shachi Mehra of Tamarind of London in Newport Beach. Being a large country, the locations in India vary, “They could eat at the beach, on a lake, in a national forest or even in an historic fort or palace.”
Picnic foods include Aloo Puri which is a fried bread that is eaten with spiced potatoes or Parathas, which is a type of flat bread that can be stuffed with anything from potatoes to cauliflower, radishes and more, accompanied by pickles. Another popular item is also one of Mehra’s favorites, the Chutney Sandwich a sandwich with mint and cilantro chutney, butter, sliced cucumbers and/or tomatoes, salt and pepper.
From her own menu at Tamarind, Shachi suggests “The Quinoa and Beet salad (see photo)is great for picnics; it can be made ahead of time and travels really well. The Cilantro Chicken salad or Lamb Seekh Kebab wrapped in a naan are other great items.”
Outdoor games like soccer or volleyball fit the bill in Peru. “Peruvian people love to be outdoors with family and friends. We have picnics for birthdays, Mother’s Day, Sundays or just for fun,” says Renzo Macchiavello, Chef/owner of Renzo’s A Taste of Peru in Irvine. His restaurant offers picnic service although they don’t sell a lot. “My menu is full of great homemade sandwiches;” his Sanguche de Chancho (pork with garlic aioli), Sanguche de Carne (roast beef with creamy chimichurri) or Pan con Queso and Hongos (cheese and portobello mushroom) Panini and toasted red pepper sauce, would all be perfect for an impromptu picnic anywhere with a little shade or a lot of sun.
Chef/owner Ricardo Zarate, also from Peru, adds camping at the beach as a favored pastime and picnic setting in Peru; “We go to the beach mostly because our coastline is so extensive. We take chicken sandwiches often because they are easy to make and transport.” At his Los Angeles restaurants Picca and Mo- Chica his food is generally not suitable for take-out; “Maybe the Chicharron de costillas because it’s almost like a pork slider, so it’s easy to pick up and eat. Arroz chaufa de mariscos might be good too, but it’s seafood fried rice, so you would need utensils.”
Venezuelans are bon vivants, enjoying BBQs most weekends accompanied by beer and Johnny Walker Black, the favored brand according to Camelia Coupa. The owner of Coupa CafeÃŒ in Beverly Hills and other locations, sources her coffee and cheeses from farmers in Venezuela where she grew up. “Families gather most weekends for backyard BBQs at someone’s home and everyone participates. It’s 80 degrees all year,” she says. Parks are not used because public areas are not safe, she reports with regret; however beaches call and coolers with sandwiches are the norm.
Arepas are the quintessential Venezuelan sandwich, made with grilled corn cakes filled with ham, cheese, chicken, shredded beef or sweet fried plantains. Camelia warns they get messy but come in paper to catch any loose filling. TaquenÃŒÆ’os, fried white cheese sticks, and maracuchitos, cheese wrapped in a plantain strip, are popular for parties and delicious at any temperature.
Pascal EÃŒpicerie & Wine Shop in Newport Beach has an ideal menu for picnics with lots of French inspired sandwiches and salads created by Chef/owner Pascal Olhats.
The French native stresses a picnic in France happens anywhere and anytime. “Alone, with a date, with family, with friends. We usually like to sit down at picnic tables so we have a place for the glass of wine,” he says. Picnics take place in forests and waterways, on vacation or the side of the road on the way to any destination. A sunny Sunday is all the reason needed. “PaÃŒ’šteÃŒ is a French favorite; then add cheese, curried meat, salad, hard boiled eggs, radishes, cold roasted lamb or beef, rotisserie chicken with fresh mayonnaise and Dijon. We talk first, then sing, then play soccer or “petanque” a French style bocce game.”
“My EÃŒpicerie Pascal is all about packing for a picnic,” Pascal points out. His artfully prepared Le Grand Picnic at $30 per person, is the ultimate gourmet to-go: poached salmon with green beans, chicken breast, lamb loin, cheese, bread and butter and two mini pastries. “We pack everything for take-out so it is easy to carry and convenient. Staff can assemble your choices and make you a package. We are happy to fill your favorite picnic basket if you bring it in too!”
Fresh air enhances the appetite in every language, so try a new food from a place you’ve never been and take it outside.