Since I’ve been living at the beach there have been a lot of picnics. A lot, a lot. So many picnics. I mean, when I make a meal I have two options, sit at the table in my apartment staring at the wall, or walk 5 minutes and sit on lush grass, under swaying palm trees, watching the waves lap against the shore. It’s not a hard choice.
Also between me and the ocean is a Starbucks, McDonalds, a Thai place, 3 BBQ places, a few milk tea places and about a dozen other restaurants. And a supermarket. So when I’m too lazy to cook I can just swing by one of those places, grab a snack or food and sit on the beach to eat it.
Now that summer is in full tilt, daytime picnics are out of the question. It’s just too hot. The ocean breeze is like the blast of hot air that comes out of your oven, and no amount of palm trees can keep you cool. But nighttime is manageable and every weekend includes at least one nighttime picnic with either dinner or cold drinks while looking at the ocean and the stars. (Okay, ‘star’ as I’m sill in a huge city with lots of light pollution.)
So I’ve been experimenting with picnic food. Obviously the best foods are the most classic western food: sandwiches, homemade salads (Azhi has really gotten to like potato salad, I’m a fan of the tomato cucumber one), cut up fruit. But those are more homemade things (expect for the cut up fruit, very cheap and easy to buy here) and like I said I’m kinda lazy.
So I have been trying a lot of different foods from the local places to see how “picnic suitable” they are. Across the bridge noodles, a type of noodle soup, was yummy but messy. You slurp up the noodles and the liquid kinda goes everywhere. Also I don’t like to just drink the soup when the noodles are gone so you have this big to-go container half filled with soup that is just an accident waiting to happen.
BBQ is good. The meat and veggies are cooked on wooden skewers so it’s easy to bring and eat. But it also gets cold really quickly, especially if there is wind, so the second half of the meal is never as good as the first.
More typical chinese dishes, like rice or noodles dishes are good, and simple to eat as all you need are chopsticks, but it just feels a little heavy to be suitable picnic food. You want to be satiated after a picnic, but not so full you can’t move.
I wasn’t finding any real satisfactory local food suitable for a picnic.
But the other night, as Azhi and I were just sitting at the beach after sunset, him drinking a beer, me a milk tea, a group plopped down next to us and broke out their dinner. We immediately recognized it for genius picnic food it was, and next weekend we had our own spread. That meal? Peking Duck.
If you’ve never had Peking duck, let me explain. The ducks are roasted in an oven and the breast meat is thinly and delicately cut into small slices. (Carving a duck is an ancient skill that chefs can spend years mastering.) To eat the duck meat you put it in a small, thin pancake. You then add a few slices of cucumber and spring onion (already cut into perfect sized portions) add a little sauce to the pancake, roll it up like a burrito and you’re good to go.
The reason it is such a good picnic food is because everything comes neatly in little to go boxes, and you make the pancakes in your hand, so you don’t need dishes or any utensils besides one pair of chopsticks for the group. Beijing duck is salty and oily, but the fresh, raw cucumber and spring onion balances out and gives it a fresh feeling. Duck, like chicken, is also delicious cold or hot, so you don’t have to worry about eating quick before it cools.
Each pancake is only one or two bites, and it’s a fun little activity to actually make each pancake, instead of just shoving food in your mouth without a break.
It’s picnic perfect!
So I am officially declaring Peking Duck the best chinese picnic food, though I will not rest on it’s laurels. I will continue to brave the wide range of food from all over the world in search of perfectly suitable picnic foods. It’s a tough job, but that’s the price of living life at the beach.