Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Food for Thought: A Picnicker's Delight by Lindsey Huster

After a lingering season of freezing and wintry indoor-enclosed activities, Seoul has finally shifted into a pleasant (but brief) time of sunny and mild weather, a time often prescribed by the calendar as spring. Such months palliate the seasonal senses and provide ample time for joyous outdoor eating experience of picnicking.

Picnics have become a cultural touchstone that most Koreans- regardless of income or geographic location- seek out in this seasonal time of felicity. In Korea, picnics are a form of leisure, usually allocated for especially sunny weekends.

Ideally, picnicking season begins prior to the too hot, too humid (too everything) season. Early April through mid-May provide ideal months to bask in the warm sunlight and fresh air.

Although it is believed that picnics were once moveable outdoor feasts enjoyed only by the elite, now they are enjoyed world-wide eaters. Traces of the word picnic can be found in print as early as 1748, referencing a "pleasure party" where people share food and provisions under the sun.

Even now, outdoor eating arenas can be found in every reach of the globe. In the year 2000, a 600-mile-long picnic took place from coast to coast in France to celebrate the first Bastille Day of the new Millennium. In a similar fashion, many Americans celebrate their independence day (July 4) with an outdoor picnic at a park or beach. Swiss National Day, also in the summer, is often celebrated with a variety of outdoor activities, most notably with the gingham blankets and baskets associated with such picnicking moments.

Although there are a group in the Korean picnicking bunch who opt for sandwiches and salads, most Korean picnickers prefer to bring a few rolls of varied kimbap (rice rolls), and a smorgasbord of banchan (side dishes) housed in quaint Tupperware. Each bowl creates a spread much to the liking of the traditional sikdang (restaurant). Along with a variety of kimchi and other pickled vegetables, a few salads can be found dressing the blankets and neighboring tents. Additionally, once can see a few bowls of stir-fried vegetables usually to the liking of Bokkeum (stirfry).

For the non-packers of the bunch, most sought after picnic destinations have a convenient store or food tents within walking proximity. Additionally, many languid picnickers prefer to have the food come to them via delivery service and scooter.

Many of the Korean parks provide opportunities for a noteworthy outdoor dining experience. Along the Han River at Hangang River Park, one can enjoy tandem biking (or solo if preferred), along with a few exercise-track moments. Not too far from the river is Olympic Park, which is located on a 1.419 sq. meter site centering on Mongchon Fortress. Alongside the facilities used for the 1988 Olympics are also hilly terrain that display artwork, and enclose a few museums. Seoul Forest is another great place to picnic, which provide a waterside cafeteria and a forest path to meander in mid-bite. Children's Grand Park offers a palpable alternative for groups with kids. In addition to plenty of greenery, the park houses a zoo, a botanical garden and an amusement park.

Regardless of the locale, take advantage of this brief but burgeoning time- amidst of Korean company- to relish in this seasonal utopia.

Lindsey Huster is a writer who usually hails from Chicago. She enjoys listening to music,wearing cardigans and generally anything vegetarian. Send her an e-mail here: Lindsey Huster