Our Pilau Picnics

Ah, the great British picnic.

Tuesday, 03 June 2014

Our Pilau Picnics

Chaps in striped blazers. The picnic table, the gingham tablecloth, the hamper with knives and forks, proper glasses and cotton napkins. Sandwiches cut into triangles, mustard in silver pots with tiny spoons and the Charleston playing on a wind-up gramophone.

Sounds lovely... and soooo different from the 1980s homemade picnics I grew with.

Any family day out for us centred around the food we were going to eat when we got there. We would never, ever eat out in a café or grab a bite from a fast food place, partly because of the cost and secondly because my mum didn't trust anything she hadn't cooked herself. Apart from a Mr Whippy ice-cream now and again. We all liked one of them.

I have so many memories of my mum preparing the food a least a day before and getting up early on the day to cook the Aloo Parantha (fried roti stuffed with spiced potatoes), which was standard picnic grub for us as pork pies were for everyone else.

We'd then pile into the Austin Maxi (no seatbelts in the back for us kids) with all the food in the boot, plus a snack bag 'just in case'. It was like we were going on a five-year trek to the Land That Time Forgot and had to pack enough to keep us going and cover any nights where we had to entertain the locals.

I'm sure we could have only have been in the car for about five minutes before my mum would ask if anyone was hungry. And yes, we were always hungry so the first round of Pakora;(vegetable bhaji) would come out, warm and spicy and delicious. By the time we arrived at the safari park, seaside or where ever we were going you could bet it would be time to eat. So we would find a nice spot to sit on the old woollen blanket and out would come picnic heaven. Usually wrapped in carrier bags, there were Tupperware boxes filled with rice dishes, thermos flasks full of hot dhal, tea towels enclosing foil packages of Samosas; complete with chutneys, fried breads and marinated chicken tikka pieces.

There were no knives and forks (maybe a flimsy plastic spoon if we were lucky) as paper plates and crunchy plastic cups were all the rage. We always finished off a bottle of fizzy pop, and some Barfi or my uncle's homemade shortbread.

I loved those times we had growing up together. But I do remember being so self-conscious about eating all this Indian food and worrying that other families were all looking and laughing at us and yes, sometimes they did (this was 20-odd years ago, remember). I'd always ask my mum why we couldn't just eat sandwiches like everyone else, so sometimes we'd have sarnies stuffed with masala-spiced fillings (Coronation Chicken? Pah!).

I'm glad that our rough and ready picnics back then were so much fun, and I try to replicate them with our kids today with the food and the drink and even the Tupperware... but I do stop at the Maxi.

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