It’s Always a Good Day for a Picnic in L.A.

Open-air meals are a link to culture as much as an excuse to break out baskets of delicious food

There are those for whom picnic nourishment comes in the form of something as simple as bread, cheese, and a clandestine beverage or two. But open-air meals can be more elaborate affairs (a friend once spied a whole goat on a spit in the depths of Elysian Park). Such colorful spreads are about more than gluttony. Many cultures salute the vernal equinox with ritual outdoor feasts. Dictated by tradition, these alfresco gatherings serve as important ties to the homeland.

On Sizdah Bedar—the last day of Nowruz, the Persian New Year—Iranians the world over leave their homes from dawn until dusk to encourage the fleeing of evil spirits. In years past some 30,000 expats have flocked to Irvine’s William R. Mason Regional Park, hauling coolers of marinated kabobs and herb-flecked omelettes to sustain them throughout the day.

Most L.A.-area parks can’t accommodate stadium-size crowds—we have trouble finding a spot for our blanket between the bounce houses. But wander through a local green space in early March and you’ll find Korean families huddled over bento-like dosiraks, which open to reveal organized collections of marinated fiddlehead fern buds, sushi-like vegetable kimbap, and delicately fried finger foods called jeon. They’re likely celebrating the Samjinnal holiday marking the end of winter—a season that, in Korea, is hard to miss.

If you’ve never been to the annual Alpec de Primavera celebration in Compton’s East Rancho Dominguez Park, you may not know about L.A.’s small but thriving population of Catalonians—folks from the autonomous region of Catalan in northeastern Spain. Each spring enormous pans crisp 50 servings’ worth of paella over roaring fires, filling the air with the scents of saffron and garlic along with memories of Iberia.

Sunlight glints off a small tree strung with diaphanous Indian scarves at a recent Mumbai-Los Angeles Sister City Peace Tree dedication in Griffith Park. Close by, tables are crowded with foil-covered tubs of Indian delicacies: spice-infused basmati rice, onion-laced gobi masala, and creamy carrot halvah. Between bites, revelers reminisce about such daylong happenings back at Nainital hill station and around the lakes at Delhi’s India Gate, when scads of relatives shared multilevel tiffin boxes. Steps from a dirt arena of toddler-strapped ponies, this certainly isn’t India’s capital city. But with the taste of turmeric, a breeze, and the company of kin, anyplace can feel like home.

More Alfresco L.A.