“No Outside Food Allowed,” was emblazoned on the flyer. I was in the back seat when I popped my head between the two front seats to take a quick a peek at what the parking attendant was so eager to hand us. “We don’t have to worry about that,” I thought to myself. My two Filipino friends already had our hearts set on the proverbial wine pairing of cheese and crackers, minus the wine. It was the second day of our weekend trip to Napa when we decided that a picnic at the ever popular and crowded V. Sattui Winery would be the best way to spend the day.
As we entered the grounds, a stone path lead up to the main plaza where a circular water fountain stood at the center. On one side of the path, smoke from the vendors grilling meat wafted in my direction. The smell was tempting but I did not want a food coma so I quickly made my way into the deli. I perused the cheese section and picked up a brie and some chips before dipping a few pretzel sticks into samples of cheese and mustard dips. My friends and I gathered at the register to survey the haul. We were ready for our picnic.
All the picnic tables outside were occupied but we luckily swooped in and grabbed an empty bench with a wooden slab for a table. I started unwrapping the brie and placed it almost in the center. Then one friend placed her dip to the left of the brie and then the other friend placed the crackers opposite of the dip in a ninety degree angle. We whipped our phones out and snapped a few pictures and then we finally ate. I took a fork and sliced a piece of cheese, placed it on a cracker and took a bite.
After a few minutes of devouring half a brie, I sat back and tilted my head slightly to the right as I slowly went into a daze. After a few minutes, the foreground slowly took shape as I noticed what looked to be a Filipino family, complete with uncles, aunties, and cousins occupying the picnic table ahead of us. Another one of the uncles was scurrying to the table, placing a wrapped up sandwich next to a tub of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
“I think they’re Filipino,” I said with a semi certain voice.
My friends nodded in agreement, “yeah, I think so too.”
“I’m trying to listen to what they’re saying but they’re too far. I think it’s Tagalog,” one friend said.
“I’ll take a closer look,” I announced and then grabbed the empty cheese wrapper and a crumpled up napkin. I nonchalantly walked over to the wine barrel trash bin next to the family. I quickly glanced at the contents of their table as I flung the trash into the bin. I then proceeded back to my seat and with a confident nod I declared, “Yup, they’re Filipino. There’s corn beef and rice”.
My friends giggled in agreement.
“It’s all in tupperware and they’re all in plastic bags,” I added.
I started to recall my childhood of long road trips with my family up and down California. “I remember when I was a kid my family would take long road trips. They’d cook like, tocino, and tapa, and cook rice the day before we’d leave. And, everything would be in tupperware and we’d bring the whole rice cooker,” I exclaimed.
Images of me in the middle row passenger seat of our minivan started to emerge. My mom would get up from the front passenger seat, crouched with her head ducked, her right hand clutching the driver seat for balance, as she angled her way to the middle of the minivan where our ‘baon’ (packed lunch) was neatly stacked in tupperware. I watched her as she attempted to assemble a plate of rice and tapa. She would first unknot a plastic bag and take out a plastic fork, spoon and paper plate and then shovel a clump of rice from the rice cooker (yes we even brought a rice cooker) onto the plate. A few pieces of tapa on top and then the finisher, splashes of vinegar and chopped onions that were kept in a sandwich bag with a rubber band keeping it shut. She would then plop herself back onto her seat and then tried to feed my dad a spoonful of rice and ulam while he was driving.
“See, mayron tayong kinakain (we have something to eat),” my mom would say.
As a child, I didn’t understand why they would go to all that trouble. I always thought it would be easier to eat something quick at one of the fast food chains that dotted the highway. I suppose that, aside from saving money, it was something familiar to them. A scoop of rice and ‘ulam’ (main dish) would be ‘masustansya’ (nutritious), for the long drive. Now, I don’t see them making the same effort like they used to when they were younger.
“I don’t have energy for that,” one of my friends said.
“Me neither,” the other added.
“Yeah, that’s too much effort,” I said.
I scooped another bite of chips and cheese and thought “I think I’m fine with cheese and crackers.”