There is an allure to dining outdoors; the accouterments of a meal laid out underneath the trees or stars, and beside you, a book, a view, your friends, or your lover.
I believe that many of us don’t spend enough time outdoors. Locked in our homes, our offices, scurrying away from the sun, seeking artificial comfort in air conditioning, forgetting the sweet thrill of the sun on our backs, the wind in our hair. Not that I blame anyone: dining outdoors comes with a fair amount of potential discomfort. Insects, for one. Too much sun or too much wind. The unexpected arrival of rain, aggressive animals, or overly enthusiastic frisbee players.
My outdoor eating experiences are vastly polarized. I remember sitting on the steps of my uncle’s hog farm in Cabuyao, Laguna, a plate of lechon and rice balanced on my knees, a bottle of Coke beside me, my hands engaged in an intricate choreography of picking apart the lechon, pushing it onto my spoon with just the right amount of rice and sarsa, then raising said spoon to my mouth, all the while, a. keeping my plate balanced, b. making sure I don’t knock over my soft drink bottle, and c. shooing what seemed like a massive swarm of flies away from my food, drink, and mouth. The same thing happened at the beach, except this time, there was the added challenge of keeping from eating sand. Stressful situations, to say the least, and ones that put me off outdoor eating and country living for a long time.
But then a strange thing happened.
The older I got, the more I grew in love with the idea of supping outdoors. I’m not sure when it started, but I suddenly found myself yearning for balconies to dine from, sip coffee from, eat dessert from, watch the world from. Nowadays, my heart skips a beat whenever I find out that the place I’m about to eat at has an outdoor area, then begins to beat faster when I realize that I can take my meal there. I often do this alone: not many people would voluntarily sit outside in the heat and pollution of Manila, something I do not blame them for. In fact, it’s become one of the allures of sitting outside–everyone else is indoors, so I essentially have the place to myself. It’s usually quiet enough so that I can enjoy my coffee in peace while I read, write, work on my scrapbook, or people watch.
There’s a place in Makati that my then significant other and I liked to frequent. Located on the third floor of a modern building, the restaurant served good food, and had an outdoor dining area with a view of the city, where we could dine and hold hands in relative privacy. It was our spot, and on a good night, we had no people to watch except each other.
I also enjoy eating al fresco at turo-turos, those makeshift cafeterias whose viands are always suspect, but most of the time, delicious. Not very glamorous, I know, but possessing a certain draw nonetheless. The jostling to find a spot among other eaters, the seriousness of picking the dish that best suits your mood, and the fervent hoping against hope that they serve free soup. Fortunately, most turo-turos do, which is more than I can say for upscale places. And if there happen to be flies, well, at least there’s someone there to shoo them away for you.
There’s a place that I like to eat in near my office, a garage-turned-turo-turo that comes alive on Thursdays, when the nearby church celebrates its patron saint’s feast day, laying out a feast of favorites that includes binagoongan and Bicol express for my friends, and stewed crab meat for me. The owner has come to recognize us, makes sure that we always have soup, not minding (and I suspect, actually liking it) when I ask for seconds. The place may be warm and full of people and the food may be the same, but it is always clean, and there is a comfort in feasting on the familiar, especially when you are partaking of it with friends.
Given the choice, I will pick dining al fresco over eating indoors. To be able to dine leisurely outdoors, I feel, is to be able to give oneself the gift of time and and space; to be able to savor the moment, even as you relish every sip of liquid, every crumb that touches your tongue. There may be times when the sun will be too hot; the flies, too many; or the crowd, too much. Those hazards are worth it, because nothing sings to the soul as much as the great outdoors, and there are few things better than heeding its call with a warm or cool drink or a satisfying meal laid out underneath the trees or stars, and beside you, a book, a view, your friends, and if you are lucky enough, your lover.
This essay first appeared in Sans Rival, Rustan’s Supermarket’s in-house magazine.