To me, nothing beats sitting on a small plastic stool, in the sticky heat of Bangkok, amongst the traffic with a hawker meal in front of me. There is a certain feeling of being part of a city, of being a “temporary local” when you can eat amongst it rather than behind it, under or over it. As they say, eating at a street stall or market is often the closest thing to eating at a local’s family home. It really is an attractive way to eat, drink and mingle.
We have met poets in Alexandria over Sheesha and tea, joined in cheering on the local team over coffee and nuts in Dahab & we have been invited to a wedding after striking up a conversation at a streetside cafe in Morocco.
Back at home, we really have little to no chance in experiencing such culinary comradery with fellow diners. Unfortunately, if there is any intermingling to be done, it is often over copious amounts of booze.
Would it be too much to ask for a setting of plastic chairs on the sand with the Aussies paying cricket on an old television while you sip your coffee and nibble on some nuts? Sounds fantastic but we can forget it. Health and Safety would come down on the proprietor like a tonne of bricks. Someone might fall over or trip over one of the leads!
A succession of stalls every Saturday night in the summer, with plastic tables & chairs amongst the moonlight. Nope, no way. Perhaps a couple of special times a year but only subject to council approval & at a hefty cost to the stallholder.
Even in Europe, you can leave the house at 10pm and have no trouble finding somewhere to have a coffee with some friends. Unfortunately, come summer in Sydney, it seems beer is the only beverage you can get your hands on post-10pm.
Granted, there are some nice places in Australia you can eat and drink outside, amongst the city lights or the light of the moon. However, the mid and far east seem to have it down pat. It doesn’t cost much, it doesn’t always include boozing up and it is safe.
Some excellent places in the east and mid east we have experienced ‘rustic’ outdoor dining:
* Southeast Asia (we particularly love Bangkok, Ipoh & Penang at night)
* Alexandria, Egypt
* Syria in the summer time particularly along the coast
In short, give me a set of plastic chopsticks and a sand castle bucket of ice over Royal Doulton any day!