To me, there is nothing more enjoyable than a summer day spent at the beach. The beach is one of the few places in the world that you can thoroughly enjoy for free, just nature and a setting that brings people together. The beach makes people hit pause on their typical routines. It gives us a chance to enjoy the sun, the sand, the ocean, and one another’s company: so simple and so perfect.
My love of the beach is deeply rooted in tradition, family time, and rare moments of pure joy. Growing up in the suburbs of Maryland, my family would trek three hours to the Delaware beaches every single summer. We’d spend each precious day soaking up the sun, luxuriating in the sand, and swimming in the salty ocean water. Besides all of the obvious perks that Mother Nature offered us during these beach days, beach food was equally as important. For us that meant picking up some boardwalk fries seasoned with Old Bay and malt vinegar, or a funnel cake covered in powdered sugar. What is more enjoyable than lying atop the sand with salty beach hair and sun-kissed skin, surrounded by family and friends, eating some good food and enjoying a refreshing drink? Nothing, if you ask me.
I still believe that. Now, as an adult who lives only 15 minutes away from the beach in Florida, I try not to ever take the luxury of its proximity for granted. To soak up all that this sunny season has to offer, my boyfriend, Arash, our friends, and I often spend our Saturdays at the beach—or sometimes it’s just the two of us. But either way, on these days I like to bring food to the beach that is a little more dynamic, healthful, and substantial than the boardwalk offerings I loved as a kid. We pack picnics of fresh food (and drink) to indulge in while breathing the salty ocean air with our toes in the sand. After all, the core of what makes beach days incomparable is the same: good friends taking some time to relax and enjoy each other’s company.
Having had endless practice, I’d like to fancy myself a beach picnic expert at this point. Packing a proper beach picnic is a learned art. Between the sand, the marauding seagulls, gusts of wind blowing sand into the food, and the sudden arrival of a typical 15 minute south Florida thunderstorm, plenty of factors threaten a perfect picnic. For the best experience one must plan to come prepared. The setup plan is almost as important as the food itself.
To enjoy a casual picnic, all you truly need is a blanket and your food. But when we decide to go all out and get a little fancy, I like to bring a huge blanket or two, a plethora of pillows, and a makeshift tabletop. It might seem like overkill, but for us the tabletop is something of a necessity, because where else would we place our glasses of sangria? I made a portable tabletop out of a recycled pallet and it really does the trick. It’s not too heavy and it makes for a nicely sized, easily portable flat surface for picnicking.
One shouldn’t just pack any type of food for a day at the beach. Easily portable food is key, nothing that requires a knife and fork (because who wants to bother), and most important, nothing that can’t be enjoyed with some sandy hands. That’s why tacos are a good choice. They’re self-contained, delicious, and versatile. Fish tacos and fresh fruit–infused sangria are my favorites for a beach picnic, and this dynamic duo is never a bad idea.
Whether breaded and fried, baked, blackened, or grilled, fish in a taco is always summery and satisfying. The combination of flakey fish with bold spicy flavors and a tart creamy sauce all brought together inside of a tortilla is mouthwatering, but not heavy. I top my fish tacos with a cilantro jalapeño yogurt sauce based on one my dad made when I was growing up. It makes a great accompaniment to simply cooked marinated fish because the cooling properties of yogurt balance the heat from the jalapeños. I like to serve these fish tacos with basil lemon blackberry sangria, combining crisp white wine with the delicate aromatics of basil, the juicy sweetness of blackberries, and the irreplaceable tartness of lemon slices.
Because more tacos are always the right idea, and not everyone eats fish, I toss spicy chipotle cauliflower in a creamy Sriracha lime mayonnaise for seriously good vegetarian tacos. Cauliflower works well as a taco filling because, when roasted, it maintains a heartiness and a bite to it that makes for a satisfying mouthful. The only addition that improves this taco experience is refreshing watermelon cucumber rosé sangria.
I assemble the tacos at home and then individually wrap them up in either aluminum foil or parchment paper and throw them in the picnic basket. Napkins are a must, as these tacos get messy in the best way possible, and I always try and remember to bring a container of a few lime wedges to squeeze over each taco right before you take your first bite.
Because no spread of tacos is complete without a side of guacamole, I dress up the classic with the addition of charred poblanos and roasted corn. Just before heading down to the beach I add to the basket a jar of bright pink pickled radishes and red onion, another zingy taco topping, and we’re ready to hit the sand. Tacos, sangria, chips, and guacamole, all enjoyed with someone I love while gazing out at a clear blue ocean? This is what summer is all about.
Photos by Nicholas Gang