The perils of inflight dining
Like kissing your brother with tongue at the Academy Awards (oh Angie, you scandalous hussy, you!), praising airline meals—whatever your private predilections—is just not done. In fact, rubbishing in-flight food is now such an established ritual amongst frequent travellers that it has become an integral part of the mandatory niceties that are exchanged upon arrival: "the flight was not too bumpy, and drinks flowed thanks to some hot hostesses, but the food tasted like overworked play dough, as usual".
Does airline food really deserve the revulsion with which we accord it? Is it truly as execrable as we like to make it out to be? For those more privileged amongst us who routinely squander the value of a motorbike on a plane ticket, the rarefied cuisine at the front of the bus is guaranteed to be, if not absolutely satisfying, then at least served on quality bone china with good silver and a winning smile. Many major airlines have jumped onto the celebrity chef bandwagon and now tout big ticket names on their culinary panels. Cathay Pacific boasts Daniel Green's cuisine on its first and business classes, and their "high quality, low carbohydrate" dishes include a spicy Thai vegetable curry served in a pumpkin, seared ahi tuna with sesame soy ginger vinaigrette, and gnocchi with basil and sun-dried tomato sauce. Down Under at Qantas, Neil Perry has been resident celeb chef for two decades and counting, and his hands-on role in meal development for all classes and the lounge has ensured Qantas a deserved reputation as one of the airlines which serves more palatable food.
Because I fly regularly, sometimes in business class and other times enduring the myriad misfortunes of economy, I know with the certainty of truth that the plastic-encased all-in-one meals of sardine-packed cattle class, whilst never quite inedible, nevertheless leaves you bereft of soul and depressed that you got duped into wasting stomach space eating it in the first place. True, it will give you something about which to complain when you arrive, but why go there in the first place? Several tacit rules, if religiously adhered to, will make your gastronomic voyage infinitely more appealing, and one of those is to eschew seafood in economy class. Does the squid in the seafood salad taste like old earlobes? That's because it hasn't seen the ocean in an eternity. Avoid, avoid, avoid! Other rules include never ordering western food on an Asian airline and vice versa. Have you ever consumed an omelette on Malaysian Airlines that didn't resemble an old foam mattress? Do you have the right to be indignant when you order vindaloo on Air France and it tastes like last week's dog food? If you, like me, are particularly fastidious and know your chances of being upgraded are slimmer than Twiggy, then a little pre-flight preparation can go a long way towards ensuring some measure of on-board culinary satiation. A little Tupperware with individual compartments housing quality cracked black pepper, fleur de sel, and Italian herbs (or fried shallots, fried garlic, and crispy chilli paste, if you're flying Asian) yields great mileage in turning a meal from zero to hero whilst concurrently earning you the envy of your neighbouring passengers. Alternately, eschew in-flight food altogether and pack your own gourmet bento to go.
Fortuitously, thanks to increasingly discerning consumer tastes and a shrinking world, airlines are under huge pressure to pony up better services. And with smaller airlines like Sweden's Kullaflyg paving the way—their economy class meals are all organic, locally sourced and cooked on the day of departure!—the flying public should reasonably anticipate, and demand for, tastier times in the air.