Monday, September 26, 2016

Up in the Air

People can be so judgemental these days. So, you are not allowed to judge me for what I’m about to say. Which is that I love airplane food. Always have, and all things being equal, always will.
            I don’t know what it is about eating at 30,000 feet. They say your tastebuds are dulled at that height which may mean you’re a lot less fussy about what you put in your mouth. But to that, I just say, add more salt.
I remember taking my first flight as a five year old to Penang from Singapore. Quite apart from the absolute novelty of flying through clouds for the first time, I was beside myself when the air stewardess strolled down the alley handing out white melamine trays wrapped with cling film. I turned to my mother. “There’s food?”
Mother sniffed. “Not like the kind Ma Jie cooks for us at home.”
Very reluctantly, she unwrapped the cling film and set before me a neat geometric row of tiny white triangular sandwiches with their crusts cut off. I even remember the fillings of pink sardines and onions, and cucumber and ham.
It was delicious and, to Mother’s horror, I was instantly smitten. And ever since, on every flight, I’ve looked forward to the arrival of the food trolley.
The minute I settle into my seat, I pick up the menu and begin reading it from cover to cover. Including the Malay, French and Japanese translations, because you never know what hidden dietary gems are hidden in between the tagliatelle with wild mushrooms and the mango pudding.
Like the time I was on a flight from London to Tokyo and the lunch menu featured “stroked salmon” which got me very excited. I had mental images of a team of dedicated fishermen stationed by the wild rivers of Tasmania, reaching out and lovingly stroking fat salmon as they leapt up-stream. Kind of like an aqua-version of the pampering that goes into Kobe beef. Imagine my disappointment when the stewardess apologized for the typo on the smoked salmon.
“Oh, I love airplane food, too!” Amanda said the other day.
Saffy’s bosom inflated provocatively. “Of course you would,” she huffed. “You’re sitting in Satay Class!”
“On some sectors, they even have soya bean drinks!” Amanda’s eyes glowed at her good gastronomic fortune.
Sharyn squinted owlishly at Amanda. “Hah? You pay eight tau-sand dollar for business class and they give you one dollar fifty dau zhui, ah? You sure or not?”
Amanda turned pink and gathered herself against this onslaught of heartland pragmatism and sensible frugality. “It’s all about the experience, Sharyn!”
“You want es-perience, you come to my house, I make dau zhui for you. My mah-dur recipe. Confirm better than SQ, one!”
Of course, just about every article these days tells you to eat very sparingly while flying. Which is all very well if you’re fully occupied and pampered by adoring stewardesses and sitting way up in Business and First where I’m sure they have live concerts or, at the very least, hot stone massages. I suspect this is why they always draw the curtains during the flight. If people in Economy knew that Adele was singing in First, there’d be a stampede to the front and the plane would tilt.
My point is: if you’re languishing in Economy, there’s not a lot happening. It may be cheap, but it’s also a bit boring. And when I’m bored – again, you’re not allowed to judge – I eat.
Sure, I could make my own badly cooked rice and curry chicken that’s covered with multicoloured tinfoil in my own kitchen, and follow that with lumpy dessert. But where’s the fun in that?
And besides, the best thing is that these days so many top-notch chefs are being recruited to create tempting aero-menus. My sister recently flew to Japan on Singapore Airlines just so she could eat celeb chef Shermay Lee’s Peranakan nosh. Yes, it runs in the family.
All which makes for a happier passenger. If you ask me, hungry passengers are liable to get up to all sorts of mischief like sneak into the Business Class toilet and splash on the Hermés eau de cologne.
So my advice is this: the next time the nice stewardess comes along pushing the food trolley, go the whole hog and choose the tough chewy beef with mushroom sauce. Skip the salad and the vegetarian option. This is not the time to be going on a diet. Because the alternative is trying to sleep, or watch Star Wars on a screen that’s smaller than your phone.
That or wondering if you’re going mental because you’re convinced you hear Adele singing behind that blue curtain. Or so rumour has it.

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