Food for flight

But where do you take off to when the cuisine in question is what is served up in the air?

sureshmenon

Suresh Menon | March 21, 2011



Airline food. No two words cause such a sharp intake of breath and competitive storytelling as these two. In ‘Remembrance of Things Past’, it is a piece of cake that opens the floodgates of memory; the aeroplane had been invented in the author Marcel Proust’s time, but there is no record of his having taken a transatlantic trip on an airliner which serves six different types of food, all tasting the same, and all leaving the same mark on your clothes. Proust stayed almost all his life in a cork-lined room, lucky man. No flights, no airline food for him.

Had flights existed in the time of Socrates, they wouldn’t have spent so much time and money procuring hemlock for him to drink. Airline food would have had the same effect. The only people for whom airline food is staple diet are stand-up comedians. According to one survey, 89 percent of all comics survive on airline food jokes in their routine. By talking about airline food, they thus put real food on their table.

How do you prepare for airline food? There is no foolproof method, although drinking alcohol to excess and passing out before a flight is known to be an antidote (in advance). For security reasons you cannot carry your own food aboard, but you can coat the outside of your hand bag in a pancake and pretend you are Lady Gaga. Wearing foodstuff as clothing is not new, and how long before someone carries the act to its logical conclusion by taking it on board. You walk in fully clothed and walk out dangerously undressed, but there are compensations.

Food is best identified by geography – hence Indian, Chinese, French, Italian and more. ‘Up in the air’ may not be a specific geographical location, but it has a distinct food type. Perhaps that also explains why everything tastes the same. “This tastes like airline food,” is the biggest insult a party hostess can receive.

“Let’s have some airline food,” conversely, is seen as an invitation to chew cardboard and chalk and wash it down with turpentine.

What is it with airline food? First of all, it seems to be made for toy people. Who else can partake of such tiny toasts, tinier pancakes and small somethings (I couldn’t identify them on a recent flight, and neither could the steward leading to an informal ‘name the thingamajig’ competition among the passengers)? Even fake lunches and dinners that accompany doll’s houses are bigger and look healthier. Taste better too, maybe.

Miniature palmtops and miniature backscratchers are fine. But miniature food makes no sense because we do not have miniature stomachs.

The coffee is a powder pre-mixed with milk, sugar, flavour, colour, texture, aroma and all you had to do is pour it into 180ml of boiling water thoughtfully supplied by the airline. The next step will be even simpler. The pre-mix will be poured directly into the hand wash basin without having to go through the formality of being ingested by the passenger and then vomited by him. Untouched by human hand, as an ad-line used to say of another product years ago.

Coffee and tea are usually served just before the aircraft hits turbulence, another thoughtful gesture which will enable your near and dear ones at home to check out just what you had for dinner since most of it is bound to attach itself fondly to your new suit.

“Oh no! Miniature masala dosas again?” my son sympathised once on my return. “Why don’t you wear a miniature shirt to counter the effect?” Ah well! A stand-up at home. Just what a father needs after fending off dinner on a flight.

Douglas Adams has written somewhere that no one has ever written an ode to an airport. Similarly, no one has written a sonnet on airline food either. OK, so no one has written a haiku on cat poo, but let us not get distracted here. We are talking about airline food.

Soon, I suspect, airline food will go the airline coffee way. You will be served little sachets of pre-mixed powders. You can order chicken a la Kiev or caviar or baked potato, and you will be given these sachets which you cut and pour into 180ml of boiling water. Or you could, to save time and effort, take these sachets and flush them down the toilet, thus eliminating the middle man.

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