Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Destination Peru #1: Plane Food Manifesto

Taking a cue from Amateur Gourmet's anti-dress code manifesto, I wanted to start off my Peruvian trip series with an attack on plane food. We all know what I'm talking about, the reheated mess that you wouldn't serve in prisons, yet are continued to be served to paying customers.

I've been met with surprise recently as I've been telling my friends that I spent last week in Peru. The most common response usually goes along the lines of "Peru? What are you doing in Peru?" My response is that traveling to Europe right now is prohibitively expensive and the Olympics would crowd out China and Asia. Plus I've never been to South America and I figured I'd make use of those four years of Spanish I took in high school (although living in LA, I'm exposed to Spanish enough). So for those of you who haven't been to Peru, it really is a wonderful country with culture bursting at the seams; and with that, culinary adventures aplenty.

Before I left, I did my research on what Peru had to offer gastronomically. The research pointed to the same things, Andean cuisine, coastal seafood, jungle fruits and a Creole culture of mixed heritage. There was a lot to look forward to; unfortunately, I had to get past the food on the plane.

Pasta with Cream Sauce

I'm slightly ashamed that I was hungry enough to eat most of this pasta, though none of the coleslaw. I did eat the prepackaged bread roll and cookie with gusto however. My issue with plane food is that it tries to be much more than it really is. Admittedly, I did not fly first class, where the food may be better, but I certainly didn't deserve to eat this. Perhaps in-flight meals are a holdover from when flying was a luxury and customers demanded a hot meal. But nowadays, people of all different social strata fly commercially, and being subjected to food like this just turns people off completely.

Unlike hospital food, which has the capacity to be good because of its grounded resources, planes lack proper kitchens or facilities. The so-called galley is only used to store and heat food, not prepare anything. Therefore, airlines need to realize that the resources of the plane are better used elsewhere. Simply put--food on planes should be cold.

Chicken with rice

We all know that reheated food loses much of its appeal. Perhaps this chicken was good in a previous life, but resurrected, it had no chance. The salad was also wilted and subjected to long contact with the dressing, resulting in soggy greens. Steps as simple as serving dressing separately would've vastly improved this meal. I understand that salad alone may not be enough of a meal to some people (me being one of them), but that same mentality can be applied to the main courses as well.

Now that airlines are losing so much money and cutting amenities, they're realizing that the terrible food they serve is just an unnecessary cost. Short domestic flights now sell food a la carte and since they're selling food, they maintain higher quality product. I had a turkey wrap flying from LA to NY on United and it was delicious. I don't understand why they can't apply the same technique to long-distance flights where they are more inclined to serve meals. Instead of giving me a reheated piece of dry meat, give me a sandwich with a side salad. There is enough cold foods that can be prepared cheaply and easily with much better results than a quick heating up in the galley. If anything, planes can boil water pretty efficiently. Flying EVA Airlines to Taiwan, they serve cup ramen as a snack. That's also a better use of plane resources, depending on the type of cup noodle served.

I am tired of being corned in my little airplane seat by a flight attendent handing me a tv dinner. Charge me if you must, but give me something palatable.

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