Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Culinary Lamentations of a Travelling Untouchable

Boy: "I didn't eat what they gave me."

Hannibal Lector: "Nor should you have. It's not even food, as I understand the definition. Which is why I always travel with my own."

Let me perfectly clear about this: I have never flown anything but economy class in my entire life. Yes, I have phantasies of being upgraded to Business or First Class - and I sometimes go one step further and dream about being able to actually afford a first-class ticket outright - but my regular place on any airplane is among the Great Unwashed. Usually in front of a screaming infant or directly behind someone for whom the simplest of directives, like "place your seat in an upright position", has no meaning. Especially while I try to eat. In fact, among the castes of air travellers who dart about this planet, it would be safe to say that I am an Untouchable so, not surprisingly, most of the meals that I have been served on said planet's airlines have reflected my lowly karmic station. In a word, dreck. Yes, I have eaten lots of dreck and paid lots of money for the privilege.

Now I have had a few decent (dare I say 'tasty'?) meals during my travels - Alitalia and British Airways quickly come to mind - but there have been some real dogs in the mix, with Sudan Airways and Egypt Air vying for the dubious award of Worst Airline Swill. Both previously tied for the Most Creative Misrepresentation Presentation of Mystery Meat Award.

Now, with Mr. Cat in Rabat joining me in one week, it behooved me to offer him a culinary warning as he too is flying Royal Air Maroc who (good news) offers a vegetarian meal. But then I thought, "the lucky bastard is flying out of Montreal not Casa", so what's there to warn him about? Now regular readers of this humble blog know that Mr. Cat & I are both vegetarians and we therefore have to order special meals when we travel. Generally our meals suck. Suck more than regular meals, if possible. It is indeed a curious thing that the absence of meat as a main ingredient should confound all but the most clever of chefs - none of whom work for the airline catering industry.

Consider the actual (bad news) vegetarian meal I received on the Casa-Montreal leg of my return flight, a flight, I might add, which cost 10,313 dirhams (or approximately $1,325.00 Canadian):

Salad: half a cucumber slice & 1 tomato wedge served on a bed of cold and overcooked green beans, carrots & peas,
Vegetable side dish: overcooked peas,
Entrée: 1 braised mushroom (whole), I carrot stick, 1 yet-to-be-identified white vegetable stick (with the texture of sugar cane) on a bed of overcooked peas.

A ton of protein in that, eh? Did I also mention that I hate peas? - well, that's not the airline's fault but still, it was pea-overkill.

On my return flight, out of Montreal, I received:

Salad: boiled baby potatoes dressed in a vinaigrette dressing,
Vegetable Side Dish: Steamed green beans,
Entrée: broiled teriyaki tofu on a bed of jasmine rice and steamed green beans.

Yes, I know that generally an airline's "cuisine" is only as good as the airport (or more accurately its catering company) out of which it flies but it annoys me that there can be such an appreciative difference between airports. Of course, what really annoys me is that Mr. Cat in Rabat will be spared the pea-a-palooza which I had to suffer though. I am decidedly a bad wife.

There is an urban myth that ordering a special meal (vegetarian, low cholesterol, gluten-free, or religious/ethnic) will guarantee you a decent feed. Not so! This myth, I believe, is based on the assumption that the meal will be fresher and not mass-produced like the other 218 dishes on board. Not so I say again! In my mind, the only advantage of ordering a special meal is that you'll be served first, which leads to a bit of an inflight-etiquette-dilemma: do you wait until everyone is served before you eat or do you dig right in? (I dug right in. I am not Emily Post. I am an Untouchable.) In fact, I was finished both of my meals before my neighbours were served their chicken "curries" and lasagnas. Being served an unpalatable meal first is rather like winning the coin toss at a joint-execution. Yeah, you don't have to wait as long, but you get to be dead first.

If you're curious what to expect on your next flight, take a shufti at (from which I shamelessly stole the above photo of a rather questionable and sadly typical Royal Air Maroc breakfast. Can you correctly identify the food groups?). But if you think we have it bad, check out the inflight crew's meals. Yummy. Truth be told, if we had one iota of common sense we'd use this site as a tool to plan our next trips. But we probably won't. At least I won't: it's pretty much impossible to rise above your caste - a caste I married within, as custom dictates. Maybe the next incarnation ...

... but seriously, I am pleased that Mr. Cat in Rabat will be spared my pea-fest, that he'll be served a pretty decent meal when he flies out of Montreal next week. I'm really not so evil of a wife. But wait! - he'll be flying during Ramadan which means that there'll be no booze on board! Bwhahahahahahaha!

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