On Airline Food

Nibble and sip…

I’ve been flying overseas since I was around two-and-a-half. A lot of people whom I’ve had the displeasure of working with tried to clock me for that over the years (mainly because they wouldn’t believe me as I don’t look like a jetsetter), but then they see all the stamps in my old passports.

But this isn’t a rant against those people. Today is a frank discussion on airline food: specifically why I like it and how it has evolved over the years.

Philippine Airlines MNL – SIN: Beef Stew and Rice

Unless you’re flying on a budget airline, your airfare already includes at least one meal. This is especially true in the case of flights running four or more hours to international routes, though Philippine Airlines does give passengers light snacks (usually coffee and a stuffed bun) on domestic flights.

Depending on what time you’re flying, this can easily be breakfast, lunch, or dinner. In the case of red-eye flights or the last flight out, you aren’t really sure if you can consider it breakfast, supper, or a deucedly heavy midnight snack.

In any case, the food served aboard a plane usually reflects the airline’s nationality, where you’re flying out of, and where you’re flying to. For example: Singapore Airlines offers Singaporean specialities like laksa and sate ayam [chicken satay] on flights heading to and from Singapore.

You can also see this on the AirAsia Santan menu (which you can order in advance or aboard your flight, though you have to pay extra on both counts) as it offers Malaysian / Indonesian dishes like sate ayam with sambal kacang [peanut sauce] and ketupat [savoury steamed rice cakes], as well as their famous Pak Nasser’s nasi lemak.

I’ve noticed that most people tend to sneer at airline food, often claiming that it tends to be flavourless, even insipid. Some go so far as to complain that it’s never at the right temperature.

However, these people don’t understand that the pressure inside the cabin tends to dull one’s senses of smell and taste. Also, even in business class, these meals are prepared and loaded into the galleys in bulk and kept at a specific temperature until serving time.

Having toured the SATS facility in Singapore which prepares meals for Singapore Airlines and for outbound flights for Philippine Airlines and other carriers, I’ve gained a better appreciation of how airline food is prepared, the specific standards for safety and quality, as well as the research and development that go into menus over time.

And seriously, if you’re going to complain about the food, spare a thought for the people who prepared your meal. Otherwise, go pack your own flight meal if you’re so inclined to be finicky.

The Popcorn Chocolate Chip Cookie

Yes, it starts with a bag of popcorn…

Some ideas are worth pursuing no matter how crazy they may seem – and today’s recipe happens to be one of them.

I had a bag of Serious Popcorn lying around and, unfortunately, it had gone all limp when I got around to opening the bag. In most households, this would be considered a serious waste and the bag of popcorn would ultimately get trashed out.

But that wasn’t the case here. When life (or absent-mindedness on your part) gives you limp-arse popcorn, you blitz it all for baking!

Y’all won’t say no to these, I know.

Movie Nights (Malted Popcorn Chocolate Chip Cookies)

1/2 heaped cup malted milk powder

1 cup cooked popcorn, blitzed fine in a blender or food processor

1 cup salted butter, softened

3/4 cup brown sugar

3/4 cup white sugar

3/4 cup quick cooking oats

1-1/2 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips or morsels

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 eggs

1-1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1-1/4 teaspoon coarse salt

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees / Gas Mark 4. Grease and line lipped cookie sheets; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, beating with each addition, then add the vanilla and malted milk powder and mix until smooth.

Add the flour, salt, and baking soda; mix until well-combined. Fold in the oats, blitzed popcorn, and chocolate chips until well-distributed throughout the mixture.

Put level tablespoons of the mixture onto the prepared cookie sheets, tapping the sheets on a surface before placing in the oven. Bake for 10 – 12 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through the baking time. Remove from oven, allow to cool for about 3 – 5 minutes, then move cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes approximately 66 cookies.

You might not want to let these cool before you start scarfing them down!

These cookies were actually inspired by the Malted Milk Chocolate Chip Cookies from one of Ree Drummond‘s cookbooks, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Frontier. They make amazing ice cream sandwiches, but are an excellent nosh on their own or with a tall glass of milk.

Try baking them yourself – and let me know what you think.

Meet the Bak Kwa Bun

This is one of those spur of the moment recipes that comes up whenever my mother looks at the pantry and declares that something needs using up.

This is a bak kwa bun – and it actually started out with a batch of schiacciata dough straight out of Nigella Lawson’s ‘How to be a Domestic Goddess’ but given a few of my personal spins.

We had a big bag of Bee Cheng Hiang chicken bak kwa on the dining room sideboard, one of those edible souvenirs we brought home from a trip to Singapore.

Bak kwa, for those who aren’t familiar with the term, is spiced and seasoned minced meat, pressed into sheets, then grilled. It’s usually eaten as a savoury snack. (It goes well with a big gin and tonic, by the way.)

It’s essentially an oriental take on ham or bacon, with the additional virtue of being ready to eat straight from the packet.

This initial foray into baking bak kwa buns involved coarsely chopping ten mini-slabs of chicken bak kwa and kneading them into a herb-spackled batch of schiacciata dough given colour with a tablespoon of tomato paste. (You can’t taste the tomato in the finished product.)

A small slice of mild cheddar went into the middle of each bun as I formed them, and the buns were brushed with beaten egg before baking.

The end result: a soft yet substantial bun dotted with smoky, savoury bits of barbecued chicken with the cheese adding umami goodness.

These are excellent on their own as a snack, but they’re also perfect when paired with a hefty salad or a hearty soup for a quick lunch or supper.

And, yes: these are also delicious when toasted, buttered, and eaten alongside a mug of coffee for a breakfast that would not be out of place at a kopitiam.

Steak, Potatoes, and the Relentlessness of Time

The last time I wrote here, I was with my parents on a roadtrip to Laguna to eat duck in the little town of Victoria.

It’s been nearly a decade since then and so many things have happened, including the pandemic that claimed so many lives.

Including my own father’s in April 2021. He was in hospital for five days and, in the meanest trick Fate could play on anyone, he couldn’t eat anything in the last five days of his life because he needed to be intubated. The virus had practically destroyed his lungs.

For someone who loved food and appreciated a good meal, it was a brutal way to go.

Life Goes On…

Since Dad’s death (I never saw the point of referring to it as passing,) we have tried to make a celebration out of even the most ordinary days. And, so: festive pasta dishes, magnificent cakes, fancy bread made by hand have all made it onto our everyday table.

But some things remain special occasion meals. A good steak, for example: previously ordered in from a steakhouse delivery service, but now cooked at home.

(Admittedly, I need more practice to keep it from going beyond medium, though.)

And mashed potatoes, of course. You can’t have steak without mashed potatoes! But mine aren’t plain; oh, no, sir – they’re anything but plain.

I took an aunt’s suggestion, then ran with it. Hers calls for boiling a few cloves of garlic with the potatoes. I did that, but I added a generous grating of aged Edam into mine for richness – and it makes such a Plain Jane side into the perfect partner for grilled beef.

I made steak and potatoes for Mother’s Day as it’s Mom’s favourite combo. We enjoyed it and, while we always miss Dad, life needs to go on.