“One cannot think or love or sleep well, if one has not dined well”

Travelling, be it within the country or outside, has become an integral part and parcel of contemporary corporate lifestyles. It is fashionable to travel, and even more so to casually admit in the right circles that “I love travelling,” with that dreamy look in the eyes. You know that one, right?!  With designer luggage, luxury suites in the first-class of international airlines, equipped with showers and sauna, the modern traveler is indeed pampered to the hilt.

However, having just disembarked from a long-distance flight from the United States to good old Delhi, my sentiments pertaining to travel are not exactly “Wow”! Before writing me off as a spoilt-sport, please let me explain: of course I loved the whole bit of travelling away from the country to the Americas which allowed me not just the opportunity to explore fresh destinations but also to spend some quality time with myself. All that was awesome.

The problem that I want to talk about was more epicurean in nature. The food that was served on both the to and fro journeys left me feeling so helpless and hungry (yes!) that I just have to vent it. Now, let me confess: I like to be fed in time or else it majorly affects my moods and general state of well-being as I simply cannot function on an empty stomach.

When I boarded the flight from New Delhi in the wee hours of the morning, I was too exhausted and emotionally drained to do much else but just catch on my forty winks. And when I woke up a few hours later, the air-hostesses were busy serving food to the passengers. Therein lay my ordeal!

The innocuous looking food tray offered to me with some yellowish orange juice looked pretty harmless when covered neatly with foils and cling sheets. But when I opened my packets to begin eating, I was rendered speechless! The sandwiches were made of stale, cardboard-hard bread and the porridge tasted bland, much beyond any description of any food item that has ever gone into my mouth. The cherry on the cake oops, the dessert for the day was a soggy mass of some lemon-coloured semi-solid in a sad plastic cup that stared at me as if appealing to be just left alone.

Shocked beyond my wits, I summoned the stewardess and asked if she could get me some fruits. After about 15 minutes of strange, growling sounds emanating from my now near-empty stomach, she sheepishly handed me an overripe banana which I gratefully accepted and with a cup of tea, washed it down and went back to sleep.

B

The next meal was equally disastrous and instead, I opened my packet of crackers that my daughter had luckily stashed at the last minute in my handbag and again sustained on that, sparkling water and some sparkling wine to keep my wits around. Not that I had much choice between that sad apology of a food tray and a miniscule bite of chocolate and some nuts to munch on. The water and wine obviously did their trick on my bladder and triggered a series of quick visits to the washroom much to my disconcertion.

Anyway, in a few hours, we completed our journey and the experience was nearly relegated to the recesses of my mind in the hustle and bustle of the next few weeks. But my memory was jolted back to the reality of awful food trays the minute I boarded the flight back for Delhi. Luckily, I had some more nuts and dark chocolates this time so I was not so worried.

Dinner was chilled, par boiled steamed rice with some very dubious looking curry that had an oriental sounding name, aka hóngshāo, a Soy sauce and caramalised sugar stew which I love in Chinese fine-dining but this mess was surely something else. So put off was I by the main course that I did not even bother to look at the mysterious dessert cup and decided to just munch on some dark chocolate to calm my nerves and some wine to channelize my inner Zen, in sync with the cuisine being served for dinner.

Completely sloshed and high on the caffeine in the dark chocolate I slept peacefully for a few hours and sustained on strong black coffee for what was left of the journey.

The moment I landed in Delhi and my network connections were restored on my cellphone, I called up my cook at home and immediately asked him to prepare my favouritepeeli dal, zeerachawal and some good old kheer during the time I would take to reach home for the airport. Suddenly, I remembered those long train journeys during summer vacations in childhood when my mother would pack paranthasand aamkaacharor aloo-puri to be had on the way. The aroma still lingers in my mind and brought a smile to my face despite the horrendous food experiences I had just endured on my flights. And I realised that after partaking a good mealI could forgive anybody…

Wise men and women have described travelling akin to a journey of self-discovery and of fresh life-enhancing experiences that can change our perspectives towards life itself. But I am sure that none of them would have been subjected to that irreverent and completely distasteful airline food that has become the norm for most airlines around the world. And if this is happening in Business Class, I shudder to think what the hapless ‘cattle-class’, via Shashi Tharoor’s nomenclature, is being put through in Economy? Isn’t it high time that these airlines got their act together and outsource palatable, decent quality, fresh food from a respectable caterer instead of churning out their stale, sand-paper like, dead and boring mealsor are they simply oblivious to the basic truth that the way to a man or even a woman’s heart is always through their stomachs? Much food for thought I say…

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