Traveling to Taiwan: What’s to Eat in Economy?

January 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

There’s such an element of curiosity that I have in regards to airplane food especially in that it has become so increasingly elusive over the past few years.  It seems you pretty much need to travel internationally to get any sort of food service, and other than notoriously being considered undesirable, people don’t seem to talk about it much.  I can only vaguely recall the salty, mushy fare served to us at obnoxious hours in hopes of acclimating us to the new time zone from my first international flight, and beyond that I am not sure I’ve experienced it since, so I was anxious to start off my trip across the world with unfolding the mystery of what’s in those frozen parcels of East meets West on the flight to Taiwan.

The leg from LAX to TPE was the only one that was going to be through the codeshare China Air, and I had heard that the food and service were generally much better on these International brands.  I figured it couldn’t be any worse than some of the domestic flights, could it?  Upon boarding, we were greeted with an abundance of attentive staff dressed in cheongsam-esque uniforms of feminine lavender and mauve tones who spoke both English and a few different dialects of Chinese quite well.  There was a way about them that even if they were reprimanding you, they did it in a way that was oddly warm and humorous, but still got their point across.  If you ever needed to get their attention or pushed the call button, they were happy to respond and didn’t make you feel like a total jerk for asking for anything which was a welcome change from the norm.

Very soon after we took off, we were greeted with our choice of drink and given the standard snack.

The snack was really kind of delicious in a mildly sweet and salty way.  It was an Asian rice cracker mix with yummy fried green peas and peanuts.  A much more interesting and flavorful snack than bland peanuts or pretzels for sure.  I also got some pretty average cheaper white wine since beer and wine are free on international flights (although it seems someone I know just got free scotch on his economy international flight, so maybe we got short-changed here).  I later figured out that light, somewhat hydrating Asian beers were the way to go and they were great to help combatant the heat over the course of the flight until they ran out.  The heat is a cultural thing I’m certain, and even though I’ve dealt with plenty of hot environments in my lifetime, this plane was beyond stiflingly and unavoidably warm.  There’s not much worse to me than trying to sleep and waking up covered in sweat.  I had the misfortune of this experience quite a few times especially since my base layer was a long-sleeved shirt.  It never occurred to me that a plane would not be freezing.  I’ll keep this in mind for next time.

Dinner was served shortly after, and we were given the option of beef or chicken.

I chose beef because I believe it’s a lot more forgiving when it comes to the brutal reheating process that occurs.  It looks a little grim, but it wasn’t bad at all.  The simple salad was surprisingly fresh and clean with a hyper-tangy American style Italian dressing.  The meat was tender with some mild spices, and the rice was overcooked sticky and gummy but edible.  The veggies were beyond soft continuing the cooked and overheated to death theme, but the flavors were just fine and my hunger allowed me to find the simple meal pretty satisfying.  The mildly sweet brown roll was the clear weak point as it was unbearably dry and crumbly.  The fruit was cold and hit some happy sweet and bitter notes, and I was surprised at how much I ended up enjoying the dessert.  It was light and deliciously creamy with a cheesecake coffee flavor.  As far as the reputation of airplane food goes, I was satisfied.  I also like how all the International flights had a cup for tea that they would come by and fill a few times.

After a long night period, we were offered our choice of Western or Asian breakfast.  Of course, I went with the bigger curiosity.

The result was an Asian-style breakfast of congee, plain baozi roll, some fruit, and some sweet soy tofu skins.  Also randomly included was some Promise faux buttery spread for buttering your baozi, apparently.  Well, this just dove right into an Asian breakfast format for me.  The congee was made moderately tolerable by the bright peas and the tiny slivers of raw ginger, but there was not much helping the completely bland flavor and over-cooked gluey texture tinged with the essence of something just sort of odd.  I guess it was really just the essence of the dried scallops that had rehydrated into chewy knobs of unpleasantness that I was picking up on in every bite including those without scallops.  In all fairness, I did eat one scallop that wasn’t rubbery, but it was a gamble I became less willing to take as I ate.  I’m aware that congee isn’t normally this bad, but I suppose this version didn’t translate well in the plane reheat format.  At least the plain steamed baozi made more sense than the brown roll from earlier, but it was a bland counterpoint to the bland congee and it just made me wish that it was stuffed with some delicious pork instead.  On the other hand, the frosty-cold bits of tofu skin were far from bland, but were painfully chewy and were overwhelmingly pungent, sweet, and tangy enough that I did not enjoy them.

By this time, I was beyond restless and had no sense of what day it was since we had been flying into darkness the entire way.  I just knew despite the excellent service from the flight attendants, I was more than ready to land and get some real food.  Bring it on, Taiwan!

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