Saturday October 20, 2012
Air travel affects taste buds
By CHRISTINA CHIN
WITH all the horror stories about airline food, it’s a surprise no one’s come up with a Nightmare on Elm Street version of inflight dining.
However, recent surveys have shown that the bland, unappetising fare served on board is not entirely the fault of the airlines because our taste buds go into schizophrenic mode when we are 35,000ft (10,600m) in the air.
In its article “Palate pleasers at 30,000 feet” published in May last year, the Los Angeles Times wrote that besides making you feel dehydrated, air travel affects your taste buds.
It said that at that altitude, travellers lose 30% of their palate, making a full-bodied wine taste dull and a lightly-seasoned meal taste flat.
Many people who say they don’t like spicy food could not tell they were eating it in the air, reported the article. The sense of smell is affected by altitude as well, while pressurised cabins and dry air dull hearing and cause passengers’ bodies to feel swollen.
With that in mind, I was a little doubtful if the big guns of international cuisine could boldly defy the laws of nature and pull off the unimaginable with Qatar Airways’ new menu – and serve 5-star quality fare up in the clouds.
Suffice it to say, this sceptic is now a believer. After indulging in a non-stop eating marathon on my return Business Class flight from Malaysia to Doha, Qatar (all in the name of “work”), my verdict is that food can taste amazing – even better than on the ground, if it is designed and prepared by experts who know their stuff inside out.
These culinary wizards have woven their magic to create an amazing selection that not only flirts with the senses and tingles the taste buds but satisfies the lust for fine cuisine that tastes exactly the same on the ground, in the air or, very possibly even in space, I suspect.
Here is a sampling of the dishes.
Black Cod with Lemon
Sitting elegantly on a fragrant lemon slice, the black cod beautifully retained the rich taste of its succulent white flesh, and was an excellent “pick-me-up” if you are looking for something light, tasty and healthy to nibble on before a snooze. Enhanced by a subtle citrus zing and a sweet sauce brought to live by a burst of brilliant pink pickled ginger shoot, the appetiser is aptly described in the menu as “tempting your palate” – I couldn’t agree more. It’s no wonder Chef Ramzi Choueiri cited Nobu’s black cod dish as his choice for a “last supper”.
Grilled Chicken Breast with Balsamic Teriyaki Sauce
Drizzled with a brown, mildly sweet, balsamic and teriyaki sauce, the chicken breast maintained its juicy, healthy flavour. The Qatar Airways crew definitely did justice to Nobu’s masterpiece. It is simply served on a bed of basmati rice with edamame beans. While the dish was filling, I didn’t get a “stuffed-turkey” feeling which is crucial when you’re trying to get comfortable on a long-haul flight.
Clear Soup with Crispy Rice and Mushrooms
Refreshingly light yet soulfully hearty, the crispy rice and mushrooms gave the mildly spicy miso-based soup an interesting flavour and distinctive character immediately recognisable as a Nobu creation. A very nice starter indeed.
Arabic Breakfast Plate
This big breakfast is highly recommended for those who usually wake up hungry like a bear out of hibernation. The za’atar manakish (a pita-like bread topped with olive oil, herbs and spices like thyme, rosemary, sesame, marjoram and oregano) is authentically Middle Eastern. Spread with labneh (a soft, cream cheese made from strained yoghurt) and eaten together with fresh olives, tomatoes and the makanek (mini Lebanese sausages made of meat and a mix of spices fried in herbs and garlic) omelette, tucking into the rustic spice-infused flat bread as you soar above the vast Qatar desert was a cultural experience in itself.
A traditional Middle Eastern pudding that’s silky and light in texture but rich in taste, a spoonful of Ramzi’s snow-white mhallabiya sends an explosion of fragrant jasmine through the senses. The classic dessert made with milk, sugar, corn starch (sometimes rice starch) and flavourings such as cardamom and flower essence was served cold and made for a nice end to the meal.
Pea and Mint Soup with Creme Fraiche
This is the epitome of high-end comfort food. Adding creme fraiche, Aikens’ version of this classic is simply exquisite whether consumed in a family cottage on the English countryside or tucking into it in Qatar Airways’ comfortable seats before bedtime.
Vanilla Pannacotta with Passion Fruit Sauce
I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy this Italian dessert as much as “flying fare” simply because I didn’t want to feel bloated and uncomfortable from the cream, milk, sugar and gelatin mix. It was a pleasant surprise to find that the sourish sting of the passion fruit puree complete with the crunchy seeds had beautifully reined in the rich decadence of the vanilla pannacota. The verdict? A fruity and exotic masterpiece.
Herb-Crusted Lamb Chop with Roasted Tomato Sauce, Wild Mushroom and Morels Khichdi and Stir Fried Sesame Beans
Beyond the artistic presentation of the sesame beans innovatively “bound” in a lemon-skin ring, the lamb chop was amazingly juicy and well marinated. The chutney-like sweet and sour tomato sauce was a lovely accompaniment to the fragrant herb meat. This main course is a complete and well-thought through dish because it embodies all the flavours and aromas of India without overwhelming the senses.
Baked Herbs Infused Hammour, Beetroot Rice, Black-Eyed Beans Stew and Seared Asparagus Spears
Definitely a favourite, the hammour (or grouper as it’s more widely known), wrapped snugly in banana leaf was delicately prepared to maintain the freshness of the fish. While herbs were added, the fragrance did not mask the essence of the fish. The entire combination came together beautifully and if my senses were at all muted, I surely did not realise it.
Qatar Airway's first-class dining