When airlines get grounded

I have never been stuck on the ground for such an extended period of time, except for the time I had my CABG surgery. But that was only for 5 months. This time it has been 7 months and counting.

Since my last trip to Japan, I have not even left the main island of Singapore. I never thought I would say I miss airline food. Airlines are struggling with reduced and restricted travelling. Cargo traffic cannot cover the loss of a grounded fleet.

So they have to come up with interesting ideas to carry on. Qantas sold all the 747 food and drink carts fully stocked – it was sold out in minutes. China Airlines and Royal Brunei launched flights to nowhere – sold out in minutes. Thai Airways opened restaurant/cafe with the inflight experience – packed.

Taken from the SQ website

What is our national airline, Singapore Airlines, going to do? Called SIA@Home, they will bring the Business and First Class catering to your home. Starting today (5 Oct), you can order inflight menus from the Business and First Class cabin service to be served in the safety of your home. For a bit extra, you can be served in the usual tableware used in the cabin service from Wedgwood, get a bottle of Krug, or hire a private chef to reheat and plate the food in your home for the complete inflight experience.

So what would you be expecting from these menus?

Hanakoireki 花念歷 by Chef Yoshihiro Murata

A simplified Kaiseki served on board Business class for flights between Singapore and Japan, the special menu is curated by Chef Yoshihiro Murata of Kikunoi restaurants in Kyoto and Tokyo. These restaurants got 3-stars and 2-stars from Michelin respectively, and he has 7 stars altogether, making him the most-starred chef in Japan.

Murata working in the kitchen in Kikunoi (Picture from best50.com, © William Reed)

Murata is known for campaigning to protect his country’s culinary traditions (including setting up Japanese Culinary Academy in Kyoto, kind of the Cordon Bleu for Japan), yet he is far from conservative in his outlook. His collaboration with SQ, for example, opened the trends for famous (and traditional) Japanese restaurants to work with airlines to champion Japanese fine dining to a wider and jet-setting audience.

Amuse Bouche – SQ satays

You will start the meal with little skewers of the famous SQ satays. These are deliciously smokey satays with a tangy, spicy peanut sauce. I used to wonder how they managed to get the smokey BBQ taste, and I realised there’s something called liquid smoke. So these days, I only asked for cucumber and onion with the sauce.

The meal started with a sakura-shaped tray that came with 4-courses all at once. This is Business class, and therefore not the Kaiseki experience exactly, but it’s as close as it gets. So from top left (anti-clockwise) :

  • Sakizuke (先付 appetisers) – salmon with squid and egg yolk, kelp with roe, broccolini, sea urchin jelly with potato
  • Mukouzuke (無小付 small plate) – seared yellowtail with yam, carrots, choy sum and radish
  • Kuchitori (口取り side dish) – cucumber roll with smoked salmon and cream cheese, cheery tomato
  • Men (麵 noodle) – chasoba with nameko mushroom, seaweed, citrus dressing and soba sauce

The first “course” was as exquisite as it was tasty. One cannot imagine that at 20,000 feet above ground, that you can still get sea urchin prepared in such beauty and delicately balanced with mashed potato. Because it was all prepared at least 5 hours ago, they could not serve fresh sashimi. But the smoked and seared fish in the course replaced the sashimi course perfectly, even though I still did not enjoy the salmon with cheese, which is an acquired western taste.

The Main Course

Because it’s a 7 hours flight to Tokyo, you have all the time in the world to finish two meal services, and therefore you are not rushed through. And you are already almost full when they present you with the main course in the plastic bento that they used in Japanese family restaurant.

Yakimon, takiawase, aemono, gohan, kounomono, tomewan

The main course included :

  • Yakimono (焼物 grilled dish) – yellowtail with shirodashi (白だし “white” stock) and pepper, hajikami shoga (はじかみ しょうが pickled young ginger)

Surprisingly the fish was not dried out like what you would normally get for the Western course. Still flaky and moist, for the first time I can say I really enjoyed fish on board.

  • Takiawase (炊き合わせ simmered dish) – chicken thigh with sesame sauce

I guess it there’s one course to hate, this is it. Cold chicken, enough said.

  • Aemono (和え物 Japanese side dish) – egg castella, egg tofu and steamed sea urchin with salmon roe, soy sauce

When you hear castella, dessert comes to mind. But in Japanese cuisine, it is the very special egg omelette that has a fluffy texture and yet stay in shape like a cake. This course is all about the eggs, from the chicken, the sea urchin and salmon.

  • Gohan (ご飯 rice) – steamed rice with hijiki (ひじき simmered seaweed)

Hijiki is a brown sea vegetable growing wild on rocky coastlines around Japan and is usually simmered in soy sauce and served with rice. I really enjoyed having hijiki mixed into the rice.

  • Kounomono (香の物 pickles) – assorted pickles

Traditionally served with steamed rice in all Japanese meals, it was unnecessary here because the gohan course was already flavoured.

  • Tomewan (止椀 soup) – miso soup with vegetables, age, green onions

Literally called “the last bowl”, the soup washed down everything with that familiar satisfying umami. However, I wished it was hot. Because it was not boiled inflight but made with ready-to-eat instant misoshiro with hot water, I guessed you cannot get it hotter as the pack was deep frozen before the flight.

And the Mizumono (水物 dessert) was exotic cream with tangerine compote, which sounded exotic but essential a mousse with a tangerine jelly layered on top. Of course, you will be served the fruits and cheeses as usual even if you are not having the Western meal.

After dinner coffee

This is not a sponsored blog, I am just glad my flag carrier is doing something to stay afloat and not just using taxpayer money to stay solvent. So go try them, it can be ordered from KrisShop starting today. And while you are at it, spend some more from the duty-free trolley. BTW, can I use my PPS vouchers?

2 comments on “When airlines get grounded

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