I realise that in the modern world slagging off the cuisine of a nation makes me on par with Mussolini in the racist stakes, but recent Air China adventure ground my gears to such a level I’m now forced to do what anyone would in my circumstances – rant on Al Gore’s greatest achievement, the internet.
After 13 years of living in China I really should be used to the many curve balls the Middle Kingdom can throw your way, particularly when it comes to godawful food, but to give China its credit it still manages to throw me. In fact the biggest curve ball it had thrown me on this occasion was, despite the fact that I hadn’t actually been in China for over 2 months, I had mostly been eating Chinese food. Not by choice, it must be said, but because in a lot of the Pacific there is pretty much only Chinese food (Nauru has no cuisine).
Having needed to fly from Auckland to China – Shenzhen in particular –the “best” (or rather cheapest) option was the 13-hour Auckland to Beijing marathon followed by 3 hours in Beijing, then 3 hours to Shenzhen! Piece of cake. In fairness to Air China I can’t hold them completely responsible for the hell of 13 hours on a plane – even birds don’t fly that long. This is one reason that, with a heavy heart, I will be declining any offer from Elon Musk to be one of the first colonizers of Mars. Fuck two years in economy class not smoking and watching bad movies. Again, I digress.
Back in the heyday of flight 13 hours would get 3 meals and probably 2 snacks; those days are gone. 13 hours now gets two meals: breakfast and dinner. In my hundreds of Chinese flights, dinner has usually been “beef noodles” (actually spaghetti Bolognese) or chicken and rice; not earth shattering, nor even mediocre, but a good standard flight meal you can deal with. Breakfast, on the other hand, is the jewel in the crown on Chinese flights (and almost every flight in the world), and the reason? The great nation of England’s only noteworthy culinary invention, the English Breakfast.
Today was not to be that day.
Here’s where the rant comes in. This was a full flight, and I would estimate 5-10% of the clientele were foreign and the balance Chinese. There were two breakfast options: scrambled egg or congee/porridge. Do you know what congee is? It’s rice mixed with water, without any flavouring at all. Salivating yet? Don’t worry; congee is basically pre-salivated. In essence, it is a food from when people had much less money; not the kind of thing anyone chooses, ever. Am I being harsh? Nope: the scrambled egg ran out almost immediately as everyone except for one octogenarian Chinese lady went for the egg. It’s breakfast; who would not choose egg over a mixture that a newborn chick would refuse?
Alas, everyone around us was given the congee, which no one ate.
I’ll summarize my rant as such: if one of your “national dishes” is so bad that even your countrymen do not order it, then do everyone a solid and serve something other than gruel; a 13 hour flight is hard enough as it is.