I think of Duty Free as a state of mind rather than an opportunity for handbags and perfume. I try not to eat things like the Burger King Croissan’wich anywhere but in an airport. (This rule has been amended to include road trips in the West, when you’re in one of those towns that’s a tiny dot on the map, and you’re not sure when you’ll get to eat again, and Subway might really be your Last Chance for Survival). As I squirrel away my Premium Crispy Chicken Ranch BLT Sandwich in an airport McD’s, I need only two little words to mitigate my shame: Duty Free!
I love the sleekness of fast food, the rounded edges of the trays with their embossed lattice design, the oval hash brown patties, the little thimbles of creamer for your coffee. Big easy shapes, no sharp corners (there’s a gentleness even in the triangular Sbarro’s box).
Airplane food is another source of great food shapes. The blogger Cakehead admits that “part of the joy I find in traveling comes from discovering what the airlines can fit into those cute little compartments – the compartments that are the closest thing adults can find to resemble the school lunch tray.” (The photo above is also from Cakehead’s 2006 Cathay Pacific Flight # 831, New York to Hong Kong). Cakehead’s comment also brings to mind Anne Lammot’s delightful chapter “School Lunches” from her book Bird by Bird, but that’ll have to wait for another post, else I’ll be at the laptop all day, and I do have some Black Friday plans.
When I think of the halcyon days of airplane food, I remember my first international flight. I was 17, traveling with a group of students and teachers from West Virginia to Russia for three weeks. A flight attendant gave us warm towels to wipe our hands. Plastic film covered the chicken and vegetables like a real space-age meal. I tried to slather the unyielding butter pat on a cold roll. I grazed my shingle of garden salad with one cherry tomato.
Cakehead is right. In that meal, I felt like a happy child and a cosmopolitan adult in the same moment.