AIRPLANE FOOD VS. PRISON FOOD
It’s the age old question, which is better?
They say that half the fun of any trip is getting there. At least, if you fly Cathay Pacific they say that. I remember waking up after napping during the first part of the flight and being offered breakfast. “What do you have?” I asked. “A kitchen” the sky waitress replied. “We can make anything you want.” I had one egg, one pancake, two dumplings, some congee, pickled herring, some sort of German-inspired cold cut plate, champagne, and some Turkish coffee. I figured tea would be too predictable for the venerable Asian air carrier so I opted for a more complex coffee to see what would happen.
The coffee was perfect. Actually, it was all perfect, but the coffee was the absolute right temperature, the right consistency, and the right bitterness. It only made the rest of the breakfast spread all the more delectable. Even a croissant (which I didn’t ask for) didn’t suffer the ill effects of slightly lower air pressure in the airplane cabin. The dumplings, not surprisingly, were the highlight of that breakfast. A great thin dough, extremely flavorful and light shrimp and leek filling. I don’t recommend dipping the dumplings in champagne, though. (It seemed like a good idea at the time.) All in all, it was a divine way to travel to a wonderful weekend, with a new, exciting girlfriend.
For a friend`s wedding in Mumbai, I booked another first class ticket on an Emirates Airbus 380 from New York via Dubai. Unlike the Boeing, the Airbus offers private cabins for first class passengers — in addition to a private lounge and lavatories with showers. The ticket also cost more than my first car. And my second car. Combined. I kept my cabin door shut for the duration, unless it was time to eat. Or drink. Really, more drinking than eating. Frankly, the breadth of the Scotch whiskies available on demand made the cuisine choices somewhat irrelevant. Or at least unmemorable. I think there was lamb and fish and hummus, but I’m not really sure. Ever brush your teeth with Johnnie Blue? It’s even more ridonculous when it’s done at 35,000 feet, after having taken a shower in a bathroom with radiant heating in the largest passenger aircraft in the world.
That, of course, was then. Things have changed, for now. I’ve not been in an aircraft of any kind in almost two years. I think that my Concierge Key status on American has probably been revoked. My passport expired last September and I`ve not renewed it yet, nor, er, been able to. But, even being land “locked” in the United States, I still appreciate wonderful culinary experiences.
In fact, I’ve got a cadre of ethnically diverse personal “chefs” that prepare meals for me regularly.
Earlier tonight, for example, a Greek “insurance broker” handed me a styrofoam cup. In it was a warm, microwave made lemon chicken soup. Using just a microwave, he simmered chicken bones to extract all the marrowy goodness and made a spectacular broth! He added onions, carrots, lemon juice, and his proprietary blend of Mrs. Dash, pepper and garlic powder. He served it with a bit of rice, too. Probably the most interesting thing I’ve eaten since I`ve been here. The broth was rich and flavorful, the lemon perfectly offset the richness of the whole soup. I think this may be a standing order from me to him.
Of course, about an hour after the soup, an Italian “waste management consultant”, originally from Naples, handed me a plain brown paper towel with a half-sized burrito-like thing in it. He called it a lasagna wrap. Not the best thing that I’ve had while I’ve been here, but the Italian sausage wasn’t overly greasy; you definitely could tell it was sausage with its hint of fenugreek and oregano. The noodles seemed to be perfectly cooked — yes, he wrapped lasagna noodles with a flour tortilla. Of course, the sauce was the gold standard of red sauce Italian left over from Friday`s lasagna. It’s a signature “Tony Meatballs” speciality. (I’ve got to get the Greeks and Italians talking, though. Can’t have them feeding me on the same day again.) No, I don’t think this lasagna wrap will appear on an Alitalia flight anytime soon. They do a proper seafood cannelloni in first class on flights from Rome to New York, but all things considered, I liked the lasagna wrap.
I am of course talking about prison food. Yes, my “job” with a well-known West Coast “cartel” of sorts landed me in the clink. But, only for a brief respite. Now, I spend my days operating a forklift for the Federal Government, working out in a gym with WWII surplus gym equipment, and reading books about things that I’d never take the time to read about, like Jesus and Phil Knight and Winston Churchill and Jack Reacher. I do all of that at your expense. Thank you American taxpayers! I’ve also got various “families” on the payroll cooking my meals — but that’s only because the food the prison actually serves is pretty much inedible. Like a meal in coach on your way to Orlando from DCA. You can see the prison menu here but I’d not recommend anything on it. Not even the Swedish meatballs. They`re neither Swedish nor meat. But they are certainly balls.
Thursdays are chicken day — and my favorite day of the week. Around 7:00 p.m. on Thursdays a gentleman of Spanish descent, alleged to be a rather large importer of schedule-A narcotics across the southern border, usually gives me a bowl featuring some amalgamation in various proportions of chicken, rice, Goya sazon, soy sauce, duck sauce, and garlic. Occasionally, there’s some diced pepper and onion. Sometimes there`s some SPAM or another form of pouch meat. Either way, it’s a welcome treat in these parts. This is another purely microwave creation and in the irony of ironies, it’s far, far better than the “chicken fried rice” served by the prison out of a very well-equipped official unit kitchen.
The highlight, though, of prison food, has to be the pizza. No, really. The guys here can take a pack of tortillas and heat them and wet them and “weld” them into a pizza crust — with cheese stuffed in the edge. Layer it up with some of “Tony Meatballs” homemade sauce, “cheeeze” (I don’t think it’s legally allowed to be called cheese), and a variety of commissary-bought shelf stabilized “toppings” like halal turkey sausage, pepperoni, grilled chicken, and/or smoked oysters from a pouch and it’s, well, certainly much more delicious than anything you’d get on a domestic commercial flight anywhere in the United States. You ever seen a Pizza Hut commercial for a stuffed crust pizza? No lie… that’s exactly what it looks like. We’ve even been known to do Buffalo Chicken Pizza, “CPK Style” BBQ Chicken Pizza, and a White Clam Pizza. It’s no Sally`s Apizza (the famous Pepe’s mortal rival in New England) in New Haven, but it gets the job done.
Don’t get me started on the Super Bowl menu. Microwave mackerel patties? Yes, please!
No, I’d not recommend coming to prison, if you can help it. Not even for the food. Even this “Club Fed” that I find myself in, which is more summer camp than jail. And comparing airplane food to prison food is a losing battle. But considering the excess luxury and expense of a proper international first class cabin, even those often delicious, pre-prepared culinary creations at the front of the plane don’t hold a candle to the creations and “joie de vivre” of long-time incarcerated gangsters, unregistered “importers”, and politicians and political henchmen.
To be blunt, I’d recommend anything they make here over anything served north of 30,000 feet. Including that one airline that you`re loyal to that makes that thing you really like. I’ve flown with them. Their food sucks.