Let’s Talk Food: Airplane food

As the state postponed the reopening of trans-Pacific travel until September, we will have to wait another month to the mainland and then, hopefully, abroad again, cautiously.

Imagine the challenge to caterers, trying to come up with dishes that would be acceptable when at 30,000 feet, that our taste buds of sweet and salty are reduced by 30% when in an airplane. It is like your nasal passages are plugged, which reduces your ability to taste.


The humidity is at 12%, which is drier than most deserts. There is cabin pressure, which pressurizes your body and you start to lose your sense of smell, and the noise of the jet engines also has an impact on taste.

With all of these things happening to your body, you have to wonder what to eat and drink, and appreciate what the caterer has to think about when preparing your foods.

Ever notice that tomato juice and bloody marys are popular on flights?

It’s because the umami flavors of tomato are enhanced in the air. Dishes with a bit of spiciness or full of umami as well as ingredients such as Parmesan cheese, tomatoes, soy sauce, tuna, meats, mushrooms, seaweed and hard cheeses are some of the items that work.

Dishes that contain cardamom, curry, lemongrass, garlic and ginger become more intense in the air.

Hawaiian Airlines has always prided itself as the only airline that still serves hot food in coach. It continues with this tradition with its longer flights. However, if you plan to fly with another carrier, you need to pack your own food for that long flight.

So knowing that you have a loss in your taste, what could you pack that would taste good and be the envy of your seatmate? (Except for kimchi, the flight attendants might take it away and consider it a noxious odor!)

Here are some considerations if you are packing a meal from home:

• Make sure your dish tastes good at room temperature.

• If packing a salad, make a kale salad, and not other salads that don’t taste good when wilted.

• Make sure you do not need a knife to cut it. Pre-cut if needed.

• Make sure you pack your meal in a leak-proof container. Wrap the container in a resealable bag just in case.

Foods that come to my mind are Japanese or Indian rice bowl meals with either brown or basmati rice and a side of vegetables.

Cut teriyaki chicken for a rice bowl into bite-size pieces. Adding steamed vegetables such as broccoli and carrots would add color and dietary fiber to the dish. The teriyaki sauce contains umami ingredients such as soy sauce, and the minced garlic and ginger become more intense in air. And teriyaki chicken tastes good at room temperature.

I prefer brown rice, which gives more dietary fiber than white rice, which helps with bowel movement, often a problem while traveling.

This recipe for Hawaiian barbecue sauce comes from Arnold Hiura’s “Kau Kau Cuisine” and culture in the Hawaiian Islands. Arnold’s father-in-law is Larry Nakama, whose daughter, Eloise Nakama-Hiura, says this about her father’s sauce:

“Dad used a 1-gallon glass mayonnaise jar to make his teriyaki sauce. He kept the sauce handy and used it in preparing all sports of dishes until it ran out and he would have to whip up another batch. I recall my first lesson in making the sauce was to learn how to ‘eyeball’ the ingredients and taste the sauce in between to adjust — Dad didn’t measure anything.

“First, he poured the shoyu in about two-thirds of the jar. Second, he added the sugar until the mixture rose to fill three-quarter of the jar. Third, was sherry wine (my sister, Joan, says other types of wine could be substituted, but I remember Dad specifically sending me to the store for sherry.) The sherry raised the mixture about another inch above the previous level. Then he lined the lid with wax paper, covered the jar and shook it to mix the ingredients. Next, he tasted it to see if he needed to adjust the flavor with more shoyu, sugar or sherry.

“Finally, Dad poured some oil in a skillet and, while it was heating, peeled and crushed some ginger and cloves of garlic. He would brown the ginger first and scoop it into the jar, then browned the garlic and poured it in. Of course, not everyone can get their hands on a gallon-sized mayonnaise jar, so — as best as we can tell — here is Dad’s recipe translated into measurable form.”

Larry Nakama’s All-Purpose Teriyaki Sauce

8 cups shoyu

6 cups sugar

1/4 cup sherry

1/4 cup vegetable oil

3-inch piece ginger, sliced and crushed

4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

Combine shoyu, sugar and sherry. Heat oil in a small frying pan and brown ginger. Add ginger to shoyu mixture, leaving oil in frying pan. Brown garlic and add to shoyu mixture. Mix well.

Marinade chicken, pork or meat. Cook or barbecue on a grill.


For easy eating, you could cut the chicken to fit the musubi maker (to make Spam musubi or teriyaki chicken musubi. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap, no leaking, no mess).

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

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