When In Roam

Carl Chu's Food & Travel Blog

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Trader Vic’s Mai Tai on United Hawaiian Flights

Okay, so it’s not like United installed a Trader Vic’s in the plane’s galley. Rather, they merely loaded his famous mai tai mix onto the beverage cart. But what mighty good mai tai it is. On flights between the mainland and the Islands, you can order one or three of this to get your mood right.

I have always found it difficult to describe a good mai tai. It has the tanginess of lime and the sweetness of orange, with layers upon layers of softness, subtleness, and sensuousness. But I never felt it tasted anything tropical--something you would naturally expect from a drink that instantly conjures up images of palm trees swaying along the white sands of Waikiki.

Wall Street Journal columnist Eric Felten wrote, the mai tai is not native to Oahu but rather Oakland, home of the original Trader Vic’s. The cocktail’s association with the Islands is purely marketing genius. While many people wrongly assume it as a concoction of tropical fruits like mango, pineapple, and papaya, the real culprits are sugar, lime, orange curacao, and an almond flavored syrup called orgeat. A good jigger of dark rum is also key.

I presume it’s the orgeat that had baffled me in the past. The nutty flavor, slightly suggestive of marzipan, and the taste of citrus make for an unusual combination. And indeed, there is nothing tropical about a real mai tai. Almond, a relative of peach, is not a tropical fruit, as are neither lime nor orange. In that regard, mai tai may be more of a quintessential California drink, because all of these these fruits grow abundantly here.

But that’s just academics. The reality is, when you go to Hawaii, you have a mai tai--a sensuous concoction of fruits, nuts, and sugar. Cool, cosmopolitan, a classic.

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