When In Roam

Carl Chu's Food & Travel Blog

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Oh Boy! The Obento Meal

I always order the obento when flying into or out of Japan. For me, this is the only airline meal worth anticipating for. Alas, the quality of United’s in-flight catering has declined a lot during those years in bankruptcy. I remember the first time I had the obento, back in 2000. The entrée was meticulously prepared, and very tasty. What I liked the most was the piece of wagashi for dessert, the traditional tea sweet made from mashed white beans. This time, my obento had some misses, but was still quite good.

The appetizer course, which came in a small elongated box, contained the following: tuna with wasabi sauce, smoked salmon egg roll, pumpkin cake with red beans, baked chicken with pine seeds, braised beef, and fine white noodle (somen) topped with deep fried eggplant. All the ingredients were fresh and representative of late spring, with summer approaching just around the corner.

The main course came in a larger square box. I first tried the boiled shrimp (sunomono), which is served like shrimp cocktail—not very exciting. The entrée was a filet of yellowtail (buri) teriyaki, served with fresh ginger, broiled tofu, simmered shiitake mushrooms and carrots. Not only was the fish a bit dry, the classic symptom of overcooking, I felt the teriyaki sauce had too much mirin, which made the dish too sweet for my taste and overpowered the fish’s subtle flavors. Either that, or the chef was deliberately masking the less than top quality fish they had to work with. I finished the meal with steamed rice and pickles.

The obento of 2006 no longer served wagashi for dessert. Instead, I got a slice of lousy Eli’s hazelnut cheesecake. I never understood why Eli’s was so popular to begin with, and mixing a traditional Japanese meal with a western dessert is just plane cheesy. A definite thumbs down on that.

After all the dishes were cleared, the flight attendant brought me a nice hot cup of green tea. I had with me a couple of fresh lichi left over from a bunch I had bought in Taipei. I took them onboard specifically to eat after dinner. In my book, this is always the perfect way to end a dinner.

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