Swedish Food Truck Dishes Up Airport Cuisine

Whether you like to hunt down the hidden hole-in-the-wall eateries, the popular street food stalls or the city’s best haute cuisine, you probably agree that food is an important part of the travel experience. But if there’s one aspect of travel dining that is universally loathed, it has to be airport food. Bland, congealed — not to mention overpriced — airport meals seem to be an inevitable part of the journey.

So it comes as a bit of a surprise that one country has decided its airport food is so good that it is part of its marketing campaign. Sweden believes the fare at Stockholm Arlanda Airport is so nom-worthy that it is loading up food trucks with the airport cuisine to tempt the taste buds of the city’s residents and visitors.For $10, hungry patrons can dine on dishes like braised veal, pulled pork, truffle risotto, lasagna and ramen soup with wasabi-marinated smoked salmon. Those behind the concept say they believe people will be surprised by the quality of the food, and will hopefully be encouraged to get to the airport earlier to sample more of the cuisine on offer.

The food truck will make rounds of Stockholm for several weeks, but may stick around longer if the idea proves a success.

What do you think of airport food? Would you try out the Arlanda Food Truck?

Airline gets creative to improve customer experience

When airline customers think about flying they often focus on flight schedules and possible delays, damaged or lost luggage, and making connections. Its not exactly a happy place for their minds to be. Now, one airline gets creative and is making changes to move beyond that.

Delta air lines, the one that not long ago added Seattle Best Coffee, will make Apple iPads available to rent on flights from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) when the airline upgrades its Concourse G terminal at the airport beginning in January 2012. Using “virtual newsstands” at “Media Bars” throughout the terminal, customers will be able to download their choice of content, including publications, movies, music and apps. Once customers reach their destination, a prepaid postage box they got at the time of rental will be used to return the iPad.

Pretty cool idea really but what else?

“As part of our plan to invest in improving the customer experience both in the air and on the ground, Delta is excited to showcase some of Minnesota’s finest chefs and foods to passengers from around the globe while providing our customers with superior amenities,” said Delta’s Bill Lentsch, senior VP, Minnesota Operations.

At MSP, Delta will also rework its current offerings with 12 new local chef-driven restaurants and fresh markets including

  • Mill City Tavern, a reflection of the wealth of Midwestern farms and artisan purveyors with fresh, local ingredients.
  • Mimosa will feature the flavors and textures of simple French country cooking.
  • Minnesota Beer Hall, a festive gathering place to relax prior to flight.
  • Minni Bar, an easygoing cafe offering a menu of globally inspired sandwiches.
  • Twinburger, a famous South Minneapolis cheeseburger that features cheese inside the meat patty rather than on top.
  • Shoyu, a modern Japanese menu that celebrates fresh ingredients where noodles and dumpling wrappers will be made fresh daily in a glass structure that juts out onto the terminal, engaging travelers.
  • Vero, features thin-crust, artisan-style pizzas.
  • Volante, a modern Italian restaurant renowned for being able to take three seasonal ingredients and create a true Italian experience.

“We’re confident that the unique concepts will reinforce our commitment to the Twin Cities and maintain the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport’s status as one of the best in the country” added Lentsch.

Sure, it’s not a guarantee flights will be on time or luggage will make it with you to your destination but who doesn’t like a good gourmet meal at the airport?

Flickr photo by jhritz

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The 10 easiest ways to improve air travel this holiday season

It’s time for you to drag your screaming kids, annoying spouse and endless amounts of overstuffed bags through the airport, as you find your way over the river and through the woods. Thanksgiving is behind us, and that’s the really ugly time to travel, but Christmas is no picnic either. The gate areas and bars will be crowded, and it’s going to be awfully hard for you to be happy while darting from Point A to Point B.

How nice it would be if we could all follow some fairly specific rules designed to keep each other from blowing up – and make all our travel experiences far more efficient. Just under a week after I started at Gadling, two years ago, I wrote six ways to “[m]ake your flight (and mine) easier this holiday season.” As we approach Christmas, this list is definitely worth another look.

In the 700+ days since writing that post, I’ve done more flying and more travel writing. Consequently, I’ve accumulated a bit more knowledge … and a handful of additional pet peeves. A lot has changed since late 2008. The global financial crisis, originally putting severe pressure on the travel market, has given way to something of a recovery, forcing airlines and online travel agents to compete head to head for your business. And, even though ticket prices are up 13 percent year over year, they are still far below peak levels — and may be at their lowest in 15 years. In some environments, pricing is even flat year over year.

So, it makes sense to revisit this issue. Below, you’ll find 10 ways to make holiday travel a lot better for everyone:


1. Know what you’re getting into: be ready for poor service, big crowds and unreasonable people (from passengers to crew members). It is what it is. Lamenting the social injustices committed will get you nowhere, and you’ll become the barrier to progress that you so despise already.

2. Pay the damned extra baggage fee: the overhead bins will be full. Even though airlines are adding capacity as the travel market recovers, they’re not being generous. So, be realistic about the size of the bags you try to cram overhead or under seat – and expect the rest of the people on the plane to have the same overhead plan. If everyone were more realistic from the start, flying would be much, much easier.

3. Bring stuff to keep the kids busy: don’t expect young children to be reasonable – they’re young children. I have enough trouble staying reasonable, and by all chronological measures, I’ve been an adult for a while. If you have kids, it is your job to entertain them (or help them entertain themselves). It may take a village, but you left that at home.

The problem with people today is they have to be entertained 24/7. That’s why they’re at their worst on the airplane.less than a minute ago via web

Also, check this out from a couple of years ago:

Forget every rule of good parenting. Sometimes, you need to let your kid cry to learn a lesson. Here’s the problem: we don’t need to learn that lesson, too. Do what it takes to keep your kid under control. If that means coloring books, candy or … dare I say it … active parenting, do it. Do what it takes. Your round trip involves two days of your kid’s childhood. Whatever you do for the sake of expediency will not make a lasting impression.

4. Pay attention to the flight attendants (for a change): look, do you want to be responsible for creating the next Steven Slater? Of course not. Even if you are forced to deal with unreasonable requests demands from them – not to mention horrid customer service – it’s a lot easier just to play ball. Save your fights for truth, justice and the American way for a flying season that isn’t insanely busy. In the end, doing battle with a nutty flight attendant is only going to keep you from getting to your destination and away from the plane as soon as possible, so it makes sense to sacrifice your principles.

Add to this my advice from a while back:

Know when to quit. We all love to scream at airline employees, and we know they are lying to us. When they say that weather caused the problem on a sunny day, when they say that there are no more exit row seats, when they say the flight is overbooked … we just know it’s bullshit. So, we fight. Sometimes, it works. Appeasement in the form of flight vouchers, hotel stays and free meals sometimes flow. But, at a certain point, you need to know when to stop. If you’re on a full flight of people with super-triple-platinum status (and you’re not), don’t expect to get a damned thing. Accept that you will lose.

Fighting the good fight is okay, but at a certain point, you lose the crowd’s sympathy. Be aware that people who look like serial killers don’t often get what they want (or need).

5. Keep your mouth shut: don’t share your life story with gate agents, TSA employees or anyone else. Nobody cares. Even if you do forge a momentary connection, it will have evaporated by the time you’re stuffing a stale Nathan’s hotdog into your once-talking mouth.

6. Step into the damned body scanner: the whole “opt-out” thing didn’t work right before Thanksgiving. So, it’s time to give up on this. You’ll live. There were no reports of people growing extra heads because they went through the body scanners a month ago. And, the odds do seem awfully low that your pictures will wind up on some strange airline-fetish porn site.

Seriously, just deal. Okay?

7. Be smart at the security checkpoint: this is an important one, because it’s so easy to cause the line to back up. I’m just going to plug in my suggestions from Christmas 2008:

Don’t prepare for the security stop when you’ve already bellied up to the X-ray machine. While you’re in line, do the following:

1. Pull your laptop out of your bag (if you have one)
2. Take your ID (license or passport) out of your pocket, bag, etc.; hold it with your boarding pass
3. Empty your pockets into your carry-on; do the same with your watch, cell phone and any heavy jewelry
4. Remove your shoes, and carry them on top of your laptop
5. Repeat #4 with your coat and hat

Now, you have a stack of personal belongings on top of your laptop. Carry them like you did your books back in grade school. You can drop the laptop into one bin for the X-ray machine, pick up the clothing and drop them in the next bin. It’s fast. It’s easy. It doesn’t leave you screwing around while people are waiting.

8. Look at the rules in advance: know what you can get through airport security and what you’ll have to check or leave behind. We’re in the internet age, so it’s not like you need to fax a request to the TSA or drive to the airport to scope out the signs. And, I’ll even make it easy for you: here’s the TSA list of prohibited items.

9. BYOB on the plane: whether it’s burgers or booze, take care of it ahead of time. Make your purchases at the food court or pack them at home. If you don’t be ready for whatever is being served on the plane. Have the appropriate form of payment ready. Keep in mind that airline food tends not to be terribly healthy, so if you want to keep your arteries clear (or clog them even more aggressively), take control of your culinary future.

10. Stay flexible: some situations will be within your control, but many will not. Understand what you can change and what you’ll have to live with, and the process will get a lot easier for you.

[photo by The Consumerist via Flickr]

Holiday trip? Consider rail travel

Unlike Europe and Japan, the United States isn’t known for its high-tech, efficient rail travel. Which is a shame because, as I recently discovered, taking Amtrak is sometimes a better way to travel this big country of ours, and generally speaking, it has a lower carbon footprint per passenger than driving or flying.

You definitely need to have time to spare for long distance trips, although with the epic waits at some airport security checks, you may well come out ahead on shorter routes. Amtrak offers a lot of promotions and deals on its website, and children two to 15 ride half-price. The train can also be more fun for kids, and help save the sanity of parents who dread the airport schlep and subsequent whine-fest.

When I lived in the Bay Area, I’d sometimes take the train from Berkeley to my brother’s place in Truckee, in North Lake Tahoe. Given that it’s a three-and-a-half hour drive in perfect weather, assuming you leave at the crack of dawn to avoid traffic, the five-hour rail journey isn’t a bad idea for a winter trip. Note: Depending upon route, make sure your trip doesn’t have a connection by bus, which can considerably lengthen your trip and detract from your comfort. That said, I’ve ridden Amtrak’s motorcoaches in the past and found them pretty nice. They’re a far cry from the filthy, stinking, hell-on-wheels that is Greyhound, and at least there are increasingly excellent options on the East Coast for short-distance bus travel.

Still, I’d never done an overnight on Amtrak, mainly because I hate to take 17 hours to travel somewhere that’s a two-hour flight away. But on a recent trip from Chicago to Washington DC, the train was running $85/o/w for a coach seat. At the time, even with the additional cost of a sleeper, it was cheaper than airfare, so I went for it.

The only part of the Midwest I’d visited prior to Chicago was Wisconsin, so the train also provided a great way for me to see a new part of the country. And it would be relaxing…a mini-vacation, if you will, where I could escape traffic and the electronic leashes of Blackberry and computer (Amtrak’s AcelaExpress commuter trains are currently the only ones equipped with Wifi).

The Capitol Limited route took me from Chicago’s bustling downtown Union Station, through Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia. Getting a ticket is as simple as booking online, which I recommend doing in advance if possible, although you can also purchase them at the station from an agent or kiosk, and over the phone or your mobile device. Long distance routes have various sleeping options, ranging from one-to-two person roomettes to bedroom suites that accomodate four adults. For future reference, I suggest you book at least a month ahead on the more popular routes, to ensure you get a sleeper. I selected a 3’x6″ x 6’x6″ “Superliner Roomette ($128 additional fee, including meals).” The Superliner is a double-decker; the roomette a private cabin with sliding doors and curtains, windows spanning the length of the compartment, climate control, a garment rack, fold-down table, and two very comfortable reclining seats that fold into upper and lower berths. Unlike the single-level Viewliner car roomettes, there is no sink or toilet.

Compared to the airport, the train is a stress-free snap. Arrive at station, print out ticket, go to private waiting room, check bag, read, eat free snacks. When it’s time to board, you’re led to the correct platform, and you climb aboard. Tip: If you’ve got a lot of luggage or a really heavy bag, get some assistance. Trains are a lot longer than you’d think, and my back was giving me the metaphorical finger by the time I staggered to my car, lugging my corpse-size duffel.

The friendly conductor showed me to my cozy roomette on the second floor. There was a clean bathroom just steps away, as well as a coffee/water/juice station (included with fare). The shower was downstairs; I was expecting the worst, but it was clean, the water hot and plentiful.

The sightseer lounge cars have huge windows and tables, so I spent the first couple of hours watching the sun set over Indiana. FYI, some routes, like the West’s Coast’s Pacific Surfliner, Coast Starlight, and Amtrak Cascades, and the California Zephyr in the Rockies, are justly famous for their scenery. Amtrak also provides a stop-by-stop guide for its routes, so you can learn the historical and cultural significance of each.

As for dinner, I’m pretty sure I harbor a repressed childhood trauma from an airline chicken breast, because while I think nothing of eating dog, goat testicles, or witchetty grubs (or, probably, human flesh), I can’t deal with meals produced for mass transit. So I bypassed the dining car, because it just smelled unappetizing, and the plates of food didn’t look much better. Instead, I brought my own travel picnic with me. To do otherwise in a city with dining and grocery options as fantastic as Chicago’s would be a shame..

What I really love about Amtrak is the fact that it lets me enjoy transit for transit’s sake, which is something I don’t often experience domestically (probably because I’m always flying or driving). Like riding the bus in foreign countries (my favorite way to travel, and inevitably a fascinating cultural immersion), the train allowed me to just zone out. I had the time and privacy to read, doze, think, daydream, and watch the world go by. At 9pm, the conductor came to turn down my bed. I slid between the sheets, and watched the starry Midwestern night slip by. The rhythm of the rails lulled me to sleep.

In the morning, I sipped my coffee and marveled at the brilliant fall foliage in Maryland and West Virginia. I arrived at DC’s centrally-located Union Station feeling far more relaxed (and free of neck-kinks) than any flight has ever left me. Thanks, Amtrak. rriving

Planes, trains, or automobiles: local delicacies make memorable mobile meals

As a food and travel writer, I log a lot of air and land miles, but I can count on one hand how many airline meals I’ve eaten. Even as a kid-admittedly the most irritatingly picky eater on the planet-I refused to choke down in-flight chicken the texture of sawdust, or boiled-to-death pasta and vegetables. My parents, at their wit’s end, finally gave up. Ordering pizza the night before a plane trip became a ritual, because I’d eat the leftovers once airborne (after scraping off the sauce, but I digress).

In some ways, things have changed. I will now eat anything, often to the detriment of my health, for the purposes of work, or a good story. Dog, insects, horse; I don’t get all the fuss over the Donner Party. I will not, however, eat airline, train, heat-and-serve gas station, or ferry fare, unless I’m being paid to do so. I’m not trying to be a food snob. I just find institutional food repugnant, because it usually takes like ass. Don’t even get me started on the nutritional aspects. And in my defense, I have a serious weakness for Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. No, I skip mass transit meals because one of the greatest joys of travel is trying new foods.

I prefer to use my captive travel time to savor local produce and products purchased from farmer’s markets, food halls, street food vendors, or take-away joints. It’s generally the best, as well as cheapest, way to eat on the go, and it’s a great way to experience the food culture of a country or region, even if you’ve never left the United States.

When I’m in Honolulu, I pick up the fat, juicy, char siu pork-stuffed manapua (steamed dumplings) from Libby Manapua (conveniently located en route to the airport). I’m not alone; the little shop’s pink cardboard cake boxes are a frequent site on inter-island and Mainland-bound flights.

In Naples, I’ve brought calzone and the makings for an impromptu insalata Caprese on the train, and done the same with majouba from Marseilles. On flights I’ve scarfed down Argentinean empanadas, Singaporean sticky rice stuffed with pork, and this soy custardy thing studded with slippery bits of florescent tapioca from Bangkok. I also load up on interesting snack foods: Peruvian cancha, fried fava beans in Ecuador, Mexican tamales, Vietnamese roasted chestnuts, and mochi from Asian groceries in Australia. And under no circumstances should you depart Miami without cuban pork sandwiches from Palacios de los Jugos, in Little Havana.

My favorite mobile meal, however, was a picnic I assembled for a 15-hour train ride from Provence to Madrid. I was staying in the village of Cassis, which is famed for its bustling farmers market. En route to the train station, I hit the market, picking up a couple of different crottins (small rounds of goat cheese), bread, pâté, sausage, and a handful of plump, crimson cherries. A bottle of Bandol rosè from the nearby village of the same name also helped to pass the time.

If you live somewhere known for its local ingredients or dishes, it’s just as easy to assemble a memorable meal to take en route to your destination. One of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received was when a chef friend dropped off a pre-flight bag lunch for me to take on a flight. In it were some of his favorite things from the Berkeley farmer’s market: a loaf of crusty, country-style levain, a round of chevre, and a fat, juicy peach. I arrived at my destination sated and happy. That’s the experience that made me stop making do with meals of soggy, lukewarm sandwiches from home, or Power Bars (although I always have plenty stashed in my day pack for emergency snacks).

A few tips on portable meals:

If you don’t travel light or are on a road trip, keep a small Tupperware container to hold fruit, to prevent it from bruising, or a single-serving-size insulated or neoprene bag to keep perishables cool.

If you backpack, as I do, you can still get away with carrying a few essentials: pocketknife (unless you’re carry-on only), and a wine opener. Carabiners are good to clip on your daypack, as they aid in holding purchases.

If you’ve purchased meat (even if it’s cured), dairy products, honey, or produce, be prepared to consume it en route- you won’t be able to take if off the plane or over borders. At least, not legally. This can also apply on domestic flights, usually in regard to produce.

Do be considerate of your seatmates. If you’re traveling Stateside, or in places where fragrant/heavily spiced cuisine isn’t the norm, skip it. Because hell on earth is being stuck on a plane next to someone eating a warm tuna sandwich. Also, it’s good form, as well as a cultural imperative in some countries, to offer your neighbors a little snack.

Most cultures have foods, such as a variation on dumplings, that are ideal for transit. In Asia and India, food hawkers often sell food on the train or in stations. These may be some of the best, most authentic eats you’ll find, but be forewarned that few things ruin a long train or bus ride like foodborne illness. Only buy fresh, hot food from busy vendors, bring bottled water, and carry a box of Imodium (seriously). Happy travels!

Chile-Citrus Olives

The whole point of travel picnics is to make do when you can’t cook, but I make these olives to take on road trips. They also make nice cocktail snacks or a casual accompaniment to a cheese plate. They’re typical of the type of prepared food you’ll find in many Mediterranean and Middle Eastern markets.
serves 4

10 oz. dry cured or green olives, or combination of the two, such as Moroccan or Picholine
3 or 4 strips of orange peel (not zest- use a vegetable peeler to cut wide strips, avoiding any pith)
2 cloves garlic, gently crushed
2 pinches red chile flakes
1 to 2 T. extra virgin olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium low heat, adding more olive oil if too dry. Warm until heated through, then remove from heat, transfer to small bowl, and allow to sit one hour, so flavors develop.