x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

When travelling, the usual food rules do not apply

Ice cream in airports makes complete sense.

Time spent in airports is the ultimate write-off. The same depreciation extends to anything eaten while flying and, for me, flying is a ritual that begins kerbside the moment I'm dropped off and doesn't end until I exit the sliding doors, inhale and am swept into the current of a new place.

Airports are vacuums, black holes from which neither light nor time escapes; incubators of daydreams and the squeak of alternate lives; twilight zones suspended between arrivals and departures, origins and destinations, where you've come from and where you're going. And that's exactly why it's OK that you can't help but buy every flavour in a line of crisps that isn't available in your hometown. Because while buying 14 bags of crisps at your local shop might be perceived as gluttonous or pathologically indecisive, stockpiling while in transit is merely the responsible thing to do, at least for the sake of culinary research. I'm especially fond of British crisps, which come in irresistible savoury incarnations such as roast chicken, roast beef and mustard, and prawn cocktail.

Travel can taste like the flavours of anticipation such as elation, the jitters and dread, each of which lend their own special seasoning that impacts the way we experience everything, including food. But for places that can evoke a lot of emotional catharsis, airports and hospitals are notorious for the quality of their dining options.

Some people eat when they get anxious, and I eat most voraciously when relaxed. What is the childlike serenity that consumes me in those sterile corridors? Maybe I use airports as a form of therapy, guiding me through a comforting and adult-appropriate weaning process.

As an escapist and a fantasist, airports are my neutral ground. Then again, restlessness has always been my most peaceful state - or at least my default one.

My long-standing tradition of soft-serve ice cream happy hours were surely born of the same logic that allows some travellers to unapologetically order cocktails at 9am: it may be 6am in Cincinnati, but it's time for ice cream somewhere. I can't count the number of times I've sprinted to catch the Skylink train at DFW while holding a lopsided, towering spire of soft-serve, always vanilla, hold the toppings. The taste is as cool, neutral and timeless as the transatlantic accent behind the TSA warnings on the PA system.

For me, transit is a permanent state of mind, precipitating many of my daily gaffes. Though I'm not jet-lagged at the moment, I still feel like I spend much of my waking life in a foggy mental layover, reading the news a day late, catching on to jokes only after everyone else has stopped laughing - and eating breakfast for dinner.

Airports are places of perfect order in a world that's anything but orderly, which makes the act of shuffling through the security line like livestock feel like a perverse luxury, or the ultimate psychological spa treatment. There's a protocol for everything. Just don't leave your baggage unattended, try not to think too hard and don't forget the ice cream.

 

Nouf Al-Qasimi is an Emirati food analyst who lives and cooks in New Mexico