Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Dhokla or Sponge

Dear Mr Oliver Beale

Your letter of complaint to Mr. Richard Branson regarding the worst airline meal ever has become something of an internet phenomenon. [For the ignorant, see here and here]. After all, who has not wanted, at some time or other, to take a swipe at the abysmal levels of service provided in the cattle class that many of us travel in. I must also commend your felicity (at such a young age too) with the language of Keats and Milton and Shakespeare. When it comes to food, however, I must regrettably submit that you are even more gastronomically challenged than the average Westerner. Your levels of ignorance plumbs depths I have rarely seen in an educated person outside the Kansas/Nebraska/Wyoming areas of the United States.

To refresh your memory and those of the poor souls who have been unfortunate enough to visit this page I reproduce the photo that is doing the rounds of the internet, presumably taken by you.

The sponge like yellow shafts, as you so felicitously call them, appear to be nothing more exotic than dhokla a common (and dare I say, tasty) snack from the Western part of India, served, if I mistake not, with some green chutney (made probably with mint and coriander). Considering that you were on a Mumbai-London flight this is hardly surprising. I confess I have seen more sprightly looking tomatoes, but then, this is airline food after all, one can only expect so many contented tomatoes on board. In other words this was not dessert.

The second item does appear to be a sweet, (though whether it can be distinguished by the appellation dessert is debatable since this was not a main meal). In fact it looks like some gajar halwa again a very popular sweet made from grated carrots, sugar, milk, nuts, etc. You object to peas being used to garnish dessert and so would I like all other equally sensible people. However, guess what? Those green slivers are those of pistachio and not peas! Dare I say, even by the pretty pathetic gastronomy knowledge standards of the average Westerner, you almost touch cretin levels in this department. But then how would you know -- you never tasted anything! You just photographed! So you have only my word for it - they aren't so bad after all. The rest of the light cream stuff appears to be some kind of rabdi - (a kind of thickened milk) since you insist it is not custard (though at this point I am not sure you even know what custard tastes like -- but surely not mustard -- I cannot believe even Virgin Atlantic is capable of such a culinary bombshell). The rest of the meal is probably similarly amenable to a perfectly reasonable description.

In other words, while not exactly an exciting gourmet meal (when did you last have an exciting meal in cattle-class?) it appears to have been a perfectly adequate snack meal, sufficient to keep body and soul together for at least half the duration of the flight. What amazes me is that you were coming from Mumbai; surely one could expect at least some faint nodding acquaintance with Indian food?

On the other hand, as a "high-flying advertising executive" your command over the Queen's English is clearly more than adequate and no doubt that is what will get you places in your career (your letter is clearly going places). Just don't try becoming a food critic.

Finally let me confess -- I love writing complaint letters! That makes us two of a kind (though we clearly part company where food is concerned). And so, here is one of the best complaint letters I have ever read. I offer it to you as a hallmark to which you could well aspire in a few years time, given your obvious talents.

Yours sincerely

Rahul Basu


Anant said...

O Learned one! You must certainly send the link for this post to Richard Branson. He could have hardly defended better!

Your humble student.

Rahul Basu said...

Anant: Once again you have got hold of the wrong end of the stick. I am not defending Richard Branson. I am objecting to the complainant's description of what is clearly Indian food. For all I know it could have been made very badly...but that is not the issue...

When I write next, I will put in enough footnotes to clarify everything....

Anant said...

Rahul: "Once again..."? Apart from that, thanks for the comment. It is true that the complainer is something of an ignormarous. Also, I do look forward to what you write next, footnotes and all!

Y h s

AmOK said...

OLO! (May I call you that, O Learned O?)

My heart bleeds for the Kansas/Nebraska/Wyoming massacre at your learned hands. You did not even spare Kansas, from where a risen star's mother hails.

I must say though that Mr. Beale does indeed plumb the depths with his "humour" and grammar. Unlike the Kansas/Nebraska/Wyoming folk -- who would , by and large, be respectfully intrigued by the unknown aspects of the Dhokla -- Mr. Beale goes much deeper and revels ungrammatically in his own ignorance.

I think the letter is popular because people hate airline "food" in economy class. The Dhokla attack, like K, N and W is just collateral damage. I extend warmth and affection this winter to Kansas, Nebraska and Wyoming on your behalf.

Unseen minds said...

I think if nothing else works one can at least try to smell the food and guess whether it smells spicy or sweet. After all, just the appearance is not everything.
For god's sake one not can ask the cabin crew 'what is it?'
I agree airline food is not that great, but to write a complain letter even with out trying it...
Am glad you wrote this post.. a link should be sent to Mr. Oliver.
(On a separate note, now am missing the rabdi and halwa :) )

Rahul Basu said...

OGA (as in Oh Great AmOK): Mr Beale is described as a "high flying advertising executive" - I am curious to know why he then travels economy - or is he high flying in the literal sense of so many kilometers above ground?

AmOK said...

OLO: OLI (as he is known to his friends) is 29, he was obviously high when he wrote the letter, was flying and may also be an advertising executive.

Yes, I too do not expect such a low blow from one who does so high fly. Maybe budget cuts. Or he was going on a personal visit and did not have access to corporate jets for that purpose. --OGA

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