Hot Chocolate, Two Ways (Mérida, México)

Two years ago, I took a road trip with some friends around southeastern Mexico, starting and ending in Orizaba, Veracruz, ultimately getting as far as Cancun.  As I may have mentioned before, Mexico – thus far – is one of my top three countries for eating…thus, I was not only looking forward to exploring more of the country with locals, but also to trying new and familiar foods along the way.

For instance, there’s chocolate.  I’ve wondered why Mexican chocolate doesn’t get much attention around the world, in spite of being the ancestral home of Theobroma cacao, the Latin name for the original cacao tree.  Of course, colonial empires and globalization have played a role in spreading the harvesting of cacao throughout many tropical countries, namely the Ivory Coast, Venezuela, and Ecuador.

Fast forward to my road trip, and the city of Mérida, located in the state of Yucatan.  Although counting nearly one million inhabitants in its metro area, its downtown area has a cozy feel to it.  Mérida is hot year-round, has boulevards lined with mansions built almost entirely thanks to rope, and owing to Mayan tradition, unique foods found nowhere else in México.

Plus, due to its recognition as being one of the safest cities in the country and with that, a sizable expat population, they’ve got some fine places eat and drink.  Places like Ki’XOCOLATL, a small chocolate shop adjacent to Santa Lucia Park.

Hot Chocolate, Two Ways, Ki’XOCOLATL (from left to right, “brown sugar, cinnamon, achiote, allspice, and habanero;” honey is in the container on the central plate)

Though there are some debates as to the origins of the word chocolate, it no doubt stems from Nahuatl, a language spoken for centuries in rural parts of central Mexico; xocolia means “to make bitter,” and atl refers to “water.”

When it was first discovered nearly 4000 years ago by pre-Olmec cultures, it was consumed in its naturally bitter state, ground into a paste with water.  Subsequent civilizations started to add in what was organically found at the time in Mexican jungles and rain forests, namely honey, chilies, and vanilla.

After a long stroll through downtown Merida, I wanted to sit down and relax with some sweets.  Ki’XOCOLATL offered hot chocolate, two ways, I as I deem it.  The first method was the contemporary style, sweetened with sugar.  The latter, evoking how Olmecs and Mayans may have enjoyed it, started off by merely being the bitter cacao seed heated up with water.  The waiter served it alongside honey, brown sugar, achiote – a yellow-orange seed typically used to add color to foods, allspice, habanero, and cinnamon, although cinnamon hails from Sri Lanka.

Although the ancient hot chocolate took a bit of getting used to, I admit that the modern one was the best cup of it I have ever tried.


Where have you tried your favorite cup of hot chocolate?  Whether it was in Mexico or somewhere else, let me know!

Airline Route Map Rhetoric

Before starting to read books (this is ongoing), I chose maps.   That’s right, I can point out where all of the worlds Guineas are (what a novelty).  In fact, I participated in a couple of state geography bees (harsh reality?), but am still lamenting over not applying for a spot on Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Contestants who were sent to place buzzers on the then-newly independent CIS states were perpetually bingung, rather, confused (sorry, haven’t written something in Indonesian for a while).

A predilection for cartographic creations has helped make flights seem less long, especially when the only movie offerings are Drop Dead Fred or The Room.  Having a pen makes it even more pleasant, as I get to gerrymander US states or Cypriot regions to the toot of my own horn (note: haven’t done this yet).  Remember when Iran was upset about National Geographic magazine calling it the Arabian Gulf instead of the Persian Gulf?  I don’t have a problem with the complaint, but just as thought-provoking, if less well-known, is that (Western) airlines generally used to added a suffix to their names in order to be able to fly to both China and Taiwan.  The Dutch airline KLM for example stayed that way on flights to the mainland, but was called KLM Asia to the latter.

This will probably be a thread I’ll continually update, once I’m able to find the Delta inflight magazine that showed Kampuchea instead of Cambodia, or the one where Xian, China is listed as the more archaic Chang’an.  Until those encounters happen, take a peek at the oddities, sometimes controversial, sometimes just …odd.  -ities:

The red lines stand for code-share flights, in other words not those actually operated by China Southern (airline code CZ), but a lot happens when you’ve been abroad for about a year.  Minneapolis relocates to Canada, south Florida travels back to 1995 and Maori Island becomes a misnomer.

China Southern Airlines (CZ) Nationalism

Juicy stuff here.  The Senkaku Islands(or as China calls them, the D/Tiaoyu Islands) AND the South China archipelago, (not to mention Taiwan- but that’s a been there, done that), are clearly in attendance on this page of the China Southern route map.  Might as well add “Africa” and the Solomon Islands to that map too…

El Al Route Map

El Al (LY), an Israeli/whatever airline, understandably can’t just overfly certain countries.  Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iran (would you ever guess???)  Thus, their long-haul routes become that much more long-haul.  Say, when flying from Tel Aviv to Johannesburg, they have stay right over the Red Sea, and on their Bangkok route, well, ouch.  But this recent news of potential Dubai-Tel Aviv flights might be the black swan moment in their route map’s history…

Etihad, Abu Dhabi AUH- Jakarta CGK “World Map”

Etihad (EY) of the United Arab Emirates went a bit overboard.  I was flying from Abu Dhabi to Jakarta, but they generously wanted to impress me with their knowledge of world geography.  Because what’s going on in Brasilia is directly going to affect my flight over the Bay of Bengal.  Good thing they don’t have any domestic routes.

China Airlines, TPE-HNL

If you squint well enough, you can see…the ocean.  Taipei-Honolulu, another route I’m not sure why I took.

East/West Seas, Asiana In-flight Map

This one’s got two-in-the-hand!  The West Sea is what the Korean Peninsula terms the Yellow Sea, nothing too offensive.  But the East Sea.  Well, in another never-ending spat with Japan, the Koreas can’t possibly agree with the Sea of Japan, so they just used their/an imagination.  By the way, the Sea of Japan has some delicious Echizen crab…

Maybe all airlines should just take a page from Oman Air’s book, and only label the origin and destination points:

Oman Air, Bangkok BKK to Muscat MCT, 2019

Have you noticed anything “nuanced” on airline route/in-flight maps?

Window or Aisle?

There doesn’t seem to be any good seat in economy class.  Window seats force you to play Twister in case you need to get up for anything; aisle seats mean bags may fall on you whenever the overhead is opened, someone is going to impel you to stand in the aisle once everyone can disembark, your elbow becomes a bullseye for drink carts, and sometimes a giant metal box is under the seat in front of you, c/o in-flight entertainment (IFE); a middle seat has barely any of those issues, phew, except good luck trying to free a limb to do anything.  Not to mention, don’t you get such a kick out of when the check-in agent says the flight is “very, VERY full,” “completely full” or the ingeniously crafted “full,” only to realize that there are seats still unoccupied?  Heck, on some US flights, they will charge you to switch to certain “Economy Plus” seats…are those for extra legroom, or less COVID exposure?

Hey now, then why do I always choose an aisle seat, given the non-exhaustive list of negatives above?  I like wandering about, hitting up the galley where frozen apples and bananas are available to all, sometimes chatting with flight attendants (who are also often frozen) and joining in the elderly Japanese folks who always manage to establish a pop-up gymnasium in the back.  Also, bowing to slight irony, using my knowledge of geography (…and with some assistance from the in-flight map, if available), I’d trek to one of the emergency exit doors to peer out the window.  Why not just choose a window seat then?  I’d make enemies for life with my restless legs and prevailing Middle Eastern countenance.

Just like non-smoking rooms at a Chinese hotel couldn’t be further from the truth, you don’t always have a choice in where you sit on a plane.  Nevertheless, for flights less 3.5 hours, I will attempt a window seat, in order to get views like these:

United Airlines (NRT-HKG)- Mt. Fuji
United Airlines (NRT-HKG)- Mt. Fuji, 2013
Air Dolomiti (CTA-MUC)- Catania & Mt. Etna
Air Dolomiti (CTA-MUC)- Catania & Mt. Etna, 2014
Leaving JFK with a starboard view of the Manhattan skyline, 2019
Taking in the beautiful karst scenery of Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province, 2019
Flying over a Gobi desert wind farm, Mongolia, 2019

Oh, let’s not forget, if you’re seated at the window, you get to use your whole noggin to peer out, so that no one else has a chance of seeing anything.  Never mind that merely sitting still will get you nearly the same view…

Where do YOU like to sit?

Kabsa (كبسة), Saudi Arabia’s National Dish

While teaching in Jeddah, a couple of my students took particular interest in showing me around the region (which even included an impromptu trip to Mecca).  One weekend – Friday and Saturday, mind you – we went gallivanting around the austere cliffs and valleys of Taif, viewing some spectacular landscapes.  On the first night, they invited me to try the de facto Saudi national dish, kabsa.

Stemming from the Arabic word kabasaكبس)) meaning “to press/squeeze,” referring to all of its ingredients being squeezed into one pot, kabsa – or makboos (مكبوس), depending on where in the Gulf you are – consists of grilled meat, rice, onions, and a mélange of spices, served family-style.

Camel Kabsa in Taif, Saudi Arabia

To prepare kabsa, first, the meat – typically chicken, but lamb, shrimp, and camel are also common – is either cooked in deep holes in the ground (whose style is called mandi), or grilled over flaming stones (called mathbi).   Add in a blend of ingredients – namely, black pepper, cumin, dried powdered limes, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and saffron, for flavor and color.  Then, in a pot combine all of the above with long-grain/basmati rice.  Sometimes, you will find the finished product topped with slivers of almonds, fried onions, raisins, and pine nuts.

Kabsa is typically enjoyed while everyone is seated on the floor, using their right hands to scoop up a mix of the tender meat, rice, and fried onions.  Common accompaniments include hot sauce, pickles, a cucumber-yogurt sauce, a simple clear soup, and pita.


Have you tried kabsa/makboos?  If so, where?

Five Meals in Baku, Azerbaijan

In late 2016, I visited Baku, Azerbaijan, after learning about the ease of getting a tourist visa if you were a passenger on Azerbaijan Airlines’New York JFK-Baku GYD flight.  With more time, I would have explored the vast biodiversity of the country; however, this short trip was focused on Baku, the Azeri capital, and a few of regional historical landmarks.

As such, today’s post will be centered on a few meals that I tried while in Baku.  With food heavily influenced by Turkish and Iranian cuisines – as well as Russian cuisine – I had high hopes for the Caspian Sea metropolis. Nuş Olsun (Bon Appétit)!

Having done no prior food and drink research about Baku, I decided to rely on the local knowledge of the Azerbaijan Airlines flight attendants; their suggestions were written below, on a less than flattering in-flight sickness bag.

While paying homage to the FAs’ recommendations, the first thing that I ate in Baku was a quince.  Most commonly consumed as a fruit spread, quinces are quite popular in the Caucasus region.  I think quince jams and paste go great with manchego and melba toast, but take my word for it, a raw quince is astringent, awkwardly crunchy, and thus no bueno.

After a day trip to a couple of cool places – I will get into them at a later time – my shady taxi driver dropped me off at this restaurant, ostensibly managed by his “friend.”  Nevertheless, it was a good intro to Azerbaijani food, replete with delicious pomegranate, pickled eggplant, local non-spicy giardiniera, somewhat bland bread (more on this in a moment), raw greens, ayran – a mix of yoghurt, water, and salt – and piti.  What, a piti?  Sorry.

Piti, a soup made with a base of chickpeas, lamb, and chestnuts, comes from the northwestern town of Sheki.  It is always served in an earthenware pot, and can even include quince, cherries, and other items, depending on the season.

About half way through eating the piti, a waiter came by to demonstrate that I was eating it wrong.  You are supposed to rip up the bread, place it in the bowl, and then pour the piti on it.  The pickles (and onions, which I had already eaten by this time) are a traditional accompaniment, as is the floral yet subtle sumac to sprinkle on top.  When eaten correctly, it all comes together so much better~

Xaş (khash)…here’s where we get into the doldrums.  Originally a cheap meal for farmers, and found as far away as Mongolia and Greece, khash is a stew made of tendons in cow and/or sheep feet.  In Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, it’s generally eaten in the winter, and is amusingly eaten to overcome hangovers.

It was extremely oily, heavy without any pleasant flavor, and ultimately not something I’d want to eat again.

Now we’re talking!  Lyulya kebabs, made of minced lamb, onion and plenty of salt, served with more onion, delightfully chewy bread, and narsharab, an Azeri condiment made of sweet and sour pomegranates.  Pomegranates are known as the king of fruit in Azerbaijan, where more than 200 varieties of the vermilion fruit are grown.  Even some dishes are made with pomegranates and eggs…I’m curious about this one.

Just don’t throw that bread out.  It’s rude.

What better way to finish off a brief tour of Azerbaijani food than with paxlava, also known as bakhlava?  The intricately designed paxlava on the top left is called şəkərbura (roughly, shekerbura), and is filled with walnuts and sugar.  On the bottom, tenbel paxlava, or lazy paxlava, made with ground walnuts, sugar, and a sweet syrup.  Although I’m a tea drinker nearly 100% of the time when compared to coffee, as this was a jet lag dish, I went for a cuppa.

If you want to read more about Azerbaijani cuisine, check out this article.

Three Tamales and a Cup of Atole in Atzacan, Mexico

As of today – and since many years back – my top three countries for food, in no order, are Mexico, Turkey, and Japan.  There are plenty of countries out there with excellent eats, and I’m still missing what I believe to be heavy-hitters in the culinary world (the biggest one being Iran), but for a variety of factors, those three places are tops.

Thus, having friends or family in those destinations also works out swimmingly.  Whether it’s local knowledge, language help, or having someone who doesn’t mind mouthing off to line-jumpers, you will cherish the experience.

Case-in-point, let’s take a brief look at the city of Atzacan, located in Mexico’s Veracruz state.

Downtown Atzacan

Last year, with friend who called the region home, I visited the small municipality of Atzacan.  For those linguists out there, the name Atzacan derives from three Náhuatl (a group including the Aztecs) words— atl, or water, tzaqua, or stop, and can, or place; in other words, “the place where the water stops.”

Founded in 1825, Atzacan is best known for its maize (corn) and beans, as well as an annual festival in April celebrating Santa Ana (Saint Anne), its patroness saint.

Beans Vendor at a Food Market in Downtown Atzacan

Of course, we were there to eat.  Given the spectacularly diverse terrain in this part of Mexico – among sloping hills and tropical valleys, volcanoes and thus, fertile soil also pepper the landscape – my friend was tipped off about tamales and atole as being local specialties.

This was a cool find for at least a trio of reasons.  One, it’s Mexican food, so it’s mostly likely going to be delicious.  Two, it’s a locavore’s delight.  And three, my tamale knowledge was woefully limited until that day.

Although the tamal can be found in countless forms stretching from Mexico to Chile, I couldn’t believe how many types there were just in Atzacan!  Given how filling tamales are, we only sampled a few:

Chocolate Tamal, Strawberry Tamal, and a Cup of Corn Atole (not seen, the Rapidly Devoured Coconut Tamal)

Again, given the terroir of the region surrounding Atzacan, ingredients as diverse as berries, chocolate, coconut, pineapple, bananas, and many other things could be mixed in with the masa, or nixtamalized corn dough, to prepare the tamal.

As for the atole, the hot drink made of masa, cinnamon, water, and often raw cane sugar (piloncillo), it’s a particularly heavy pairing with tamales, though no less tasty.  Over time, atoles, too  have come to be prepared with guavas, pineapple, nuts, and other naturally sweet ingredients…though its most famous cousin, champurrado, is made with masa, water, and chocolate.

My short visit to Atzacan was something of an eye-opener.  Not only did it provide more context to the breadth of super-local Mexican cuisine, but it also made me appreciate a bit more places that take pride in what they produce for themselves.


Have you visited Atzacan, or anywhere in the state of Veracruz?  Are you a fan of tamales and atoles?

Even a Bad Airline Meal Meant You Were Traveling

As a former frequent leisure traveler, this COVID-19 pandemic is a real cliché dust-creator for passports.   Nevertheless, I wanted to reflect on a few airline meals, that stood out not for being good, but just because even unpleasant in-flight service meant that you were traveling somewhere.
Emirates, DXB-JFK
Baked beans and mushrooms?  Thanks for your contribution, Her Majesty

The US airlines for the most part make it simple these days when flying between and in the fifty states- no free meals in economy class, save for a few cross-country flights.  On the flip side, I guess we can’t blame them for the inevitably inferior quality if they were still serving meals.  Still, if I could get one of those rock-solid pieces of bread with butter, it could tide us over for a spell.  Better to have never received free food in-flight in the first place, because passengers wouldn’t be able to make that their excuse du jour.  Shoot, if I’m going to be stuck on an airplane for any amount of time, I’d rather be eating something I know is good, say a five dollar bottle of Hudson News-water, two Advil or take-out from a Salvadorean restaurant.

Ahh, Salvadorean food.  Sure, airport security in many places wouldn’t permit you to take the condiments– pickled cabbage being the número uno cause of airborne anarchy– through the checkpoints, but I wonder how many people have been introduced to a country’s cuisine based on the airline they were flying.  We’ve already taken a peek at a British breakfast above, but that was with Emirates, which might as well be the 3rd British carrier, but let’s see what kind of hometown pride other airlines have:

American Airlines, MIA-LPB
We’ll begin with the most painful volunteer, American Airlines, from Miami to La Paz, Bolivia.  Did you know that there’s as much fat in that salad dressing as there is in the person in the seat next to you?  Oh, hello rock-solid piece of bread.  La Paz Airport is the second highest in the world, so I couldn’t tell if I was sick because of the altitude or the…wait, is that Vaseline?  I’m getting out of here.

Dragonair, HKG-DACDragonair (now known as Cathay Dragon, based in Hong Kong), Hong Kong to Dhaka.  Never thought you’d see feta cheese and soy-glazed pea pods together?  The most representative Hong Kong food in this picture is the TimeOut chocolate bar.  Why?  It’s produced by Cadbury, a British company.  HK was a British territory from the early 1840s until 1997.  Folks, that’s the best I got…

Sichuan Airlines, CTU-SZX
Sichuan Airlines (based in Chengdu, China), Chengdu to Shenzhen.  Aviation food!  No need for the reminder, alas it’s not so much different from Chinese terra firma food.  That’s a standard Chinese breakfast food on the right, 粥 zhōu, or rice porridge.  In that oh-so-common air-tight packet to its lower left, pickled MSG.  No, it’s pickled daikon, a root vegetable.  If they gave a packet of sunflower seeds instead of pickles, the aisle would become louder than the engines at take-off.

Bangkok Airways, LPQ-BKK

Bangkok Airways, Luang Prabang, Laos to Bangkok, Thailand.  Khao niao, whereas khao=rice and niao=sticky in the Lao language, is present.  That’s the best we can do here.  Are those carrots wrapped in egg?  I have to start prioritizing my memory.

What do you remember most about airline meals?

Kuwait Towers (أبراج الكويت)

Subsequent to the first export of Kuwaiti oil in 1946, Kuwait immediately began to modernize its infrastructure.  At the time, water was supplied to residents by tank trucks, which rapidly became ineffective due to the fast-growing population and development.

In order to tackle the issue of water distribution and storage, in 1965 the Ministry of Electricity and Water tasked Swedish architect Sune Lindström and his engineering firm VBB to design and construct a series of 31 water towers through Kuwait, centering on Kuwait City.

A controversial name, particularly if you’re from Iran (where it’s called the Persian Gulf)

However, in order to celebrate Kuwait’s burgeoning economic clout thanks to its petroleum industry and thus, rising prominence in region, the contract for the last water towers – to be built overlooking the Arabian Gulf, as the pièces de résistance of the Kuwaiti capital – was offered to Danish architect Malene Bjørn, wife of Sune Lindström.

Kuwait Towers, Kuwait City

Inaugurated on February 26th, 1977 and consisting mainly of reinforced concrete, the most prominent features of the pair of water towers are the three spheres, evoking historical Islamic aesthetics in their blue, green, and grey mosaics.

In total, there are three towers.  The smallest at 100 meters (~328 feet) stores a floodlight system for the complex.  The second, at 145. 8 meters (~478 feet), holds water inside its sole sphere.

Finally, the tallest tower, at 185 meters (~607 feet), comprises of a lower sphere that stores water, and a higher sphere which contains an observation deck and a restaurant.  I briefly visited Kuwait City in 2008, and owing to my enthusiasm for observation towers, took in a view of the sprawling desert capital:

Inside the observation deck at Kuwait Towers complex
View from the observation deck of the tallest of the Kuwait Towers complex
Staring down at the 2nd tower from the observation deck

A couple of interesting tidbits about the Kuwait Towers–

In 1980, at its inaugural ceremony, the Aga Khan Development Network bestowed upon Malene Bjørn one of its awards for architecture.  The awards – given triennially – are for architects and designers who have constructed meaningful and progressive structures in Muslim societies.

In 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait for its vast oil supply, even the observation deck wasn’t spared (there was a photo series covering the invasion at the deck):

A photo from when Iraq invaded Kuwait and launched artillery shells at the towers
Even the Air Conditioning Units weren’t spared

On a lighter note, between 2012 and 2016, the tallest tower, being the only one open to the public, underwent an extensive renovation.  It reopened in March 2016, and just three years later, hosted a Tedx event focusing on Kuwaiti technologists and young coders.

Nutrition Facts, or Nutrition Lies?

Fuzzy math, indeed.

I was chowing down on some Nature Valley Pumpkin Spice granola bars the other day, when I noticed the perplexing Nutrition Facts label on the packaging:

“Nutrition Facts”

If I am reading the percentages (%) and Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed (RACC) correctly, I should probably hold a conference call with my elementary school teachers first.

Let’s take the Saturated Fat content as an example.  According to this packaging, one (1) granola bar contains 0g of Saturated Fat.  However, doubling that amount to two (2) increases the content to 1g, which suddenly comes to 4% of one’s Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of Saturated Fat.  I suppose we can infer that .25g of Saturated Fat = 1% of the RDA, but if one (1) bar didn’t have any to begin with, how does adding another give us 4%?

Not to mention, should consumers even be aiming for 100% Saturated Fat intake on a daily basis?  Is it analogous to selling products for $9.99 as opposed to $10.00?  Of course not…if you are eating nearly 100% Saturated Fat everyday, you’re going to be in for a world of pain just after a few weeks.  But if you saved one penny everyday on a purchase, you’d have just enough after one year to buy…a package of Nature Valley Granola Bars.  Whoops, there’s tax added after, too bad.

That’s just one of many cogent instances of a mostly pointless yet nearly ubiquitous Nutrition Facts label.  Did you happen to notice the Calcium, Iron, and Protein content, when comparing one to two granola bars?

You see, in the United States Nutrition Facts only became required on packaged food and beverages in 1990; even these days, some smaller packaging asks you to send a letter or call the company to inquire about nutrition information.

Moreover, as per the International Food Information Council Foundation

Serving sizes listed on packaged foods and beverages are determined by how much of that item people typically consume at one time. They are not recommendations for how much people should consume.

Quite the revelation…but then again, how does one determine a serving size for butter, soft drinks, or crème brûlée, things no one should be consuming?

Interestingly, it was only in 1973 that Nutrition Facts labels first started to appear on FDA (Food and Drug Administration)-regulated products; the things that had to be shown were:

  • the number of calories
  • protein (in grams)
  • carbohydrates (g)
  • “fat” (g)

and the percentage of the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance of:

  • protein
  • vitamin A
  • vitamin C
  • thiamin (vitamin B1, which converts carbs into energy)
  • riboflavin (vitamin B2, breaks down carbs/proteins/fats to produce energy, and allows oxygen to be used by the body)
  • niacin (vitamin B3, helps keep nervous and digestive systems and the skin healthy, is involved in cellular metabolism)
  • calcium
  • iron

Curiously, sodium, saturated fat and polyunsaturated fat contents were not mandated to be on the original Nutrition Facts labels, as categories were at the discretion of the food manufacturers.

Although I have no hope for Nutrition Facts reform in the current Beltway morass, having a quantitative baseline legend ( x {for example, # of grams= 1% of the RDA of a nutrient}, 1+1 = 2, etc.) would be a start.  Not allowing food and beverage companies to include various incomprehensible chemical compounds and additives is a topic for another day – then again, many of us can opt not to buy those things – but I would like to see some clarity and honesty when it comes to nutritional content.

A Small Tribute to the Airbus A380

Although I have fonder memories of Boeing’s 747 jet, the Airbus A380 holds a special place in my wallet heart.  Even though both will be discontinued by 2022, with the last fuselage for the Airbus A380 – nicknamed “A380” – was delivered to the Airbus assembly line in France two months ago, I can’t help but wax nostalgic about my first two A380 flights, with Emirates, Hong Kong (HKG) – Bangkok (BKK) – Hong Kong (HKG).

Embarrassingly, these photos are almost all from the second leg, Bangkok to Hong Kong, flight EK384, because my camera’s battery died on the flight to Bangkok.

The inconvenience of being a plane spotter at BKK (Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok, Thailand)

Although Singapore Airlines became the first airline to operate the A380, Emirates had quickly become the largest A380 operator, thanks to its conveniently located hub in the United Arab Emirates.

While working in China roughly ten years ago, I had read that Emirates was starting to operate its Dubai – Bangkok – Hong Kong route with the novel A380— capable of seating 517 passengers, incapable of social distancing.

It was precisely a combination of two things that led me to book a weekend hop to Bangkok from Hong Kong; limited-time introductory fares, and that fabled First Class shower, emblematic of the over-the-top ways the {Arabian/Persian} Gulf airlines tried to compete with one another.

Would I be flying on a private jet anytime soon?  No, so there was no way I could resist the profligate trip to Bangkok.

Dual Jetways at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport

Since this is more of a focus on the A380 and less on the flight itself, I will be skipping commentary about the check-in experience and Emirates lounge at BKK.  Though, it was my first time walking down a jetway to the upper deck of a plane, which BKK had purposefully installed at a few gates for the A380.

Economy Class was entirely located on the lower deck, whereas the 14 First Class and 76 Business Class seats were all on the upper deck.  If the flight were longer, I would probably have stretched my legs on the steps a few times, but for these short hops, I just went to the lounge in the aft (back) section of the upper deck.  Unfortunately, I have no photos of the lounge, but if you are intrigued, check this out.

32-inch First Class Screen

Hey, Seat 1A…not bad!  Quite a giant screen for a flight, too.  Prior to flying with Emirates, I had always believed that Singapore Airlines offered the best in-flight entertainment (IFE).  EK takes that notion – regardless of class of service – and repeatedly squashes it.

First Class Seat 1A, Emirates A380

At the time, airlines were just fitting new Business Class seats with completely lie-flat beds; nowadays, First Class doesn’t have much on Business Class, save maybe for the quality of champagne served, or the mileage you earn.  When Turkish Airlines had its Premium Economy, I believe its combined soft and hard product even put to shame many contemporaneous Business Class arrangements.

One of many plates during my short A380 First Class flight, replete with the Emirates logo

As a culinary traveler, I may have gone a bit hogwild (pun unintended) during this flight. Arabic mezze?  YES.  Arabic coffee with dates?  YES.  Every possible dish on the in-flight menu?  YES.  Above, we have a crab and Thai mango salad, served with smoked salmon and even more Thai mango.

THE SHOWER

The pièce de résistance, the Emirates Airbus A380 First Class shower.  But that’s not even the half of it.  First of all, the bathroom was larger than my dorm rooms in both Tokyo and Hong Kong combined, though the water was as toxic as Hong Kong’s.  There was a timer in the shower, which was fine by me (I think you had a total of ten minutes per use…not sure how long you would have to wait for it to restart).

Best of all, using the shower during turbulence was awesome.

With that, I bid thee, oh’ new Airbus A380 a farewell, and simultaneously flip the bird to those long-range narrow-body jets.