Massaman Lamb Curry and…Unaccompanied Minors

It was the August school holidays and I was 12 years old.  My mother told Em and I that in a few days the two of us were going on a plane to Christchurch to stay on our cousins sheep farm for the holidays.  I didn’t hear anything after the word ‘plane’.  It was all I could think about.  I was so excited to be going on a plane.

Massaman Lamb Curry with Sweet Potato

Em and I would be flying, all by ourselves, as ‘unaccompanied minors’.  It was too good to be true.  I could hardly count the sleeps.  When the day of the flight arrived, my mother told us we had to be clean, neat and tidy because going on a plane was a special treat.  We were showered and shampooed and rinsed and conditioned and dressed and styled, all for our one-hour flight to Christchurch.  And it wasn’t just us; everyone dressed up to travel as it was considered a very luxurious and special thing to do and walking on to a plane well dressed was a sign of respect; nobody turned up unshaven or untidy in singlet tops and thongs.

And flying back then was certainly not the Jetstar experience it is today.  Budget airlines did not exist.  Traveling by plane was considered very special and it was designed to be an experience.  All the air hostesses (there were no stewards) were young and beautiful and single – you couldn’t be an air hostess if you married!  They were all dressed in tailored uniforms with little hats just like the Pan Am girls featured in Leonardo Di Caprio’s, Catch Me If You Can.

When arriving on board you were treated like you were very special with the air hostesses lifting your hand luggage into the bulk head compartments for you, as opposed to a mad rush of jostling and pushing and shoving for a little opportunity to self-serve yourself to an already over-stuffed compartment.

Once in your seat you were handed a hot fresh towel that had been scented with something like 4711 to wipe over your face and hands.  A cool, refreshing drink quickly followed and it was served in a glass, not a plastic container.  Activity books with complimentary crayons were handed to children and there was an opportunity to join the airline’s membership club where they would send you a personalised greeting card on your birthday!  And, if you were an unaccompanied minor the air hostesses made an extraordinary fuss of you and with a gentle hand on your shoulder, asked if you would like to come up to the cockpit to meet the pilot and his crew.

Security wasn’t tight; my father once walked on board with a rifle and the air hostess greeted him with a warm smile and asked, ‘Sir, can I assist you?  Would you like me to store that up the front for you sir?’  And my father was very much obliged and handed the rifle to the smiling hostess who placed it in an unlocked cupboard.  No one even asked if it was loaded with bullets and the helpful air hostess kindly handed the rifle back to my father upon landing.

On this flight to Christchurch we weren’t served a meal as the flight wasn’t long enough so we didn’t get to experience the complimentary culinary delights of economy cuisine.  But, we were given nuts and biscuits and crackers and cheese and many many soft drinks poured into a glass.  And it was all included in the ticket price, you didn’t have to bend down under the seat in front of you searching for your handbag that contains a wallet that appears to have gone astray.

And as the plane descended silver trays of complimentary boiled lollies would be passed around and I was told by the smiling air hostess who couldn’t do enough for me that I could take a few extra to fill my pockets.  And fill them I did.

It was an experience so wonderful and exciting you didn’t want it to end and arriving at your destination was almost a disappointment.  Em and I spent two weeks on the sheep farm and we have many wonderful memories of that holiday however, the time we spent on the NAC flights to and from Christchurch as unaccompanied minors was, for us, definitely the highlight.

I certainly don’t have the same sentiments towards flying these days and I know it’s not just because I’m older.

Okay, so there wasn’t a lot of food on the NAC Flight but on the sheep farm we were given a lot of lamb.  Here’s a great use for diced lamb.

Massaman Lamb Curry with Sweet Potato:

Serves:  4

Degree of Difficulty:  3/5

Cost:  A lovely comforting meal that won’t break the budget

  • 2 tbspns vegetable oil
  • 500g (1 lb) lamb leg, diced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 large sweet potato, cut into bit-size dice
  • 2 cups coconut milk
  • 2 tbspns Massaman Curry Paste (sometimes I make my own, today I didn’t)
  • 1/2 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts
  • 2 tbspns palm sugar
  • 2 tbspns fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup tamarind water (I used 2 tbspns tamarind paste)

Heat oil in wok and sear the meat.  Add onion and cook for about half a minute.  Add enough water to cover, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes.

Add the sweet potatoes and cover with a lid or foil and simmer until potato is partially cooked, about 5 minutes.  Strain out meat and vegetables, reserving the broth.

Pour the thick coconut cream from the top of the milk into the wok, stir in curry paste and cook for 5 minutes.  Mix in the sweet potato, meat and peanuts.  Stir in reserved coconut milk, add sugar, fish sauce and tamarind water.  Stir until sugar is dissolved.  If necessary, stir in a quantity of the reserved broth to thin the sauce.  Simmer until the potatoes are cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Serve with steamed jasmine rice.

This recipe is from Spirit House, Thai Cooking

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  1. How much do I love this post? So much so, I thought I already had commented on it! But a quick look, shows that I have not. So I apologise. I loved the trip down memory lane, and the recipe as well. It is chilly and wet in Brisbane tonight, and a meal like that sounds like just the thing for tomorrow night. Thanks.

  2. Oh yes, I remember flying back in the old days. 😛 What a different experience than it is today!

  3. This post brings back great memories from my childhood. Flying WAS a big deal back in the middle of the last century. I remember BEGGING my mother to let me wear heels and she kept saying I’d regret it because by the end of the day my feet would be killing me. Did I listen? No. Did my feet hurt? I cried.

    Your curry looks wonderful!

  4. Lovely post Charlie! I too, remember the old days of flying on a trip. As my father had a pilot’s licence he would ask to go up front to have a chat with the captain and if I was good, I could come along for a couple of minutes. A real treat would be to stay when the plane landed and see the touchdown from the cockpit… Thanks for the prompt at an old memory.

  5. Hi,
    I also remember those early days of flying and everyone always looked nice, it certainly was a great pleasure to hop on a plane back then. Everyone seemed to be very nice, and more than helpful.

    I love your recipe for the Lamb Curry, as someone else as said, it is a cold and rainy night, and that would be just the thing to warm up with. 🙂

  6. Hi Charlie!
    Great story – and why not, flying really used to be something special – Not now!

    Only once in my life did I ever fly 1st class (and I used to fly a lot!) – way back then I used to smoke cigars (yeah, really bad) and way back then, you could actually smoke in the terminal waiting room – well, on this day they started boarding early, and I didn’t want to put my cigar out (cigars are much worse after being relit), so I asked the gate attendant if I could wait until just before the gate closed to board – she said, ‘Fine’.

    Some ten minutes later, they made last call, and I put the cigar out and proceeded to board – as I did so, the gate attendant looked at me and smiled, and said, ‘I’m sorry to tell you that you’ve waited so long to board that you’ve lost your reserved seat.’ ‘What now?’, I asked. ‘Well, unfortunately, now you’ll have to sit up in 1st class.’, she said with a smile.

    Best flight of my life! Free cocktails, really good food, and so much room, I felt like I was all alone. However, not good enough to make me pay double for another experience.

  7. having just got off a plane I could not help but get all nostalgic about the old flights. i still dress up to fly.. I will never dress for comfort when i travel.. and sometimes i really do fly long distances. I still want it to be special. Though after 12 hours of travel yesterday i ws not feeling special by arrival time.. lovely post! c

  8. what a fun memory!

  9. Oh how times have changed! And not really for the better except that 4711 is now a distant memory-that stuff smelt awful! 😛

  10. Oh yes, I remember having to dress up to go on a plane trip and the beautiful air hostesses and the food and ……
    That lamb curry sure looks inviting.

  11. Some countries in Asia still have the concept of the stewards being beautiful young ladies. Flying to different countries (or any place for that matter) has become so normal now, things have changed so much in the last 20 years!

  12. A rifle on board…time has really changed.
    The lamb curry looks truly delicious.

  13. We count “sleeps” to vacations in our house too. 😉 This looks like a great use for some leftover lamb, which my husband and son would LOVE.

  14. My kids count sleeps till any trip 🙂
    I miss the days when flying was all magical and exciting

  15. How I wish people could be as trustworthy as they were back then – your experiences sound so laxed and special 🙂
    Great curry as well by the way 😀 – my brother adores his lamb!

    Choc Chip Uru

  16. I still remember my first flight too. I loved it, but unfortunately was sitting next to a woman who was so afraid of flying she was sweating and making strange sounds… She didn’t even scare me, but made me laugh.
    I wouldn’t mind going to a sheep farm and being fed mainly on lamb 😉 Your curry looks fabulous.

  17. Loved the story. My unaccompanied minor story from 1973 wasn’t that fantastic. I was only 2 years old and I was traveling from Sydney to Coffs while mum gave birth to my sister, I was so scared! The hostess was very good though, although I am sure she threw me at my nan when we got to Coffs, I think I bawled all the way 😉

    The Massamum curry looks so delicious! Just perfect for this time of year. I always add sweet potato to my recipe as well 🙂 YUM!

  18. Don’t we all miss the old days when flying was actually fun??? It’s no joy anymore, that’s for certain. Maybe in first class…

    I like the looks of the Massamum curry–it’s making me hungry!

  19. Remember when you would get dressed up for the movies as well? And church? Sigh…
    My most memorable flight was an army ‘indulgence’ flight where they are sending an aircraft somewhere anyway so you might be able to snag a seat. No food, drinks, or toilets, and refilling stops on remote air fields at 45* with no shelter- but at $40 each from Canberra to Perth it was too good to refuse!

  20. wow..lovely post..
    curry sounds absolutely inviting..;)
    Tasty Appetite

  21. Funny about “Catch Me If You Can”. I went to law school with the real-life main character’s son.

    • hotlyspiced says:

      What a coincidence! His father was certainly a colourful character and what a bizarre upbringing. xx

  22. That brought back memories. I was one of those air hostesses. In fact I was on the very last NAC training course before the amalgamation with Air NZ. I had to hide the fact I was living with my boyfriend as they were very strict on morals.

    • hotlyspiced says:

      That’s incredible! What a coincidence. Thanks for letting me know. How funny. I think it was a shame when it was amalgamated with Air NZ as it seemed to just be swallowed up and disappear into the abyss. And it was a really great airline! xx

  23. I was 8 when I first went on a plane ride I could remember (prior to that, I was a toddler and too young to recall or enjoy the experience). It was, as you note, very magical! Such a different experience to today, when I rather dread long flights. Being an unaccompanied minor would have been a thrill beyond imagining – what a lovely experience to have!

  24. I was 15 when I first flew overseas as a “minor”. Flying has definitely changed over the years. Love your lamb dish Charlie!

  25. I do remember when flying was exciting! Now…not so much. What a lovely memory, Charlie. And the lamb curry looks very exciting. The first person I thought of was my son-in-law. He loves lamb and spicy! Great photos, too! Debra

  26. I too remember flights like that, Charlie, what a contrast to today’s air travel. Nice little trip down memory lane, thank you.
    I have a bottle of 4711 in my cabinet, it’s such a refreshing fragrance!
    I still dress up for flying, but I have to say, striping down for security is always a pain, I usually feel so naked. And I ABHORE taking offs shoes! But I get it.
    That lamb sounds incredible, so comforting. I love the way you weave your memories into the recipes!

    • hotlyspiced says:

      Hi Eva, is my commenting system working for you okay? If not, please send me an email and let me know if you’re having difficulties and I’ll see if I can have the bugs fixed xx

  27. Oh, Charlie! Did you ever stir up the old memories. Flying was special back then and airports were such fascinating places. Dad would occasionally “treat” us to Sunday breakfast at one of the restaurants there and we would sit and watch the planes land & take off, totally enthralled. Each of us kids took a plane trip with Dad as he went East to visit his family in New York. You’re right. The plane ride was the highlight of my trip — even better than the day I spent at the New York World’s Fair!
    Your lamb curry sounds like a great dish for a chilly day. I definitely will make this. Thanks for both the memories and a great recipe.

    • hotlyspiced says:

      I remember being taken to the airport just because it was a rainy Sunday afternoon and we could go and watch the planes land and take off – so exciting! How wonderful of your father to take you all, one by one, with him on a trip to New York!

  28. I remember the era of grand flight well. And I think I’ll make some curry for lunch 🙂

  29. This lamb curry looks spectacular! Especially on a cold Melbourne night like this one. I never flew in the glory days of travel, alas – what I know today is not dissimilar from my first flight in 1988. I was a minor then too, but obviously considered old enough to look after myself, as no-one batted an eyelid.

  30. I remember when every one got dressed up to travel…. it seems a little funny now, but everyone was on there best behaviour then weren’t they?

  31. My first flight was with a sister and we got upgraded to first class on the return trip. I was already in my 20s but the experience is still fresh and exciting no matter that I flown a hundred times since.

    Love me some lamb!!

  32. Those were the days! I remember my first flight overseas in the late 60’s and how exciting, fun and comfortable it was. The seating area in economy was so big that it was larger than first class is now! And as you said, the attendants provided for every need and comfort, all included in your ticket price. The last time I went overseas I couldn’t get out of my seat because the woman in front of me had her seat reclined back as far as it would go the whole trip… there wasn’t even room for my tray table to be down. 9 1/2 hours of agony. Just looking at your lamb Masaman curry makes me feel better, though.

  33. Flying is definitely not what it used to be but thanks for the trip down memory lane!

  34. Great memories! My dad was a pilot for Pan Am – and often flew to Australia, incidentally – and he has those kinds of memories of flying. I have a few memories like that, but not many. Never did fly unaccompanied!

  35. It’s such a shame flying isn’t special any more.. it’s rather like a cattle-car in my books. Oh, well, I still marvel at how quickly we can be anywhere in the world!! Amazing really.. just like your beautiful lamb dish.. I’m craving this one.. it’s supper hour and I haven’t prepared anything yet.. oh, dear..

  36. Our nearest airport flies only extremely budget airlines. The price is nice, but the service is abysmal. And you pay extra if you want an assigned seat, to check a bag, to put a bag in the overhead, on and on. It’s nice to remember the days when we dressed up to fly, or even to go to the airport to pick someone up.

  37. You’re experience flying as an ‘unaccompanied minor’ reminds me of the tv show Panam have you watched that before? It’s about an airline in America int he 1950s, where hostess were pretty, young and all single hehe my dad told me when he use to fly he was able to smoke and drink and walk around the whole plane. I don’t even think there were seat belts hahaha i’d love to experience that 😀

  38. This recipe sounds and looks great. Peanuts and fish sauce are, for me, an interesting addition to mutton.

  39. I only flew as an “unaccompanied minor” one time before – it was a rather dull flight although I did get ice-cream which was nice. I also got lost in the airport and almost missed the flight. Apparently I was a bit “too” unaccompanied :p


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