Get high on food

By teaming up with world-class chefs, airlines are now redefining airplane food offering meals equivalent to fine-dine restaurants, writes Sudipto De

Chilean Seabass on a Bed of Kale and Quinoa Salad

How many times has it happened that you have been woken up in the middle of the night on a long-haul flight and fed some tasteless piece of unrecognisable mess superhot from the outside yet cold from the inside? But as travel has been changing and becoming more suited to the millennial of today who will not tolerate this type of food, airlines are coming up with new culinary experiences to impress and woo newer audiences.

Desi flavours

With Indian flavours curated by superstar chefs, Singapore Airlines, which serves six destinations in India, is serving out thalis designed by Chef Sanjeev Kapoor like the Shahi Thali for the First Class and Ruchi Thali for the Business Class. The ‘Book the Cook’ service allows you to pre-order a meal while flying out from Delhi, Mumbai and Singapore created exclusively by a group of eight chefs who are part of their international culinary panel. Along with Chef Kapoor, other chefs that make up the panel include Yoshihiro Mutaro who handles the kitchens at Kyoto’s 3 Michelin-starred Restaurant Kikumoi and Alfred Portale of the Gotham Bar & Grill, New York.

As airlines strive to deliver an unadulterated Indian culinary experience, not only can you find yourself the Indian meals on destinations flying from India, but you can also dig into your favourite food while flying out from the Island nation itself by pre-booking it. With airlines allowing for quite a bit of customisation through the ‘Manage my Booking’ tab on most of the booking websites, airlines themselves tend to track a lot of their data from the frequent fliers who usually book along with them. Coupled along with inputs from the local sales team, more and more Indian food is making its way to the menu.

With Indians tending to travel much more frequently backed by a higher spending capacity, airlines like Lufthansa have started incorporating Indian menu items into the rotating regular menu. “We discovered that quite a few Indians were flying to the US via Germany during the months of December-January, and it made more sense to incorporate the Indian menu items as part of a regular menu rather than a special meal,” George Ettiyil, senior director, sales Lufthansa Group, elaborates. The airline closely works with Chef Vinod Saini at The Leela Palace New Delhi whose dal jamwar is quite famous amongst the travellers. Also on the menu is a green apple shrikhand that works well with the Indian palate.

Although North Indian food tends to rule the roost, Sri Lankan Airlines, on the other hand, tends to offer a menu that includes quite a bit of South Indian along with the regular Continental fare. On our recent flight with them, we tucked in some delectable idlis served with sambhar at 40,000 feet. We might lament the taste of our food sometimes, but a lot goes into actually curating a menu that has to taste precise at that particular height. “Our perception of salt and sweet changes inside a pressurised cabin,” Ettyil explains so that the regular Indian spicy food, especially a chicken tikka has to be monitored carefully. This also means that airlines tend to use much more of tomatoes in the curries and sauces as the acidity tends to keep flavours alive.

Something to drink?

Beverages are an integral part of the service. To accompany the Indian flavours that are being doled out, airlines also focus quite a bit on the beverage service that is done along with it. Chai is a long-time favourite of Indians and most of our day would be a waste without it. To fulfil this desire, Lufthansa serves masala chai from Chayoos while Sri Lankan Airlines falls back on its heritage serving out an extensive range of Ceylon tea in Business Class. Singapore Airlines, on the other hand, has added 46 new labels of Bordeaux for their First Class passengers. As this will be a rotating menu, frequent flier passengers will have a change of wine every two months. These wines have been personally selected by the Wine Tasting team and were displayed at the World Gourmet Forum 2019. The focus, this year has been on Grand Cru and Premier Cru labels from small houses like Faiveley, Domaine D’Ardhury, and many others.

With a trend towards healthy eating, Singapore Airlines offers a holistic, healthy menu for those travelling on long-haul flights along with a ‘Child Meal Program’ that allows parents to choose what their kids will eat on the flight. “Singapore Airlines is also exploring sustainable options with a view to contributing more to greener skies with its  ‘From Farm to Plane’ concept introduced in 2017,” David Lim, general manager, India tells us. Lastly, a lot of the feedback that the airlines use today to curate the food offering high up in the sky is based on social media. So the next time your flight attendant wakes you up to offer a meal, enjoy it to the fullest.

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