Passengers flying in the United States might be forgiven for thinking onboard meals are a thing of the past, but elsewhere airlines are discovering that best way to passengers' hearts is through their stomachs.
Even though most U.S. domestic flights no longer provide meals or offer only overpriced sandwiches, on international flights many countries' airlines are serving up gourmet gastronomical treats. From caviar and Dom Perignon champagne to the culinary expertise of top chefs and onboard rice cookers, airlines are going the extra mile to lure passengers, particularly in the first and business classes.
Japan Airlines perfected the soba noodle at 35,000 feet: not too soft, not too firm. The airline spent two years getting its onboard preparation just right. Zara soba, which are Japanese buckwheat noodles, served cold with a dipping sauce, are just one option from the airline’s traditional Japanese menu. It also offers a Western menu with low-cal options for those watching their figures.
If you’re flying first or business class on Singapore Airlines, you can order a meal in advance with the 'Book a Cook' option. Main courses include lobster thermidor, roast rack of lamb and Thai red curry chicken. The airline also has a panel of nine chefs from eight countries and three wine consultants to ensure that meals are both tasty and unique, such as SIA's sea scallops and mixed vegetables over noodles.
United Airlines enlisted the help of top Chicago chef Charlie Trotter to make its seven-mile-high meals tastier. Apricot curry-braised lamb medallions with Israeli couscous and spicy roasted eggplant are offered on select international flights to first and business class passengers. Other main course options include grilled sea bass and stone ground grits, and orange and ginger cured duck confit with roasted shallot vinaigrette.
Passengers flying on India's Jet Airways can request meals specifically tailored to their dietary needs. Kosher meals, low-calorie, no sodium, vegetarian, and diabetic meals are all options. For its first-class travelers Jet Airways serves Dom Perignon champagne and delights such as the Indian meal Bharwan paneer tikka, which is stuffed piccatta of marinated cottage cheese cooked in a clay oven.
Scandinavian Airlines pampers premium-class passengers on long-haul flights with a pre-takeoff cocktail followed by a full meal and breakfast before landing. In between meals a buffet bar serving drinks, fruit and snacks is available. For dinner, the airline features “humanskost,” traditional Scandinavian home cooking. Meals include salmon with mashed mustard-potatoes and dill, reindeer stew with sautéed chanterelle and Swedish meatballs with potatoes and lingonberry preserve. Another Danish tradition is smorrebrod — an open-faced sandwich with various toppings like roast beef and potato salad, shrimp and eggs, and gravlax and mustard.
Guy Martin, a Parisian chef and “art of living” consultant, prepares the first class menu for Air France. The airline offers a range of hors d’oeuvres, main courses and desserts, a bread basket, cheese plate and espresso drinks. The dessert cart includes plum tartlets, along with other pastries, fresh fruit and petit fours (small cakes).
Cathay Pacific Airways
Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific Airways operates a full kitchen out of airports in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vancouver and Toronto. The flight kitchen in Hong Kong is one of the largest in the world, with specialized sections for Kosher, Halal and Japanese food as well as an on-site bakery. The airline is also one of the first to have onboard rice cookers, toasters and skillets. A business class meal of pork chops, mixed salad and dinner roll is just one of a plethora of options. Vegetarian and religious meals are also offered.
Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways offers more than 20 special meals for those with religious, cultural or dietary needs. Business and first class passengers may dine at any time during the flight, choosing from a la carte or kitchen menus. Reflecting the United Arab Emirates' traditional position as a major crossroads for trade between different cultures, Etihad Airways' meals draw from European, Western, Asian and Middle Eastern influences. The airline's cinnamon rice pudding with sticky toffee sauce is an example.
The upscale Austrian catering company DO & CO creates the meals for Austrian Airlines. An onboard chef adds a gourmet touch to the dining experience, starting passengers off with an "amuse gueule" — an intensely flavored bite-sized morsel of the chef’s creation. That is followed by a selection of appetizers and traditional soups, three options for the main course, and finally cheese, fruits and dessert. Rack of lamb is one of the main course options in business class.
Every two months, Lufthansa enlists the expertise of a new star chef to prepare its first and business class menus on intercontinental flights from Germany. During the months of May and June, first and business class passengers on Lufthansa can look forward to meals prepared by Swiss chef Reto Mathis. Appetizers on the first class menu include crayfish and avocado timbale with lime crème fraiche. Entrees include traditional Swiss escalope guinea fowl with air dried beef and sage, pumpkin goulash and curd spatzle. German chef Ralf Zacherl has been creating the kid-tested children’s menu since May 2007. One dish is 'Tiger’s Tail' — a rolled pancake filled with chicken and vegetables. For dessert, Lufthansa offers children the 'Little Martian': an alien creature made from mousse and strawberry puree with chocolate drops for eyes and licorice sticks for antennae.