The good and the, um, not-so-good…
The prospect of a low-cost carrier flight wouldn’t usually inspire thoughts of fancy food. Enter Easyjet, with a brand new in-flight brochure making bold claims promising much more:
The gentleman in a Hawaiian print T-shirt sat next to me on a recent Easyjet journey disagreed. Having grumbled into his cheese-free Ploughman’s sub he angrily inspected the packaging for answers, which kindly labelled a ‘trace of crustaceans’ though failed to note the lack of cheese.
With many airlines swapping standard snacks for on-board bistros, dining in the sky should be an enjoyable affair. There is a surprising amount of science behind why flight food can tend to taste awful, and much research has gone into making it palatable. Taste buds are numbed at high altitudes, whilst humidity levels drop, leaving food-stuff dried up. Fortunately, airline chefs can appeal to our umami; the fifth sense unaffected by altitude. Umami – meaning ‘pleasant savoury taste’ in Japanese – is particularly present in tomatoes, cheese and meat; ingredients used liberally by airline chefs.
Despite extra efforts and over-seasoning, there continues to be an unstoppable flood of online posts and airline complaints about in-flight food. With summer in full swing, an investigation into journeys of gastronomical horror and happiness is overdue.
If you have an overseas flight in sight, and want a snapshot of what could be coming your way, then read on. Here are some of the best and worst, the highs and lows, of flight food.
Sri Lankan Airways
The Sri Lankan Airways first class lounge offers a cocoon of communal consumption, a private world for fee-paying passengers to mingle. A sort of secret supper soiree before boarding, it encourages guests to feed and fill up before sinking into huge seats with ample leg room. Reminiscent of an office party buffet and shared by all first-class passengers, this communal finger food will be well-received by members of the mile-high club looking to mingle.
Despite the ‘Brits abroad’ reputation we have earned ourselves, Virgin Airlines have offered us a chance to be on our best behaviour. This tier of afternoon tea gives travellers the chance to showcase old-fashioned etiquette at 2000 feet. Incredibly cute and kitsch, it comes complete with individual jam jars and mini versions of popular pastries and patisserie – cue lots of cooing and Instagram snaps as it arrives at the tray table. If you’ve paid for this privilege, then playing with your food is probably permitted.
Singapore Airlines business class
Forgot sky high versions, it is rare that a bento box manages to look this fresh and attractive when served in a well-recommended restaurant. Designed by star chef Yoshihiro Murata, the box is inspired by his own multi-course restaurant venture in Kyoto. These miniature morsels include ample sticky rice, sweet ‘n’ sour sushi, marinated fish steaks and fresh pickles to cleanse the palate. A perfect portion to leave stomachs satisfied yet comfortable, sushi and soy sauce is an ideal appeal to a flyer’s numbed senses.
There are some food combinations that unite us in appreciation of their simplicity. Sausage, eggs and bacon is one of these; a hangover-perfect trio to start your day with. So, imagine the disappointment felt by the Ukraine International customer confronted with the below. The pink pig product appears to be a few stages short of the curing process, scrambled eggs poured directly upon it all. This dish screams pure sadness, all from a polystyrene platter.
Peach Aviation (Japan)
Arguably the weirdest of the lot, this cylinder of flat crust may initially look like an average pastry. Behold the Curry Pan; a deep fried donut full of…curry. Not a product of the current savoury donut trend, curry bread or ‘kare pan’ has been popular in Japan for the last decade. It is unclear as to whether this particular pan has a savoury or sweet casing, but the crystallised edge suggests sugar is involved somewhere. Curry is never a great option in a confined space, and the smell produced by these can’t be peachy.
UTAir Aviation (Russia)
Serial offenders UTAir crop up in a number of online feeds and discussions of inedible eats. This shameful shot seems to be typical of what’s on offer. Not only does the bread look dry, the sliver of cheese seems to have been slipped-in by accident, all upon an unidentifiable addition of…spam? The humble ham and cheese sandwich is never a thrilling option, but this sad sarnie is the ultimate fromage fail.
There is a rare breed of foodie who has fallen for in-flight feasting, undeterred by sophistication and snobbishness. Like a kiddie at Christmas they can be seen joyfully unwrapping each compartmentalised item, carefully laying out the contents across the plastic tray. If you share this fetish for package wrapped food, or pay for high-class catering, flight food can be unforgettable for all the right reasons.
For the majority of us, however, packed lunch may be a preferred when taking to the skies. Top tip: slather everything in any sauce available, and the reheating process will probably go unrecognised.