I hardly meet anyone who says they love airline meals.
Most people have learned not to hold out much hope; after all, an airline meal is widely considered as a supplementary service to keep air passengers from starving.
Renowned food critic Chua Lam (蔡瀾) once wrote in his column that he would rather help himself to a cup of instant noodles than to dig into an airline meal.
That said, many airline companies nowadays have put much effort in improving their catering services. The kebab with rice available at the economy class of Turkish Airlines and Qatar Airways is pretty impressive.
Budget airline Air Asia’s Nasi Lemak (a Malay fragrant rice dish) has earned such a good reputation that people are willing to pay extra for the dish.
Two weeks ago I flew Singapore Airlines’ business class to Hong Kong from Singapore.
They served Lunar New Year-themed meal, with prosperity toss (a Teochew-style raw fish salad) as the appetizer and stewed pork ribs with black moss and oysters. The fare was above average and tasted no different from the ones you can find in respectable restaurants.
After attending the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants awards presentation in Bangkok, I took a Hong Kong Airlines business class return flight.
I enjoyed a delicious in-flight meal set prepared by the famous Thai restaurant Blue Elephant.
The appetizer was a classic Thai pomelo salad, but instead of prawns it had shredded chicken.
I think it’s a brilliant idea from the chef, considering that it is difficult, if not impossible, to serve fresh prawns on board.
The salty yet sweet sauce with secret ingredients prepared by Blue Elephant really stimulated my appetite.
The main course was Massaman beef with steamed red rice and vegetables. The Massaman curry’s base is made of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, and generally comes with chunks of potatoes and topped with peanuts.
It goes so well with red meat such as beef or mutton. Though the steamed red rice was a bit dry, I was very much satisfied with the dish.
In hindsight, I think both dishes were fresh as they came with fragrant spices and the sauces were served separately.
Customers could enjoy some degree of autonomy by adding them just before they started digging in.
Based on my experience, Chinese-style stewed dishes are the best option for the main course.
Like the Massaman curry, these juicy dishes are perfect for reheating, and, in fact, the re-cooking process makes the meat even more tender and flavorful.
This is what I call “clever choices” for airline meals. By understanding the limitations and conditions on planes, the chefs modify dishes with the best available alternatives of ingredients.
This thoughtfulness can win the hearts of passengers.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 7.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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