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The hunger games: best and worst in-flight food

What’s the best or worst meal you have ever had on a plane?  And look, I realise that regardless of the promotions that appear periodically, you don’t choose to fly somewhere just so you can have a re-heated meal that was “designed and curated” by a celebrity chef.

That said, you can eat splendidly well on an aeroplane and the nearer you are to the front, the better the food gets.

I recall Todd McKenney telling me that when one of the big Middle Eastern airlines (I think it was Etihad) started flying out of Sydney, they were offering two first class seats to London for the price of one.

Sauteed scallops with roasted mushrooms and rice

He and a pal jumped on the deal and apart from fabulously comfy seats and lie-flat beds, the food service was basically off the scale.  I think they were the only passengers up at the pointy end and the on-board chef, yes chef, wheeled up a trolley and cooked the entire menu for them before their very eyes.

The worst service I have ever heard of was on a charter flight one of my sisters took from Manchester, England, to Cairo.  There were two meal services planned for the flight but the caterers had only loaded enough food for half the plane.

Instead of spreading the food across one service, the stewards served the front half of the cabin until lunch ran out. Then, when the second mealtime rolled around, yes, you guessed it, they served the front half of the cabin again and left the rear half hungry. Why?  “Because we always serve the front seats first” – a risky tactic in a plane full of hungry Glaswegians and Mancunians

Avoiding jet lag

None of this would affect my partner Sue who doesn’t eat on flights at all, having heard that air stewards don’t so they can avoid jet lag.  She swears by it and I’m happy to encourage this as it means I get the choice of two meals (which, if you read to the end, you will realise can be critical) and sometimes both.

So what’s the worst meal I’ve ever had.  There are so many contenders that they have all merged into one pungent, glutinous mess in my memory.  There are some foods that just aren’t meant to be cooked or reheated at 30,000 feet above sea level. 

And just to finish you off, fruit, cheese and crackers

Toad in the hole (sausage cooked in an egg batter) on a British Airways flight to London sticks in the memory (and elsewhere).

The best service I’ve ever had was on an Iceland air flight from New York to Glasgow where I expressed deep disappointment that my vegetarian meal hadn’t turned up. 

The steward went away and created a grazing plate including smoked salmon from the crew’s rations.  I was already halfway through it when I remembered I had booked the vego meal on the next flight, not this one. Oops. But it was delicious.

Oh, and how does a vegetarian eat toad-in-the-hole? You free the toad – then decide not to eat it the stuff around the hole anyway.

Best meal ever

Before I embark on my rant on vegetarianism, it’s only fair to nominate the best meal I ever had on a flight. It was from Paris to Hanoi on Vietnam airlines, business class (paid for, if you must know) and it was a code-share with Air France, which pretty much says it all.

The menu for the first leg – thankfully there was a fish dish.

If I recall correctly there was a starter of crab chowder, sushi salmon and toast, sauted scallops with roasted mushrooms and rice for the main, and a fruit and cheese plate to finish, all washed down with very drinkable reds.

The second-best in-flight meal was the outward bound trip from Hanoi to Paris (as you will see from the menu here). Now, looking at that menu you will see there is no vegetarian option, which is fine for me as I’m pescatarian (or a pesce-vegetarian, as opposed to a pesky one).

Which brings me to a message for the people who put catering on aeroplanes.  It’s quite simple: vegetarians don’t eat meat. Wait!  I’m not finished. Meat eaters will eat almost anything – with a couple of notable exceptions.

More on them later, but if you want to test my theory, go out for dinner with a vegetarian in your group and watch how the carnivores hop into the vego’s food while offering nothing in return.

No one goes hungry 

But why would airlines care about vegetarians?  Perhaps because there’s more than 12 percent of Aussies who eschew the meaty chew and that’s a significant enough proportion of the population to inspire the bigger burger chains to put a veggie option on their buns.

So here’s my thing – if an airline doesn’t offer the option to pre-order meat-free meals on long-haul flights, then they should always have one vegetarian option in the food service. Nobody will go hungry.

Flying into Saigon from Sydney last week, the supper option was stir-fried pork in noodles or a kind of omelette with bacon through it. So the choice was pig or pig.

All I got was an extra bun and serve of butter.  The same problem would have applied if I had been Jewish or Muslim. It’s not that hard, guys. Put one thing on the food trolley that everyone can eat (apart, maybe from gluten-intolerant vegans).

I mention that specifically because on a recent Fiji Airlines and Qantas flight I was told my vegetarian option was basically a wilted salad while the rest of the passengers were being offered a choice between meat or macaroni cheese.

I pointed out that mac’n’cheese is vegetarian and the stewardess virtually sprinted down the aisle to snaffle the last portion before it went to an unappreciative meat eater. Now, that’s what I call food service.

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