Dining, up in the air

by David Kitai

I’m writing this on a plane. It’s a transatlantic from Istanbul to Toronto that left at eleven in the morning. There is absolutely no chance I’m getting more than two hours sleep on this eleven-hour flight. That means, once my interest in the tiny screen runs out, I’ll need something, anything, to break the monotony. Airplane food, oddly enough, serves to do just that.

Dining up in the air

We’ve all eaten out of boredom, but the boredom on an endless flight exists on another plane (no pun intended). It makes that otherwise unpleasant sounding choice of “chicken or beef” into a no-holds-barred thrill ride. What will the sides be? What vague fruit flavour will we find in the ‘dessert’? We’re on the edges of our seats, waiting for a brief respite from yet another Sandra Bullock film.

Before we continue, I think I should specify that I’m critiquing hot airplane food, what’s served on any flight over four hours. The packaged yogurt, cold bun and cup of coffee they serve on a morning hop over doesn’t even bear talking about. As for the packs of baby pretzel sticks, does anyone know where I can get those on land? In my experience, hot airplane food falls into three categories: broadly mediocre, surprisingly delicious, or somehow, worse than expected.

Those three categories line up with the four major airlines I’ve flown with in my (quasi) adult life. Beginning with the baseline, the mediocre, known to me as Air Canada and Lufthansa. Both airlines offer food that is filling, not unpleasant yet entirely unmemorable. This time around I’m flying Air Canada. Lunch was a reasonably tasty braised lamb in tomato sauce served with scalding hot acini de pepe and some zucchini and beans boiled to within an inch of their lives. It was a meal. And, that was it.

To me, the great meals, the outstanding, memorable service, came on Turkish Airlines. From the Turkish delight at the start of every flight, to the hotel-style hospitality of the stewards, to the actual menu you’re handed as they seat you, it was an amazing surprise overall. Food on board Turkish Airlines is not “chicken or beef” it’s chicken pilaf with almonds and raisins or minced beef and sautéed eggplant in tomato sauce. Both were delicious. Accustomed to western airlines that expect passengers to take a few Xanax before takeoff, I enjoyed myself on Turkish more than I ever have at 32 000 feet.

So, we’ve seen the good, the medium-to-bad, and now it’s time for the really, really ugly: LOT Polish Airlines. I’ll begin by saying that I love Polish food. It’s hard to find any human being who’d turn their nose up at properly cooked pierogi. LOT food was, broadly speaking, Polish food. I’d describe it as fatty meat product with starch-based side and hopefully a vegetable. The problem was that even after eating the food I couldn’t get more specific in my description of it.

Choosing an airline for the food isn’t an unreasonable way to fly. If you’re going to spend six or seven hours anywhere you should at least get a decent meal out of it. But even if a country makes food you love, it doesn’t mean anything good is coming out on a flight with one of their airlines.