Countries Visited (not including Turnarounds): Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Great Britain, Greece, Iceland, India, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Latvia, Libya, Lithuania, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Moldova, Monaco, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, North Korea, Philippines, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United States, Vatican City
London | Perth | Sydney | Melbourne
Seatguru - Most Comfy Seats On Any Airline
pprune.org - Pilot's rumour network
Kangaroo with a Sweet Tooth
Kronicles of Kris
The Adventures of Alle Malice
Joel's trek across Asia/Europe in a Hilux
Phil's Wine Site
I Can Has Cheezburger
The Flying Pinto
Girl on Raw
Things Bogans Like
Bobby at Up, Up and a Gay
Straight Guy in the Queer Skies
Skin by Falter
Thursday, November 24, 2011Well after a short absence due to training college draining most free time I had, I'm now back to blogging and Formspring. I just got my December roster, and whilst I got New Years Eve off, I'm sure I'll be working the 1st, so no partying for me this year. Christmas I'll be working, which I actually wanted, so it isn't so bad. Probably best for me to avoid eating a massive turkey dinner drenched in gravy with roast potatoes and vegies anyway...
We airlines get a really bad reputation when it comes to our food, and whilst this may have been true, say, 20 years ago, having been around airline food constantly over the last 6 years I think this is now unwarranted. There are some things that we cater that are just plain difficult to present to customers as intended by our chefs.
The worst, at least for me, is pasta. It is a dish that pleases the majority of customers – if you make, say, a spinach and ricotta cannelloni, it can please both the omnivores and vegetarians we have, unlike other vegetarian meals such as a tofu stir fry – so because of this even if you don’t see it in Economy that often you will very likely find it in both Business and First Class on almost all our flights. But even if I heat up a pasta meal for 10 minutes less than the recommended time, if there isn’t enough sauce provided (or in the case of First Class, where the sauce is heated separately from the pasta itself) it almost always comes out dried and disgusting. 'Al dente' doesn’t exists in the airline catering vocab. Rice is also notorious for coming out of the oven all dried out, though, if you have a good company packing the meals, all it takes is a cabbage leaf on top of the rice for the moisture to remain.
The test of a good galley operator is a breakfast service. If the meal has eggs in it, then there is a great chance that the eggs can overcook and be horrible to eat or even look at. With egg dishes, including, but not limited to, Omelettes, Scrambled eggs, Fried Eggs, Poached Eggs, and Frittata, if you overcook the meal, the egg portion can turn into a horrible grey-green colour. I guess it’s the same process which gives hard boiled eggs that horrible sulphur-grey ring around the yolk. Omelettes and Frittatas can be quite hardy to this problem, but I have seen it happen, mainly in Economy Class when the service can take a really long time in a 2 class configuration aircraft. Scrambled eggs are the worst – with this dish there is not a lot of buffer between heating them to food safety acceptable temperatures and then overheating them to the grey stage. Soft poached will almost always turn hard poached on board and it takes a galley operator with true skill and lots of experience (and properly working ovens) to have both a hot dish and a runny yolk.
We’re under a lot of restrictions on the aircraft when it comes to food preparation. Nothing can be cooked on board from its raw state. Even in First Class, with Dine-On-Demand service, which is slowly becoming standard on most 4 and 5 star airlines, when you’re served Chicken Breast, Beef Fillet, Fish Fillet, Rack of Lamb, whatever it is, must be cooked first on ground, then flash chilled at the catering facility, then loaded on board still chilled. Beef steaks in particular cannot be cooked to order – sometimes in First Class a passenger may ask for a medium-rare steak, after which we have to apologise and explain why this isn’t possible, to avoid their eventual disappointment after cutting into a well-done steak.
So having said that, I was quite surprised when, on my recent flight from Frankfurt to Dubai, I tucked into a crew meal and saw that the steak was actually pink inside. ZOMG! A pink steak! How could this be? To those of us in the industry, and to those frequent flyers, this is an extremely rare occurrence, so rare in fact I had to take a photo as proof.
And I’m sure those of you who are not as familiar with airline catering as we are will probably think “Pfft, so what, it’s a pink steak”. But take my word for it - this here is worth the photo. In almost 6 years of being subject to aircraft food, this was probably the best meal I’ve ever had on board (passenger meals included) which is somewhat sad.
And so, to follow up, here is my mini-guide to aircraft food. I had someone ask me on Formspring what I would recommend to eat on board a full service airline. To be honest, I would treat airline food like you would fast food. If, for example, you eat McDonalds/KFC/Dominos only once every 2 weeks, then treat aircraft food as your junk food fix. It certainly has the salt, sugar, preservatives and calories to be equal to them. It’s very hard to diet on the aircraft – you’d have to bring your own food almost every time, and with the LAGS rule in place is isn’t a viable practice for everyone - you’re better off choosing items off the menu based on taste, and putting it down to your 'cheat meal'.
If you have any dietary requirements, such as Vegan, Diabetic etc then most airlines cater for this, and you do get served first on the aircraft, but if you do order it with your ticket then please, please eat it on board. I remember one flight I did to Melbourne where a group of about 8 over 50’s all ordered different special meals. One Fruit Platter, one Asian Vegetarian, one Bland meal, one Low Sodium, one Oriental meal etc. But when we served all of them their food and they saw what was on their tray, they suddenly wanted a regular meal. We asked them why did they order a special meal if they weren’t in need of a Bland Meal/Oriental/Fruit Platter etc? They said they wanted to see if they would get served before everyone else on the plane. We had to tell them that we couldn’t give them a normal meal – it just isn’t fair on those passengers who didn’t order a special meal to be given zero choice, or worse yet, to be given a special meal when they haven’t even requested one. If they simply asked us during the flight whether the special meal requests get to eat first we would have had no problem telling them. It’s not a secret by any means.
THE TAMPAX TOWERS GUIDE TO AIRCRAFT FOOD
BEST – Stick with a continental breakfast if you can. Fruit, cereal, museli, yogurt and bread, with a glass of OJ, a Virgin Mary or Black Tea. If there’s a cold cuts selection then this is what I’d recommend. I’ve never had a bad continental breakfast, not on my airline or Lufthansa.
IF YOU NEED A HOT MEAL – The mixed grill option is a somewhat ‘Aussie’ thing, but it holds up the best out of all the breakfast options I’ve eaten/served. Also if there is a ‘regional option’, such as Congee on Far East Asian flights, Nasi Lamak on a South East Asian flight, or Aloo Burji/Palak Paneer on a South Asian flight, then this is usually very good.
ACCEPTABLE – Pancakes. They’re usually served with some sauce, compote or reduction of some kind, so not only do they have decent flavour but they also don’t taste THAT dry on the tongue. Even if it doesn’t come with a special sauce on the side, most breakfast trays on airlines have portion control packets or jam or marmalade which serves as a decent alternative. If you don’t have an issue with the sugar content, then this is what I would recommend.
MEDIOCRE – Waffles (always super soggy, esp when served with sauce/compote). Taste is OK though.
IF YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST HAVE EGGS – Omelettes or Frittata. I would recommend the Frittata over the Omelette option though as it tends to be more ‘meal’ like. I can honestly say I have never ever had a nice Omelette on a plane, ever. But then again I believe that they should be super moist and somewhat runny in the centre, which is not possible to do on board. Frittata is always better.
AVOID IF YOU POSSIBLY CAN – Fried Eggs, Poached Eggs, Hard Boiled Eggs and Scrambled Eggs. The exception with Scrambled eggs is if you are flying First Class on a Dine-On-Demand service airline, but you’d be hoping the galley operator knows what they’re doing. Just like your home oven has ‘hot spots’ and uneven temperatures, the aircraft ovens are very unpredictable (especially with so many aircraft, you can’t keep track of which aircraft has good ovens and which has bad), so it’s not uncommon to see overcooked scrambled eggs go out into the cabin.
Lunch and Dinner –
BEST – Curries and Stews. The reason why you see this as one option on most flights is that they preserve the best. The meat is usually very tender, boneless, and very flavourful. I would also class meat pies and hotpots in this category as well. They can be a little too salty sometimes, but even then they win hands down over the other options you're likely to be offered.
ACCEPTABLE – Fish. I don’t know what method catering companies use to cook fish, but I suspect they either poach or steam the fish. It is almost always served to the passenger super moist. I don’t even like eating fish, but I have to admit that on board its actually quite tasty. Maybe my tastebuds are messing with me.
HIT AND MISS – Beef Steak, or a Chicken Breast. Most of the time they’re overcooked, very dry, if they’re served with sauce there is never enough. Hence why a crew meal steak made me snap-happy with the iPod.
AVOID – Non-fish seafood. Prawns, Calamari, Scallops, Lobster etc. Almost always overcooked. Some catering stations don’t even remove the vein from the Prawn. Even though it may be dressed very well, or served with a nice fresh salad, the gritty after taste is just nasty.
AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE – Sushi. We have this on our Japanese flights, and whilst I haven’t done one in a very long time, I am, quite frankly, embarrassed to serve the sushi onboard to our Japanese passengers - Especially the Economy Class sushi. Everytime I’ve tried it the rice is undercooked, there’s no rice vinegar mixed in, the seaweed is super dry and flaky. All the fish has to be cooked anyway so it’s not even proper sushi. It may look somewhat appetising but take it from me – you’re better off having it on ground.
Have any thoughts on airline catering? Agree/Disagree with the above? Let me know in the comments section :-) 7 comments