Happy meals in the air

Dying to sink your teeth into a bowl of Ippudo ramen as it's served in Tokyo rather than in Mandarin Gallery? You don't even need to wait until your plane touches down in the Land of the Rising Sun. Not if you fly ANA, which not only serves the real thing on board, it prides itself on providing an authentic washoku (Japanese cuisine) experience in its in-flight cuisine.

"As traditional Japanese cuisine enjoys a higher profile around the world, including recognition by Unesco, we are eager to share this with the world," says Willa To of All Nippon Airways Co Ltd, referring to when washoku was added to Unesco's Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2013.

That's why ANA was the first to apply the kaiseki style - a traditional multi-course meal that balances taste, texture, appearance and colour - to its in-flight meals, she says, adding that most passengers tend to pick the Japanese cuisine option on ANA flights.

The airline also works with top Japanese chefs from its Connoisseur Programme to design in-flight menus, so each chef's signature style of cooking and dishes can often be seen on the plate. According to Ms To, it's a process that usually takes about a year to complete.

Some of the chefs the airline works with include Shigemitsu Nishizuka of Chisou Sottaku, Masayoshi Nishikawa of Gion Nishikawa, and Hiromasa Suzuki of Tsuyama.

At the moment, ANA is serving meals developed by the restaurant Tsuyama, which is known for its nostalgic and home-cooked flavours. The appetiser includes a combination of omelette and deep-fried prawns, while the main dish features grilled cutlass fish with butterbur and miso paste.

Naturally, the airline takes its ramen very seriously as well, and it has been working with Hakata Ippudo since 2013. Last year, they jointly developed a "full flavour Daichi" ramen - a miso-based noodle dish where no meat is used.

It's not always easy to replicate the restaurant-level dining experience up in the air, much less be able to savour a kaiseki meal as leisurely as you would on the ground. Hence, several components of the meal have to be grouped into a bento box to save time, but that introduces new challenges when it comes to reheating the food.

To solve this, Ms To explains that "we regroup the meals and heat items separately - for example, cold dishes are served together and warm items are served of different tableware and heated separately".

She adds that other factors like humidity, air pressure and even the sound of the engine have to be taken note of as well since they all affect the dining experience. For instance, the low humidity reduces the sensitivity of tastebuds, so in-flight meals have to be made with stronger flavours.

The ANA Catering Service Facility is based in Tokyo's Narita Airport and covers 140,000 square feet. It employs more than 800 staff.

The proximity to the airport means meals can be transported just 10 minutes before the plane arrives, so it remains fresh when loaded onto the aircraft.

"As Japan's largest carrier, ANA has a typical Japanese culture, with design, technology and warmth of hospitality at its very core... We aim to always satisfy our customers by serving traditional Japanese food with top-quality ingredients and strong attention to details," says Ms To.

TAKING PRIDE IN THEIR CULINARY HERITAGE

Singapore Airlines

What better way to celebrate Singapore's 50th birthday than with our favourite dishes mid-air? SIA introduced Peranakan dishes that were developed with culinary personality Shermay Lee for a three-month period from July to September 2015 to commemorate this landmark national event.

A spokesman for the airline said SIA has received positive feedback from passengers about the concept, authenticity and taste of the food. Popular dishes include Ayam Buah Keluak, Peranakan Hokkien Mee Soup and Traditional Ice Cream Wafers.

Beyond September, you may see some of these dishes immortalised in SIA's Book the Cook programme, where passengers can pre-select their meals before they fly.

Emirates

The airline's manager for regional catering, Darren Bott, says: "Our passengers are offered a taste of the Gulf, Emirates' home, through dishes like the traditional Arabic Mezze presented as a generous spread of savoury dishes, including hummus, muhammara and warm lamb kofta, complemented by local garnishes and breads."

Some 25 to 30 per cent of the airline's passengers choose the Middle Eastern option, and Emirates' signature chicken biryani is an all-time favourite across its network.

Qantas

At Qantas, serving Australian food is its way of supporting and spreading the word about local producers. The airline's international head of food and beverage, Richard Bateman, says: "We buy from more than 1,500 Australian companies, helping them grow, develop and find new markets."

Dishes include the airline's signature Rockpool Steak Sandwich, Chicken Shnitzel and Coleslaw Sandwich.

It's not just Australian food you can chow down; the airline also showcases some of the country's finest wines, from world-renowned vineyards to up-and-coming boutique producers.

Says Mr Bateman: "Australian food and beverage is a reflection of our multicultural nation, and is driven by incredible produce from across the country."


This article was first published on August 22, 2015.
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