High flyer tastes

High flyer tastes

High flyer tastes

Can airplane food be memorable? Yes, it can! In many cases it is not the food itself, but the memory of the moment or the voyage attached to it. I remember my first flight abroad with the triangular pyramid shaped orange juice boxes. I was flying to Berlin on a Lufthansa flight with my father. I must have been seven or eight years old, so it is late 1960’s. It was the box itself that attracted my attention, we did not have juice boxes in Türkiye and the idea of drinking something out of a box with a thin pipette fascinated me. It was playful, it was new. I even remember the juice itself, which was quite unremarkable, it was not even real juice but just a diluted sugary drink with orange flavoring. Nevertheless, I remember it, just because of the experience.

Flying high at 39,000 ft used to be a true adventure once. Few people were frequent flyers, many could not afford the price. When one was on a flight, it was always a special experience. And of course, food had to be on par with the thrill of flying. The early years of Pan-Am flights must have been worth experiencing only for the glamour of the exquisite service. The very early years of plane food had to be cold in 1920’s. With the advance of techniques to serve heated meals, the era of fine dining high-up in skies started. Serving elaborate food from trolleys had a dual function. It added to the flight experience and also played a key role acting as a distraction from the stress of flying, helped in easing the nerves, and a few tipples turned the stressful experience to a joyful one. On long-haul flights there were even bars and spacious dining areas where passengers could mingle and socialize. Seated passengers had white tablecloths, chinaware and metal cutlery, all augmenting the sense of luxury. Passengers felt pampered.

Nowadays a usual flight is an ordinary fare, in most cases preferred just to save time, and naturally the expectation is rather low when it comes to service. Especially after the pandemic, many airlines resorted to pre-packed snacks for short-haul flights, most airlines only give a salty cracker or something sweet, and a drink, sometimes just water.

Even if it is business class, what you get is a sad-looking morsel of food sealed under a plastic wrap. When it is a long-haul flight, food tends to get more substantial but seldom on par with the quality once experienced in the past. Budget restraints also affect the service quality, airlines are desperately trying to cut costs. The glamour of jet-set flying seems to be long gone.

When the late American chef, author and travel documentarian Anthony Bourdain was asked about the worst food of his life, he at once answered that it was probably some airplane food going from somewhere to somewhere. Still, traveling is all about experience and if you are heading to a new country the experience starts once you set foot on the plane. So, can we go back to those glam days of flying combining food and flying in one memorable experience?

It seems that Turkish airlines is keen to make flying a memorable taste experience as well. For many years THY was catered by Do&Co and serving very good food. THY, as the flag carrier, is the airline flying to the most countries in the world. But they also want to be recognized by the quality of service they offer to guests and serve even better food with more options. I usually fly business, and sometimes say that some of their dishes are far better than many well-known restaurants. The other day I found myself comparing their “sütlaç,” Turkish baked rice pudding, to a well-known pudding chain and my verdict was it is better on THY.

Their chocolate mousse had always been a classic winner. The classics of Turkish cuisine, such as the vegetables slow-braised in olive oil are very tasty, especially the famous Turkish eggplant dish “İmam Bayıldı” offering a truly delicious vegan choice; a very important factor to cater a clientele with diverse diet requirements ranging from halal to kosher, gluten-free to vegan. In economy their grilled cheese sandwich is a sure winner.

A few days ago, THY launched its new catering services at a reception in Esma Sultan Mansion in Istanbul. The choices displayed for short and long-haul flights were simply amazing. As I have noted, travel to a country begins once you step on the flight. With the aim of promoting tourism in Türkiye, Turkish Airlines includes flavors from both traditional Turkish cuisine in flights heading to Türkiye and include choices of international cuisines especially when heading elsewhere. In line with the policy of promoting Turkish cuisine, they also give emphasis in using local products. They procure 80 percent of the products used in their menus from local producers.

The Turkish breakfast spread includes local tea from Rize, clotted cream of Afyon, Erzincan honeycomb honey from Erzincan, and green and black olives from the Aegean region. The new menus are designed by following healthy eating trends, more protein, vegetables, fruits and less carbohydrate products. All food is produced daily by expert chefs using the freshest seasonal products.

Different from the previous offerings, the new economy class menus include egg dishes, homemade muesli and cheese varieties for flights during breakfast hours, and local appetizers, as well as pasta and grill options prepared fresh daily for flights that coincide with dinner hours. In addition to homemade pasta, ravioli and spaghetti options, of course the Turkish dumplings “mantı” will continue to be the favorite of lounges.

And I can swear on the taste of their ravioli dish. Among the main dishes it is exciting to see Adana kebab cooked over charcoal fire and grilled fish, both not easy to deliver high up in the sky. At one point I heard Turkish celebrity chef Arda Türkmen saying, I want to fly wherever the slow-cooked lamb shank “incik” flies. The choices are increased too. while only two main course options were previously offered in the breakfast service, three different main courses will be served in the new period.

The menu is enriched by adding dessert options such as pancakes, crepes and French toast. I think I will seek a new opportunity to fly a long-haul flight as soon as possible. I want that lamb shank Türkmen wants, and I would not say no to that amazingly succulent rare cooked roast beef with confit potatoes pave, and I can give up my classic chocolate mousse in favor of the bread & butter pudding with the warm vanilla sauce speckled with true vanilla seeds.

Aylin Öney Tan,