Airplane food that doesn't suck

Categories: Road Trip

Kei Terauchi
On this flight, the glass is definitely half full
Chicken or beef?

The question alone is cringe-inducing. With its aluminum foil container, mystery meat covered in undistinguishable sauce, and that particular odor, airplane food has been the butt of the joke for decades.

Is this the fact even in business class?

You'd almost want to hear, yes, it's equally bad. But the unfair fact is, food in business or first class can be significantly more enjoyable than what's served in coach, especially if it's on a long international flight.

We had the opportunity to taste the menu in business class on a Delta flight from Minneapolis to Tokyo. Here's our impression.

Kei Terauchi
Appetizer platter offers full flavor
First, when you arrive to your seat, a flight attendant offers you a glass of champagne or orange juice. And it's real champagne, not cava or prosecco or American sparkling. This time it was Jacquart Brut Mosaique, which went well with the warm nuts served before the meal. The nuts were mostly cashews, mixed with a good amount of almonds.

The flight offers a small but good selection of wines. There are two whites, two reds, a sparkling, and two dessert wines to go with your meal. If you are taking advantage of the wine offerings, remember to drink plenty of water.

The first course is an appetizer platter accompanied by a warm soup. On this particular day, the soup was a vegetable velouté fragrant with garden greens. The appetizer platter included pieces of pepper-crusted tuna with edamame and hijiki seaweed salad, and a slice of feta cheese with roasted peppers and olives.

Kei Terauchi
Fresh salad does a flying body good
Now, it's hard to taste subtle flavors on an airplane. Even if you are one of those supertasters, your senses become dull because of the altitude and air pressure.

The appetizer platter was a perfect way to overcome this disadvantage. The tuna was a bit over-salted, but the edamame and seaweed salad had a nice balance of sweetness and tang, and the grilled peppers were flavorful and succulent. A fragrant glass of chenin blanc from South Africa (Zalze 'Bush Vine,' Stellenbosch, 2010) paired nicely with the appetizers.

It's difficult to consume a significant amount of vegetables when you travel. You end up with snacks and fast foods, making your body feel even more tired than it already is. Delta helps you conquer this by offering a big salad for the second course. It's not much different from what you'd pick up at the French Meadow takeout at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. But the crisp greens are a welcoming refresher thousands of feet above ground.

Kei Terauchi
Lemon caper chicken with a zip wakes up your taste buds

For the main course, you get to choose between several items. The options this day were sautéed chicken breast with lemon caper sauce, roasted red radishes and potatoes; grilled filet of beef with bernaise sauce, redskin mashed potatoes and haricots verts; pork tenderloin with bok choy and noodles; and garlic and herb shrimp with lemon butter, asparagus, and paella rice.

So, in a way, it's still chicken or beef (or pork or shrimp).

We went with the chicken dressed with a bright citrus sauce that made a flavorful statement even in the pressurized cabin. Dryness is a frequent offense for reheated foods served in an airplane. Not here. The meat was lightly battered in flour and sautéed to protect its juiciness; and the potatoes were fluffy and perfectly fork-tender. We paired this course with a tasty Bordeaux from Chateau Beaumont, which had a flavor profile of currant and earthiness, as well as cacao.

Cheese plate, fruits (grapes and strawberries this day), ice cream sundae, and caramel tiramisu were offered for dessert. We had a scoop of French vanilla ice cream and a glass of Calem 10-year-old tawny port for a nightcap.

Bon voyage!

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My Voice Nation Help

i had same experience on Spice jet while coming from Mumbai to Dubai. Even the crew is so racist. They treat Middle east people and western people so well but not the Indian. They treat Indians as if we they are beggars.

Ton L, Head of

Dinner Cruise, Dubai


I fly a lot for fun (and because it's through MSP, always with Delta) and know how food can take a step up for the domestic first class passengers or a bigger step up on int'l business (since Delta, like most US airlines, dropped int'l first class for a sort of hybrid first/business on int'l flights). You're absolutely right that food on int'l business is better than you'd expect --the NYT (or was it the WSJ...) did an article a few years ago about the attention these airlines even pay to their wine lists for the first/business passengers.

Delta's own pecking order is pretty amusing. Check this: As you know, they still serve free food to people in international coach (which I usually fly unless I can use a freebie upgrade or whatever). Well, one one trip I flew int'l coach but had an upgrade to business on my domestic leg I discovered I was served the _exact same_ meal on both flights. That's not always the case, I've certainly had overall better food on domestic business than international coach class flights, but it happens.

Also, the food ranges pretty big based on destination --especially if the food is coming from the caterers at a foreign airport (which is usually a good thing).

I had real fortune this past week when Emirates messed up my coach reservation to Mumbai and upgraded me to Business. The meal on that airline blew everything I've ever had out of the water (Emirates is one of those int'l airlines that isn't as crazy to make a profit so much as please the leaders of Dubai).

Check it (keep in mind there was still a First Class ahead of me): An app with Lobster wonderful pair of Indian curries (spicy too) on their specialized china:¤t=P1030499.jpgAnd after desert/cocktails (kir royal, anyone?) they gave us Godiva chocolates.

Coincidentally, as I returned home on my Delta leg in domestic First Class, I was served cold cereal for breakfast (no options). LOL.

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