Food in the air: See how airlines have made a concentrated effort over the years

Over the years, airlines have made a concentrated effort to make the skies more gastronomically friendly

Earlier this week, emirates decided to discontinue the "Hindu meal" on its Indian flights (Reuters image)
Earlier this week, Emirates decided to discontinue the “Hindu meal” on its Indian flights (Reuters image)

Culinary curiosity hit a high on Twitter this week when Emirates Airline decided to discontinue the ‘Hindu meal’ on its India flights based on customer feedback. The response was instant. Some social media gastronome conspiracy theorists wondered if the Atul Kochhar fracas in Dubai had anything to do with it—the celebrity chef lost his restaurant gig at JW Marriott hotel over comments he made on Twitter. Was this further payback? Other well-travelled folks, including some who sneer at most things ‘Hindu’, wondered out aloud what a Hindu meal is and that they had no idea one even existed.

Emirates played it like a pro and stated that its decision was based on customer feedback. That lasted maybe two days when feedback from SM ‘customers’ (one assumes, because who else was talking about it 24×7?) prompted the airline to reverse its decision, this time leaving others wondering if ‘majoritarianism’ was clouding the clear skies.

Airline food always gets a bad rap—as a nervous flyer, I have little interest in food onboard a flight, Hindu or otherwise. But over the past decade, airlines have made a concentrated effort to make the skies more gastronomically friendly. Celebrity Indian chefs have been hired to ‘curate’ meals. I remember meeting one right before he was jetting off to Abu Dhabi to conduct a food tasting of a new menu for an airline, something which was cyclical. Serious stuff. It makes sense—middle-eastern airlines do huge business out of India and the ‘Hindus’, so it made sense to roll back the decision.

But what is a Hindu meal? Each airline has an almost similar version. On the Emirates website, there is an Indian meal (vegetarian) and the Hindu non-vegetarian meal (sans beef, veal and raw fish). On Thai Airways (website), the Hindu meal is non-vegetarian, but has no beef, veal, etc, although milk products are allowed. By these two definitions, it can be surmised that both airlines, going by the nomenclatures used, consider Hindus non-vegetarian, as vegetarian meals are separately defined and not referred to as Hindu.

Westwards, British Airways has a Hindu meal as well. This one is not a meatless meal, but, as you guessed, it does not include beef, veal and even pork. So maybe the Brits go with ‘Hindu’ as a cultural definition since many faith-based Hindus do eat pork. The Emirates makes no mention of pork (to be expected) and Thai doesn’t either (which means they may or not serve it, but pork is a popular ingredient in their part of the world).

Considering that all airlines offer this meal option, it looks like it works and isn’t just a nod to multi-cultural palates. However, all airlines are consistent in their acknowledgment of beef, its byproducts and derivatives being a big no on the plate of a ‘Hindu’. Glad some things don’t get political and stick with general dietary trends.

Had those who spent time commenting on the exclusion and then inclusion of the Hindu meal dived into what it entailed, this might have turned out to be a bumpy ride for Emirates. But luckily, as with most things on Twitter, commentary, including that of the culinary sort, usually falls in the ‘amuse-bouche’ category of the meal and intellectual experience.

Speaking of food also reminds me of love. Another airline story did the rounds this week on social media, but had little to do with food, as the inflight Wi-Fi enabled raconteur informed us. The couple were fitness trainers and opted for a simple (protein) cheese board. But what delighted online voyeurs and the love-sick was how a switching of seats that placed two strangers next to each other led to something that could blossom into a romance. Through the five-odd hours of the journey, the Twitter user—who had switched places with the lady passenger, so she could sit next to her husband—informed the Twitter world of how the switch was working out for the young lady. The reason? At the time of the switch, our storyteller had jokingly suggested that the swap might have her sitting next to the love of her life! When the hunky man sat next to the co-operative passenger, the smartphone came out and their interaction, with their faces scratched out, was there for the world to see. Could this be love? As the inches between the arms on the shared armrest disappeared, Twitter had a sharp intake of collective breath. This was a real-time courtship, family photos shared, single status discussed, Instagram accounts followed and numbers exchanged.

So did the two eventually get together? The last update says they made it to the baggage carousel… to be continued.

Advaita Kala is a writer, most recently of the film Kahaani. She is also a former hotelier having worked in restaurants in India and abroad

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