Cockpit’s culinary chronicle


Did you relish the chicken junglee sandwich onboard the flight to Bangalore last time! Did you wonder how the deliciousness was kept intact? Did you ever feel if the digestion of a whole wheat bread on air is difficult than on land? Well, this chain of questions actually sums up how uniformly complex the process of food in airlines is.

The international flight food is a a big story in itself. The expansive range of International cuisines depends on what destinations they are flying to and from. Air India will have a Butter Chicken on board whereas an Etihad carrier from Abu Dhabi will stock yummy Biriyani to soothe the local tastebuds.

 A  recent trip to one of the airline’s base kitchens made my eyeballs inflate in wonder. The food here isn’t as simple as cooking and serving, but involves quite some steps to make it stay fresh and nutritious.

 Sarath Fernando, the CEO of Srilankan Airlines , a foodie by choice elaborated the packaging process, the first and important step in preparation of airplane food. The main aims of packaging are to keep the food in good and safe condition until it is consumed and to make passender feel comfortable about the meal. Correct packaging is essential to achieve both these objectives.


Solutions to packaging problems differ from airline to airline. Variations are the result of factors such as economics, infrastructure facilities, distribution systems and consumer habits.

Not only heat resistance and food grade, packaging also has to ensure zero loss through leakage as food weight also contributes to aircraft’s net weight.

Weight of the equipment and trays are very important factor in this business. It adds fuel cost to the airline which can cost a company a lot of money if the weight is excessive.

Srilankan Airlines uses melamine, china, plastic casseroles or disposables for packing hot and cold meals. 

 Difference in taste

Even a frequent flyer would have noticed the taste of food in ground and sky differs a lot. Fernando opines, “At low elevations, the 10,000 or so taste buds in the human mouth work pretty much as nature intended. But step aboard a modern airliner, and the sense of taste loses its bearings.” Even before a plane takes off, the atmosphere inside the cabin dries out the nose. As the plane ascends, the change in air pressure numbs about a third of the taste buds, and at 35,000 feet with cabin humidity levels kept low by design to reduce the risk of fuselage corrosion, xerostomia or cotton mouth sets in. This explains why airlines tend to salt and spice food heavily. The packaging, freezing, drying and storage are hard on flavor at any altitude, let alone 30,000 feet.

 Food Safety

With so many certifications required and people too vocal on social media, food safety is a major concern for most airlines.

Yummy Quotient

flight food

“We have a passion at Sri lankan catering to make sure the food is so tasty. It is encouraged that all the Chefs should have a tasting spoon and also we have chefs table where we will bring selected dishes at random to a table and make constructive feedback taking positives and negatives and coming to a healthy balance. As you probably know you will put the same dish in front of 10 people and you will get ten different comments. So it is difficult to keep everyone’s personal taste but we do our very best to keep the majority of our customers happy and we always striving for perfection,” said Fernando.

The foods are prepared in a different way as it is very important to follow the international IATA and IFSA requirements.

 Native taste

No matter which country’s airlines you take, each one has its own native dish. Like chickpeas dishes in Royal Jordanian Airlines, Butter chicken of Air India and crunchy thin crust pizza of Alitalia Airlines.

Planned in consultation with world class chefs and passengers’ feedback, the menu takes nearly 4 months to get the green signal.

“We have selected some traditional dishes such as Chicken Kalupol which introduces roasted spices and rice and aromatics such as ginger ,garlic ,curry leaves and rampe then gently braised and finished will a little thick coconut cream this would accompanied  with a saffron rice and a mild vegetable  curry ( Hathmalu ) six varieties of farm fresh vegetable and local cashew ,”Fernando told The Statesman how Srilankan Airlines decides on the menu.

And if this doesn’t make you hungry, there’s Hambantota Salt and Jaggery cured ( gravalax ) Sear fish with the famous Ceylon tea this is served with a fresh Mango Salasa on board a Srilankan Airlines. Baked jaggery, coconut pudding and fresh mango mousse cheese cake they  with a lovely selection of homemade chocolates filled with tropical fruit flavors are enough to make your flight a delicious gastronomic odyssey.

Not exactly a spoiler, but the tablewares and crockery of the airlines are machine washed at 65-70 degree Celsius.  So the next time you board a flight, remember the complexities involved in packing that honey oatmeal cookies served with your cappuccino. 

(Image courtesy : Sourced)