Food Nostalgia: Airplane Cuisine

What was your best eating experience on an airplane? Your worst?

David Lebovitz recently reposted a nostalgia piece on his food blog about airline food of yore (posted below) and it got me thinking about my food experiences on airplanes.

Today, you are lucky to get a bag of honey-coated peanuts, but it wasn’t always like that. Sometimes airline dining could be sublime.

My best airplane meals were served on an international flight on Olympic Airways many years ago. Olympic was a Greek carrier and Aristotle Onassis owned the airline at the time. Onassis was a Greek shipping magnate–one of the richest men in the world. He was also the man who broke Maria Callas’ heart, and he was (briefly) the husband of Jacqueline Kennedy. His pride was the stuff of legends.

Onassis1 Onassis2


Olympic Airways, under his ownership, was famous for the luxury that came with the purchase of a ticket (in whatever class).

On our flight, no detail was missed. The plane, decorated in Aegean blues, sparkled. The cabin crew wore stylish Pierre Cardin-designed uniforms. Live piano music drifted into the economy cabin from the first class section. (Guests ate by candle light in first class, by the way.)

When it came to the food we were served in economy class, there were no tiny bags of honey-coated peanuts. The food was wonderful and portions were generous. Onassis knew how to treat his guests!

I remember being served quality wines and champagnes– liberally poured and without charge. The cuisine was strictly Mediterranean, with lots of tomato, oregano and eggplant in the dishes.I had my first baklava on that flight, my first demitasse of potent Greek coffee, and my first glass of Metaxa brandy. Wow!

That flight and our subsequent travels in Greece opened my food world up to all sorts of new delights– tart feta, kalamata olives to die for, sublime fasoulada (white bean) soups, creamy pastitsio casseroles and on and on.

I’m sitting here writing this and thinking I need to prepare some Greek dishes soon. Very soon. Stay tuned.

On the flip side (There is always a flip side in life. Right?), our worst eating experience on an airplane was a flight from Delhi to Srinagar, Kashmir (India). Our Indian Airlines flight was jammed with passengers who, by the time we took off, were pretty surly. The flight over the Himalayas was sick-to-your-stomach rough–a fact that was not lost on the babies on board whose hysterical cries added to the sense of chaos on the flight. Then, when it seemed like things couldn’t get any worse, an incredible thing happened. Just a few minutes before landing, the harried cabin crew decided to serve dinner–a decision I’m sure they (and the cabin clean-up crews) came to regret.

I remember that we had savory Indian fried donuts called vadas soaked in yogurt. I like vadas. I like yogurt. I didn’t like them served together.

About half way through the meal, the captain announced that we were beginning our descent into the Kashmir Valley. There was no time to collect the meal trays and we were told to stick them under the seats in front of us and buckle up for landing.

Trust me. It wasn’t pretty.

The yogurt slopped out of the trays onto the floor and we waded through soggy yogurt soaked donuts as we deplaned.

As we walked into Kashmir’s Srinagar terminal, a security guard asked me if I had any aspirin. That made me laugh. After that flight, I was the one who needed an aspirin!



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