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Coffee and dates before takeoff in Etihad's Diamond Zone

Coffee and dates before takeoff in Etihad's Diamond Zone

Call me perverse, but generally speaking I enjoy the experience of airline food. I love the little compartmentalised tray; peeling back foil to reveal portions that bear little resemblance to their menu descriptions; the challenge of dividing the one door-stop slice of cheese between three crackers with the plastic knife supplied. It helps pass the time, if nothing else.

I'll have the chicken. Qantas economy class lunch.

I'll have the chicken. Qantas economy class lunch.

Things do improve as you move up through the classes, of course. Most often I fly cattle. Every now and then my gig as a travel writer affords me a freebie in business class. And, on few remarkable occasions, first.

Business and first passengers can expect their meals to be served course-by-course from a damask draped trolley. Instead of choosing from the printed menu provided, one selects from the trolley as it wheels past. Here, food is served on real plates, saving it from the steamed sameness afforded by little foil trays.

Chicken fattee with Arabic chick peas, organic five leaf salad, potatoes. Etihad First Class.

Chicken fattee with Arabic chick peas, organic five leaf salad, potatoes. Etihad First Class.

Half a century ago this was de rigueur for all who took to the skies. These days it’s the preserve of those behind the curtain whose private little domain remains a sanctuary from the lumpenmass.

If you rarely fly in anything but pig pen, though, take heart. Whatever the class, food generally does all taste the same. Aircraft pressurisation and altitude compromise the tastebuds. There’s a whole field of science working behind the scenes to inject flavour into that little foil tray. Over-seasoning is the best defence they’ve presented. If you ate the same thing on the ground, you’d most likely find it too sweet or salty to endure.

Yum Cha, Cathay Pacific Business Class

Yum Cha, Cathay Pacific Business Class

Over the years I’ve consumed many calories in the air. A few of them have been more than tolerable. I’ve been seduced by yum cha in business on Cathay Pacific and spoiled forever by an Arabian mezze in first class on Etihad. These, it must be said, were a tad better than the Chicken or Beef options down the back.  Hands-down winner, however, came in a little foil tray on Royal Nepal Airlines. It was the best dhal and rice I’ve ever had, served, gratis, by the national carrier of one of the poorest countries on the planet.

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