Did you know that a third of your taste buds become numb while flying, affecting the way you taste certain foods and spices? But that doesn’t mean that you still cannot enjoy a five-star meal above the clouds. In fact, many world-class airlines dedicate themselves to make sure passengers in first and business class dine on only the best while creating unique cuisines that will take their taste buds on a journey. But who has the best? After searching high and low, we gathered our sources to bring to you the top ten airlines that have won us over for having the best international cuisines served above 30,000 feet.
#1: Singapore Airlines
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Singapore Airlines (SIA) is at the top of our list. The airline has won the World’s Best Airline several years in a row. And the food? It’s out of this world. SIA uses a “pressurized tasting room” to make sure each piece tastes anything but bland. Some of our favorites are Cantonese roast duck with vegetables and steamed rice, rigatoni in a parmesan butter sauce served with grilled porcini and leek, and grilled prawns in Parmigiano sauce with sauteed spinach and parpadella pasta in zucchini coat.
Passengers in suites, first class, business class, and premium economy can Book the Cook (pre-order a meal) 24 hours before departure, and choose from a variety of Asian and Western menu options curated by eight world-renowned chefs. Yes, eight! These culinary artists are dedicated to creating dishes with the freshest ingredients, and as seasons change, so do their cuisines.
Emirates has made it to number two on our list, serving passengers in Business and First Class Middle Eastern-style dishes with a world-class champagne pairing menu. Like Singapore Airlines, chefs working for Emirates use fresh, locally sourced ingredients to create gourmet dishes inspired by the region.
Each meal is served on bone china plates from Royal Doulton with cutlery from Robert Welch. Our favorite cuisines are potatoes and seasonal vegetables with Lamb with rosemary sauce, “Achaari murgh” (chicken in a spicy and tangy gravy, served with braised lentils with bottle gourd and Saada pulao), or spinach and pine nut ravioli with braised cherry tomatoes and Parmesan.
#3: Air New Zealand
Michael Meredith and Peter Gordon teamed up as the new consultant chefs for Air New Zealand (Air NZ). How much luckier can you get? The airline serves a mouthwatering, innovative cuisine made from fresh ingredients, paired with premium New Zealand wines. From dishes like Seared hapuka in miso coconut broth with shitake rice, gai-lan and fresh coriander salsa to parsnip and yellow split pea soup with blackened corn and mustard seed relish—Air NZ will take your taste buds to a whole new world.
#4: Qatar Airways
Business and First Class passengers aboard Qatar have the pleasure of enjoying a traditional Middle Eastern platter curated by a master culinary chef, Nobu Matsuhisa. He takes into account how taste buds change with altitude and is thus able to create cuisines that taste just as good above 30,000 feet as they do below.
Matsuhisa says, “I like to see my customers eating, drinking, smiling, and laughing. This is happiness. Qatar Airways understands my philosophy. It’s like a nice marriage, a balance in the food. Perfect is difficult, but I like to be as close to a high point as much as possible. I always try my best.”
Qatar offers on-demand menu options, allowing you to dine when you want and what you want. Choose from a variety of satisfying dishes such as stuffed spinach crêpes with mushroom, cheese and tomato sauce, or an Iranian mix grill of lamb chops, kofta and chicken tikka with broad bean saffron rice. We have no words.
#5: All Nippon Airways (ANA)
ANA offers a taste of Japan with the best of the country’s cuisine, changing each time the season does. You can devour in a four-course meal, which includes a starter, fish course, entrée, dessert and wine—each one made with the freshest ingredients.
Devour in ANA’s original meals like the fillet of beef steak with Kishu Nankobai Japanese plum and green pepper sauce, or the grilled swordfish with cuttlefish and white kidney beans in tomato sauce. Are you hungry yet?
Aside from the main courses, passengers can tantalize their taste buds in Emotion pistachio and strawberry, a mascarpone pistachio cream with fresh raspberries, made by Pierre Hermé, who was named the World’s Best Pastry Chef of 2016.
#6: Virgin Australia
Virgin Australia gives you the option to eat when you want and whatever you want with their on-demand dining service. Their meals, curated by their consulting chef Luke Mangan, are a fusion of French, Asian and modern Australian flavors.
Dine on corn and capsicum fritters with avocado, tomato and coriander salsa for breakfast, and braised short rib with dukkah spiced carrots and broad beans on wasabi mustard and coriander potatoes for dinner. Pair your meals with boutique Australian wineries, or if you prefer beer, they have a terrific selection of the best Australian beers.
#7: Virgin Atlantic
Virgin Atlantic samples over 500 dishes just to get the right one, which is one of the reasons why it made it on our list of the top 10 best international airline cuisines. Like many airlines, Virgin Atlantic offers you customized meal options including afternoon tea and snacks from their Graze menu.
For starters, you can sip on spicy butternut soup (perfect for vegetarians), or the tomato, mozzarella and micro basil salad. After you’ve had your appetizer, move on to the main course, where you can choose from seafood linguine, Keralan curry, or a tender breast of chicken served on a potato cake with spinach, Girolle mushrooms and vegetable pearls. Finish off your meal with warm chocolate salted caramel pudding, or the apple blackberry crisp tart.
#8: Korean Air
Cuisines offered on Korean Air are healthy, delicious, fresh, authentic and absolutely divine. Their courses include an appetizer, a main course with side dishes and a dessert for everyone to enjoy. From farm to fly, rib eye steak, beef ribs and chicken dishes, to the famous Jedong Korean Ginseng Chicken Soup, bibimbap, pumpkin nutritious rice, and Korean Style Dongchimi noodles—Korean Air serve only the world’s finest in the sky.
To accompany your meal in the best way possible, select unique wines from the Bordeaux, Bourgogne and Alsace regions of France, preordered three to four years before it’s served aboard the aircraft. If you’re one for bubbles, you can enjoy high-quality champagne such as Perrier-Jouet from France.
Neil Perry serves as the airline’s chef for First and Business class passengers on Qantas. First class passengers have the option to dine on an eight-course meal, choosing from twelve different entrées, while Business Class passengers are given a 3-course menu option with a handful of main courses to choose from. And regardless if you’re sitting in Business or First, you can enjoy Qantas’ award-winning wines and world-class meals made from the finest ingredients at a time that suits you.
Qantas changes its menu every four to six weeks—and takes forty-four weeks to plan and prepare every new one. Nonetheless, some of its signature dishes include salt and pepper squid with tangy green chili sauce, prawn oil pasta with crab meat and roasted cherry tomatoes, and a breakfast dish of buttermilk pancakes with fresh ricotta.
#10: Turkish Airlines
Our list would not be complete without mentioning Turkish Airlines and their classic cultural dishes and drinks that are presented in a Turkish way.
The airline starts the course off with a wonderful selection of hors-d’oeuvres such as prawns, smoked trout with horseradish cream, grilled crab cake with sweet chilis, avocado tomato salad, spiced chicken breast, beet and goat cheese salad and more, served from a cart. After appetizers, a Turkish tradition of soup is served, followed by the main course, which can include grilled salmon with parsley butter and zucchini, filet of beef with arugula and roasted potatoes, or mushroom ravioli with leeks, tomatoes and parmesan.
Regardless of your choice, your cuisines are plated on custom-designed porcelain dishes. Once you’ve devoured your meal, we recommend ending your dining experience with traditional Turkish tea or coffee, served in a customary cup. And it’s not just any tea, there’s a blend of Melissa, camomille, sour cherry and lavender to help with jet lag, fennel, anise and caraway blend for digestion, and even a blend of mint, fennel, lemon and date syrup to help with any stomach issues. The airline is dedicated to making sure you not only get the best but feel your best as well.
What are your favorite airlines and/ or in-flight meals? Which airline has made the biggest impression on you? We would love to hear what kind of dining experience you had 30,000 feet above the ground in the comments below.