The most memorable meals we’ve eaten on planes this year
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
Airplane food often gets a bad rap for being tasteless, too salty and basically undesirable in just about every way — if you’re seated in back. And while TPG staff members have plenty of experience with the not-so-good stuff in economy, we’ve also been fortunate enough to experience quite a few flights in the pointy of the end of the plane (someone’s gotta do it!).
With a premium ticket comes a lot of food — and drink — and you definitely won’t be left wanting for more. But, not all airlines are created equal, and some truly put on a show when it comes to food-and-beverage service. Here are some of the inflight meals that stood out the most to the TPG team in the past 12 months — including one hilariously bad one.
A Northern lad at heart, TPG U.K.’s content producer, Dan Ross, grew up eating savory pies at his nana’s house.
“There’s no denying that I absolutely love pie,” Dan said.
Dan hails from what is historically one of the most impoverished regions in England, where the locals invented a delicious way to serve leftover cuts of meat and other cheap foods. Pie is traditionally served with mashed potatoes and veggies, then “lashed,” or slathered, in gravy. The result?
“One of the most hearty, comforting meals that would bring a smile to anyone’s face around the dinner table.”
Dan sets a high bar for his pies: Nana’s originals. But Virgin Atlantic’s take on the classic was “an absolute Northern delight.”
“I’ve never eaten pie on a plane, let alone anything like this,” Dan said. “The crust was amazing, and it was filled to the brim with lashings of gravy, fluffy mash and mushy peas by the side that made it just perfect — almost as good as my nana’s (don’t tell her I said that). It was like being at the pub at 35,000 feet. The only thing missing was a pint and a sticky barstool.”
It’s safe to say that TPG’s resident Italian, managing editor Alberto Riva, knows a thing or two about a good risotto. But one of his most memorable grain bowls recently came from the galley of a Russian airline — a pleasant surprise following a thoroughly unappealing first meal service.
“My farro with vegetables and truffle oil [was] the closest thing I ever got on a plane to a top-notch risotto, and it wasn’t even actual rice!” Alberto said. “For texture and flavor, it beat hands down any real, rice-based risottos I’ve had on airplanes. The rest of the lunch, and the meal service on this flight, was ho-hum, but that farro dish was a knockout.”
TPG reviews editor and inveterate foodie Nick Ellis didn’t hesitate to share his most memorable inflight meal: Lobster macaroni and cheese in first class on an Emirates Airbus A380.
“It’s really amazing when you sit down and think about the fact that you can eat better at 35,000 feet than on the ground,” Nick said about his dining experience at Restaurant Emirates. “I can’t recall any meals I’ve had recently that were as decadent as the ones I consumed on this flight.”
Nick enjoyed the requisite caviar course early on during the 11-hour, 35-minute flight, which he described as “decadent but totally expected in first class.”
What did catch Nick entirely by surprise?
“[An] absolutely phenomenal ‘snack’ of lobster mac and cheese just a few hours later, as I was watching one of the hundreds of movies Emirates offers. It was arguably better than any similar dish I’ve had on the ground — I still wonder how Emirates was able to pull this dish off.”
Since Nick hasn’t gushed enough about the food, we decided to quote his own words from the flight review: “It was the ultimate comfort food, with perfectly al dente penne and plenty of tender chunks of lobster, all topped with a creamy cheese sauce. I can’t think of anything better to go along with watching a movie at 35,000 feet.”
TPG senior writer Katie Genter tried caviar for the first time this year — and she loved it. The caviar was part of the first-class Cathay Pacific experience for Katie and her husband, fellow TPG senior writer JT Genter. They booked round-trip tickets in first class from Hong Kong (HKG) to New York-JFK for $825 each as part of Cathay Pacific’s New Year’s Eve sale.
“The caviar was surprisingly good,” Katie said. “And eating meals as a couple at a two-person table high in the sky was certainly an experience to remember.”
Speaking of JT, his favorite dining experience in the sky was so memorable because of both a great meal and an incredible setting. Qatar is known for its attention to onboard food and includes options from all over the world on the premium-class menus. The Middle Eastern options are especially delicious, and instantly transport passengers to the carrier’s home country.
“Katie and I got the chance to fly Qatar Qsuite as a couple on New Year’s Day,” he said. “We made sure to select middle seats together so we’d be able to enjoy dinner and breakfast right next to each other.”
Thank you, Genters, for the reminder that it’s not always just about what you experience, but with whom you experience the special moments in life.
As TPG’s resident foodie and social-media expert, Sam knows good food, both from actual consumption and visual consumption via social media. This meal satisfied both hungers.
“You know you’re going to have a good meal when the appetizers blow it out of the water,” Sam said. “In Japanese, these small dishes are known as kozara and consisted of … drumroll, please … a grilled flounder roll, grilled lobster with egg yolk vinegar, a Japanese omelet topped with caviar, sea bream with braised soy pulp and a fried soft-shell crab marinated in vinegar sauce. Drool.”
OK, so it’s actually been three years. But TPG’s editor-at-large, Zach Honig, still can’t forget his incredible meal in Asiana’s A380 first class (RIP).
“Not only was everything delicious, but my main course was seemingly endless,” he said. “It was just so much yummy, yummy food.”
Zach’s meal started with Champagne and caviar — of course — followed by a slew of small appetizers and additional cocktails, including a Manhattan and a do-it-yourself “Korean taco” affair. And since he couldn’t choose between the galbi jjim (braised short ribs) he had preordered and the bibimbap he saw on the inflight menu, the flight attendant brought him “what appeared to be full versions of both entrées on a gigantic tray” along with generous servings of banchan, the traditional fleet of side dishes served along with rice for Korean meals.
“Everything was insanely delicious,” Zach said. “I managed to eat roughly a third of what was provided, and I was beyond stuffed.”
United’s sundae service for premium-cabin travelers “is one of my most favorite things,” said points and miles writer Carissa Rawson.
Other than the fact that it’s, well, free ice cream at 35,000 feet, what was memorable about the service?
“I love that they make it right at your seat, and you get to pick the toppings — and the hot fudge is still hot. It’s not often you get to dictate what exactly comes on your plate on a plane, even in business class.”
“I’m a simple woman,” TPG credit cards editor Benét Wilson said. “I love the chicken satay and peanut sauce with sticky rice served on Singapore Airlines. I had a chance to tour the Singapore Air kitchens, where a team threads and grills 20,000 sticks a day for flights.”
Pretty much everything TPG travel Analyst Zach Griff ate in Swiss first class was memorable — the menu featured several starters, a choice of soup or salad, delectable main courses, cheese and dessert. All of the dishes were unique to a particular region or a chef from a Michelin-starred restaurant in Switzerland.
But, he especially enjoyed the starter. Yes, the appetizer.
“Swiss first may not always offer caviar or top-shelf Champagne, but the Balik salmon starter and lemon-crusted turbot were so fresh and flaky they’d be eligible for an award if served in a restaurant on the ground,” says Zach.
TPG’s travel editor, Melanie Lieberman, had a very memorable meal when she flew to Hawaii — for all the wrong reasons.
“Never mind the endless Champagne, caviar and lobster you usually find at the front of the cabin — boring! My most memorable meal? Cornflakes. Flying to Oahu on a first-class ticket with United, I was reminded about the little details that make domestic first class so completely, well, charming. When the crew ran out of hot eggs and apple soufflés, I was served a bowl of cornflakes. Perhaps, one day, I’ll delight in some forbidden fruit(y pebbles). But I suppose you need to fly international first class for that sort of indulgence.”
Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.
WELCOME OFFER: 60,000 Points
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
- Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
- Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That’s 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel.