Ever wondered what happens to your in-flight meal before it hits your table tray?

In-flight dining experiences vary from the unknown and inedible to food you’d be pleased to be served anywhere.

When you are booking a flight it’s probably the price and flight times that you are more concerned about than the food. Once you are strapped into a seat for eight hours or more, food becomes decidedly more important and a welcome break in what can seem like an endless flight.

Quality varies a lot and also often reflects the nationality of the airline. I remember a recent meal on a no-frills international flight where the child sitting next to me asked his mother what he was eating.  She replied “It’s chicken” and there was a look of total surprise on his face.  I’ve also been faced with a highly-spiced fish meal for breakfast after a leaving an Asian destination. My stomach didn’t know what hit it!

These are the reasons I was keen to go behind the scenes and see part of the food selection process Garuda Indonesia Airline uses for their flights.

Just as the flight attendants are dressed demurely in Indonesian style and the welcoming music echoes the sounds you’ll hear when walking the streets of Bali, the food also has a definite Indonesian flavour. However it’s always a balancing act and Garuda strives to keep the spice-laden tastes of Indonesia as the essence of the meal without overpowering the taste buds of global passengers who are less familiar with the flavours.

The meals for Garuda’s flights departing from Brisbane are prepared at Alpha Flight Services at Eagle Farm. This is only a short distance from the airport and is one of the reasons why fresh ingredients are so easily served on Garuda flights.

We sat down to a procession of meals tasting both economy and business class offerings. The economy meals included veal parmigiana and pan-fried chicken fillet, with mango cheesecake for dessert. They were pretty much what I would hope to receive on an economy flight but sometimes, on other airlines, I haven’t.

As the group tasted, suggestions were made on slight changes to flavours and sauces.  This is a regular process as Garuda changes it’s menu every quarter.

A couple of weeks later, I tasted the same meals on board a business class flight to Bali and was pleased by the quality of the meals.The canapes served just after departure were quite deliciously fresh prawn and mango salsa tartlets and skewered bocconcini wrapped in a fresh basil leaf.  If I was served this at a cocktail function I would have been happy. It was followed by a tandori chicken appetiser, and a choice of beef semur or steamed snapper fillet for main. Dessert was a generously-sized individual lemon meringue pie followed by a cheese plate.

The other big difference in Garuda Business class is the amount of food served.  Save your hunger for these flights because the food comes out constantly and some of it, like the ice creams, is just too hard to resist. My favourite is the chocolate truffles. I’ve asked for the recipe but its top secret and can’t be revealed.

What surprised me the most after tasting the meals on ground, freshly prepared by Alpha’s kitchen, was how little difference there was when they were served in the air. I’ve heard excuses from other airlines blaming logistics and other problems for poor meals.  Perhaps they should look harder at their catering and take a leaf from Garuda’s book.

Disclaimer:  Kerry Heaney travelled as guest of Garuda Airlines to Bali.