Malaysia Airlines Catering

airline_food

I have discovered a new appreciation for Malaysia Airlines catering.

Eating out on a plane is not always a pleasant experience; often you are crammed into to a small space and confronted by a little tray containing three courses and plastic cutlery which makes it difficult to cut up your proteins.

On a really crowded plane you don’t even have enough elbow room to cut properly, so you have to lift your wrists so as to plunge your knife into your food at a 90 degree angle and sort of pirouette the placcy knife in order to slice off a few precious fibres.

Many people complain that airline food is flavourless, but even that is not quite true.  Flying can actually decrease your sense of taste by 30%. Airline food is still normally not as bland as eating fast food, but if you ate that same airline meal on the ground you would probably enjoy it more.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Malaysia Airlines’ catering centre at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.  It was an experience that was both interesting and quite an eye opener.

The meals served on Malaysia Airlines flights. Food on those flights which depart Kuala Lumpur, are prepared by a catering company called Brahim’s Airline Catering, which is partly owned by Malaysia Airlines.

This catering company also supplies meals for over 30 other airlines.

Prior to visiting the catering headquarters I had assumed that most airline meals would prepared in bulk by machines.  I was way off the mark, as the preparation of meals at Brahim’s is a distinctly hands on affair and very labour intensive.

An incredible feat when you consider that they prepare approximately 35,000 meals per day and cater for all special dietary needs.

Before any meal can be sent to a plane, it has undergone months of testing.  There is a large test kitchen on the premises where meals are developed according to client requirements.

They even use a hyperbaric chamber, a device which uses oxygen at high atmospheric pressure, in which to test their seasonings so as to get an accurate replication of taste at 30+ thousand feet.

At almost every work station is a set of scales, because each type of meal has to be portioned to exactly the same weight and size.  Watching the butchers and fishmongers producing hundreds same-sized fish pieces and steaks was mesmerising.  They do weigh random pieces, but with years of experience that eye for detail is exact.

The catering centre uses about 4 tonnes of chicken per day, as it is by far the most popular protein.  They also use about 750kgs daily of beef, lamb and fish.  Most of it is sourced from Australia and butchered here under strict halal standards.

Proteins arrive at the centre frozen, and all goods are stored in giant cool rooms.

The preparation rooms are just like any commercial kitchen, but on a massive scale.

Sanitation is of utmost importance as they cannot afford to risk the chance of dodgy meals causing chaos to those hundreds of passengers who are encased within an aluminium tube travelling at close to the speed of sound at an altitude of many thousands of metres with just a few toilets on board.

Meals are accurately prepared 24 hours before the intended flight is due to depart.  Don’t worry, though, as temperature control is vital to keep the food safe, and all meals are put into chillers as soon as they are prepared.  These meals are kept chilled during transport to and loading of the plane, and kept at low temperatures until service.

It used to be that meals were cooked to 80% done, and warmed the extra 20% on board, but now they are cooked to 100%, because it is safer to do so.

There are little tricks used to make the brain think you are eating recently cooked food.

One of the most popular meals onboard Malaysia Airlines is their satays.

I watched these being prepared and cooked in their thousands, just like I have seen done at satay stalls on the streets of Malaysia.

The airline satays have that same smokiness and caramelisation that you’d expect from a street stall.  Although the satay sticks themselves are 100% cooked and warmed on board, the oil and peanut sauce that accompanies them is heated, rather than warmed, giving you that authentic taste and temperature.

Watching great vats of curry bubbling away, and taking in the magnificent aromas which wafted my way, was mouth-watering.

Airline food is actually real food. When I witnessed it being cooked and packaged I had a much greater appreciation for the care that goes into sending those meals skyward to both help nourish us, and also to use up a bit of time during those long haul flights.

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