By Nikos Loukas for Yahoo! Travel
I blog about airline food, talk about it — and consume a lot of it. This year I flew more than 120,000 miles, and I can tell you that it's been an exciting year for culinary innovation at 35,000 feet. Delta Airlines started serving locally sourced inflight dishes to its Business Elite customers on select routes; chef Linton Hopkins prepares the meals in downtown Atlanta and delivers them right to the airline. Meanwhile Qantas increased portions in economy class and introduced a range of fresh dinner boxes featuring Japanese slaw, poached chicken, and quinoa salad. But those were by no means the highlights, in my humble opinion.
Here, the top five airline meals of the year. Trust me, your meal tray has never looked and tasted better.
Everything Hello Kitty on Eva Air (Photo: Eva Air)
Imagine the looks when a flight attendant wearing a Hello Kitty apron delivered my requested kids' meal on an Eva Air flight from Paris to Taipei. "They’re just jealous," I kept telling myself as my seatmates stared at this piece of airline food art. I almost didn’t want to eat it because it looked so cute: pasta and meatballs were served with a slice of Hello Kitty-imprinted zucchini, while a chocolate brownie had a dollop of strawberry frosting shaped like Hello Kitty on top.
The author's Hello Kitty meal (Nikos Loukas/Inflight Feed)
If you really want to get into the Hello Kitty experience, Eva Air also operates Hello Kitty-themed planes, where cartoon-themed meals are served to everyone on the plane — even in business class. I guarantee it will be the happiest flight you'll ever take.
Bibimbap on Korean Air (Nikos Loukas/Inflight Feed)
I can’t remember how the flight attendant delivered the nuts onboard a recent Korean Air flight — but I can guarantee there weren't any onboard tantrums. The highlight here was bibimbap: a DIY meal consisting of a bowl of beef and vegetables, white rice, and a tube of Gochujang chili pepper paste. For a non-Korean, the meal can seem daunting at first, but it’s simple to assemble. The finished product? A light and delicious rice-and-beef dish that could hold its own in any Korean restaurant.
Filet of beef served with a potato bake and a Turkish salad (Nikos Loukas/Inflight Feed)
Imagine sitting down to a succulent fillet of beef so tender and moist that it reminds you of a home-cooked meal.Pegasus — a budget airline in Turkey operating to 97 destinations in Europe and the Middle East — has partnered with the Austrian gourmet restaurant company, Do & Co to produce its inflight meals. And this steak dinner is definitely not something you'd expect from a low-cost carrier. The only catch? It will cost you $11.50. But this steak puts many business-class meals to shame.
Finger-licking good on Japan Airlines (Nikos Loukas/Inflight Feed)
Who would have thought that you could dine at KFC while cruising at 35,000 feet? In February, I flew to Tokyo to sample the latest inflight dishes available to Japanese passengers. The highlight of my trip? A flight on Japan Airlines, where I was served KFC chicken bites, accompanied by the company's trademark coleslaw. Did it taste like KFC? Yes! The airline tweaked the recipe, adding 20 percent more seasoning to get the taste right. JAL usually offers this special KFC meal from November to March. It hasn't reappeared for 2015, but we're hoping it comes back.
Fresh cheese on Swiss (Photo: Swiss International Airlines)
Swiss International Airlines offers a “Taste of Switzerland” program for first and business class: every three months leading chefs from various regions of Switzerland create special inflight menus. (My most memorable dish was beer ice cream served with a chocolate blueberry slice.) Recently, Swiss took the program to a new level by hosting a pop-up restaurant on its Zurich-to-New York flights with three-star Michelin chef Andreas Caminada. The highlights included melt-in-your mouth scallops. But the best part: it wasn't just for first and business class: even economy-class passengers got to take part, with meals served on a wooden board that they were able to take home.
Airline foodie Nikos Loukas travels over 120,000 miles each year to taste the latest inflight meals to grace the skies. He is the founder of Inflight Feed, an airline meal guide.