Asian Vegetarian Hell

Single celled organisms swimming around in the primordial ooze met up with each other for dates, eventually forming multicellular organisms that then evolved the ability to move around and meet up with other like minded organisms to be fruitful and multiply into early fishes that, several million years ago, walked on to dry land on clumsy fins that served as the first legs, only to evolve into reptiles and eventually mammals. One branch, of a particularly resourceful ape-kind, eventually colonized the planet, achieved the pinnacle of nature and then, for some inexplicable reason, invented air travel and started eating that unnatural abomination known as airline food.

Cows are holy. Cattle class is unholy. So what happens when we eat beef in an economy class flight?

If those early bacteria knew that the crowning achievement of Life on Earth was going to eat dubious organic matter microwaved to oblivion and served in aluminum foil, they’d have stopped going out on dates and stayed at home posting updates to Twitter and Facebook.

Airline food is the sort of nightmare mommy stomach cells warn their kids about. If kitchens were reactors, airline food would be nuclear waste and as a frequent flier, I experience Chernobyl every time I fly. And for this reason, I decided to stick to the “Asian Vegetarian Meal”, which, in the manner that tear gas is better than Agent Orange, is slightly safer to consume than fauna based offerings. But as you will soon find out, airlines manage to serve the sort of Asian vegetarian meal that would have justified George Bush’ claim that Iraq had biological weapons.

For starters, I cannot imagine that kitchens populated by regular Homo Sapiens can produce this sort of food (and I use the term “food” rather loosely here). In fact, I strongly believe Flight kitchens are located here:

This place is right behind Trisulam hill, which you can see in the background. It is located conveniently close to the Chennai airport

And look somewhat like this:

When nerdcore Tambrahm chef mamas are asked where they are going in the morning, they will say "I am having Orc". Now you know what they mean

Here is the anatomy of an airline meal. It is a plastic tray adorned by several accouterments such as a tea cup, a small paper bag of cutlery, a cup of something indescribably seedy looking which the flight attendant will claim is a salad, a small dessert that will usually be dry enough to deserve the loss the extra “s” and finally, the 2in x 4in aluminum foil box that holds what can only be charitably described as “food” and only hypothetically described as “edible”.

In the middle of this box, is something that resembles rice, rice that was apparently banished from the wet fertile fields of the tropics to the Gobi desert in summer.  It is also heated to near plasma temperatures in a blast furnace. Then it is stored for several years along with large amounts of Silica Gel. Any renegade, insurgent water molecules are dealt with the swift brutality of Moammar Qaddafi. Then the flight attendant blowdries it using a hair dryer on “High” setting before serving it to you. Just in case.

To its left is a yellowish ooze. If any pasty looking off-whitish cubes are visible, it’s probably paneer. Paneer after a stint at Abu Ghraib. If it isn’t, it’s likely Dal. Dal tends to vary between #5c2700 and #d5ad42 in colour and can occasionally contain a few green lumps that Popeye would have consumed (and thrown up). The amount of Dal is also adjusted to ensure that it either outlasts the amount of rice OR leaves behind several spoonfuls of dry rice that is waiting to poke holes in your oesophagus.

To the right of the rice is an amorphous dark complexioned mass of coagulated vegetables fried till kingdom come. Occasionally, it promises to be Potato, a vegetable that is remarkably hard to make a bad tasting dish out of, but the airline kitchen staff at Isengard have mastered this. The combination of terminally ill potatoes, age-old spices of the kind found in Indian grocery stores in the US and the extreme microwaving make any potato dish taste metallic, somewhat like the oven itself. It’s as if the dish gave up any semblance of individuality and freedom under the harsh supervision of Isengard and let itself be subsumed by the Ferrous elements involved in the entire cooking process.

But no meal is complete without some form of bread, and the standard “Asian Vegetarian Meal” comes with a bun that is a choking hazard even for one of the Transformers. If one does not have dental insurance, it is best left alone. And the demoniacal chefs at Isengard also seem to like irony. They also give you a small slab of butter, as if to say that you can “try” softening the bread with it. But one does not entertain Genghis Khan with a Karan Johar movie, kill Bill with a Deepavali cape gun or try to soften the “Bun” with butter. The “Bun” scores higher on the Mohs scale than Diamond. The “Bun” was likely baked in the depths of the Earth’s core. In fact:

Murali Iyengar Bakery quite ironically lists its "Core" competences as "Hardworking" and "We cater for functions"

India is a nation that personifies unity in diversity. The diversity comes from the million different ways in which we get outraged. The unity comes from the fact that every “Asian Vegetarian meal” served on every airline is homogeneously alike.

Remember the waiters and kitchen staff in the movie Fight Club? Airline meals are the only kind of food where their "enhancements" wouldn't make a smidgeon of a difference

But as always, I am not one to simply crib and leave the scene without offering a solution. I believe airlines can learn from trains.

Hotel Saravana Bhavan is the prefect candidate to run all catering planes. Their 14 mini-idlis can take the edge off any bawling Indian baby aboard economy class

ps 1: This post is an extended version of a short column I originally wrote for DNA (warning: pdf)

ps 2: I’ve been told that it’s been ages since I blogged. If you are referring to the act of pressing several keys on a keyboard to generate some form of digital output that finds it way to the interwebz, then I’ve been doing a fair bit on and

ps 3: Do me a favour and go get yourself the Mozarellasura Linguini Stotram callback tone. Instructions here


116 thoughts on “Asian Vegetarian Hell

    1. Dear James:

      you are a sorta celebrity to me. I mean, every damned street and its un-whitewashed compound wall has your ad. You are my zero budget CMO when I startup.


  1. Haha.. in the last one year or so I have travelled on Delta, Jet Airways and Kuwait Air between India and US, and in spite of getting the same “variety” of food you described, I didn’t realize its a worldwide standard for Asian Vegetarian meal!
    PS: Jet Airways served me yummy Pav Bhaji on Brussels-Mumbai flight and a very unlikely Kuwait Air meal had awesomest chocolate pastry, silver linings around the dark clouds of airline food.

  2. Don’t diss airline food. There’s a reason behind its aesthetic and gustatory non-appeal. When you travel to the other end of the world or your country, it’s the responsibility of any good airline to give you the correct horrible experience with people and food, so once you land hungry & angry, whatever you get only looks better. No prejudice, no intolerance; first impression is a default “good food, good people.” And by the time you realize the food there sucks too, you’ve already formed your lasting first-impression that kicks in when you blog about it. Thus, hence, therefore.

    (If you don’t believe me, think of how why like Taco Bell 😐 )


  3. The picture of a pillar with phantoms emerging from the ground…is it from ‘Return to Castle Wolfenstein’? Looks like the boss arena from the end.

  4. Hell yeah!!!!
    I travel frequently and can totally vouch for this. The Indian goo is at least edible when famished. Try the Qantas first or business class food!!! Its a vegetarian’s nightmare. The goo is also colourless and flavourless and quantity less oooops less quantity!!! Neil Perry serves seared Salmon with radish salsa!!!!! eyuckkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk….. Arbattam panni, kuppai kuduta adu kuppai aa daan irukkom!!!!!!!!!!!! Then there’s beef steak that looks like poo with b-b-q sauce!!! Oh and don’t forget Vegetarian delight pooshnikai tortellini… idukku patni aa irundaaley porum!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Hahaha. Good one Krish! You should do a rating for the worst of the worst airline meals. Might send those guys scurrying for cover

  6. Finally, my comments gets a place in the Top 10. Well, I was an avid fan of Airline foods, but I just had it once. Lets see if I get a chance to fly sometime. But, after seeing this post, I guess I have to think about getting into food stuff, anywhere, literally!

  7. Kudos for a very scientific analysis. The “Origin of the Bun” theory has cleared many misconceptions.

    There is also evidence that flight kitchens create edible matter by nanometrically manipulating atoms of food waste, thus being eco-friendly and efficient. There is some dissent as to what exactly ‘edible’ means in this context but the technological miracle is undeniable.


  8. Yes, it’s been a long time since you last wrote…
    I already didn’t like ‘flight food’, you drove the last nail into the coffin. I don’t suppose I am eating anymore in the air now. 🙂 Father(an agriculture scientist) already had micro waved food removed from the menu(the molecular properties of food get altered)
    I think I found your last post funnier than this one. The humor here seems a bit stretched. It still is funny and relevant.

  9. Although this piece is very well ariticulated and completely sums up my opinion of flight “food”, I couldn’t get myself to read the entire post, being constantly reminded as I was of the nauseating smell the entire plane is filled with, when the flight attendents being to serve the “food”. 🙂
    I wish they’d just serve caramel popcorn or such instead. We must sign a petition I say.

    1. Ooh…popcorn! Yummm! The problem though is that you would need a lot more water than they serve in those microscopic bottles 😛

    2. Yucks!! Mooku pichhukkum :((
      Next time you fly, have to grab some sinusitis and block the olfaction …

  10. I fly a lot myself, but as these flights are mostly restricted within the US, I am fortunate enough to not have to subject myself to airline food on a regular basis. Having said that, I know of no one who travels as much as you do.

    You have very accurately described the bun. The butter that gets served with it is probably prepared for and by Eskimos. I have yet to come across a colder piece of lipid flash-frozen in liquid nitrogen!

    Best airline meals I have had have been on Kuwait Airways and British Airways. The former had a chicken reshmi kebab and the second chicken tikka masala – the de facto British national dish. (It goes without saying that I am an avowed non-vegetarian).

    I would say that those two meals were more than offset by horrendous travel experiences I had with both airlines. I’m never flying on either again.


  11. Hello Sir,

    Been a long time to since u posted, but its been worth the wait, although u have quashed my dreams of being a high flyer and seeing new places ruthlessly by dissing airline food. Great read neverthless! Thankfully ur wordpress site is not blocked at my office. Hope to read more of u.



  12. The comparative visual matrix explained everything!
    The ‘butter’ meant to soften the ‘bun’ needs special mention. Have you noticed that it is usually harder than old mysore-pak? We should rephrase “soft-like-butter” to “soft-like-butter-but-unlike-their-airline-avatars”. The situation worsens when the ‘cutlery’ is made of plastic: you need to be very careful to extract the butter without letting the knife/spoon break/bend, or without letting pieces fly at break-away point; and the amount should be optimal – small enough to let hold on to the knife/spoon and big enough to leave a considerable mark on the bun.
    You haven’t mentioned about the wrappers and the lids for those small containers… have you noticed that at the end of the meal (with even a minimal process of just opening each container and having a taste of the ingredients), the tray seems to resemble a mound or a clutter of assorted plasticware? Maybe thats to to create an impression of “i ate a lot”! 🙂
    Ofcourse, its not always so bad. I’ve had some nice desserts on emirates.

  13. Man, how come you missed out the water/coffee powder combo they give for free along with breakfast..?? Moreover you have not posted about the breakfast-dinner stuff:-) That would be AWESOME..B-) Awaiting for it in your next post..!!

  14. Nice One Kitcha.. Thanks for the Post. It was a good post but I see a lot of bashing comments. Given that it is the Tax Planning(Preparing fake Rent Receipts and Documents) season of the year, I guess they were expecting a hilarious master piece from you to ease the pressure. People should learn to be happy with what they get and it applies even for Kitcha’s Jalsa and Jilpa!!

    And whats with the James Magic Show comment?? !@#$% 🙂


  15. All said, when u ask for Asian Vegetarian, you get served first. You become the envy of the vellakaara thatha or paati when you have relishing oleaginous pastes. Usually u get Micro Pappad on emirates which is like a moon to the bun. But when you are in the middle of China and live on Pizza for a week the only ‘Indian’ option will be the undateable ‘Asian Vegetarian’ option on a SQ flight..

  16. Great post as usual. I have traveled various airlines and I am amazed as to how uniformly bad the food is and the layout of the plate also does not differ. I have heard ‘aacharam mamis’ specify the exact GPS coordinates for each item served on the leaf. Some similar theme exists here. Also, in some airlines the vegetarian ‘bali aadu’ gets a green tag on the headrest. We are already target practice for the worst of the worst. Recently flew with AirFrance and was handed a menu card before the food arrived. It was like a person on deathbed reading the details of how his/her autopsy is going to be performed.

  17. I’ve gone through most of comments that have been posted on this thread so far, and summarized and grouped the comments into the following table, for your convenience.

    Comment Percentage
    “KA u r sooooo phannyyy.” ~32.2%
    “Such a funny post. (Followed by personal airline experiences.)” ~16.6%
    “This post is not as funny as your earlier ones.” ~8.1%
    “Identification and appreciation of subtle inside-joke” ~10.4%
    “First post.” ~26.7%
    “P. James Magic Show.” ~1.7%
    Other ~4.3%

  18. I frikkin LOVE airline food! It helps the time go by…or maybe having to wait for the cart makes me feel like a hungry holocaust refugee…I even happily wait for those rocks of bread and the stinky cheese!
    You are one funny guy…and I esp like your reference to the US indian store spices…very funny! And true. ok…I’m a new fan. Worry not, I’m too lazy to stalk anyone.
    btw, any chance you know what strawberry kangal are?

  19. Hey! That was one brilliant piece! As always!
    I was reminded of the sandwich that tasted and felt like concrete slab and was colder than the air hostess’s smile .. :-p
    Keep more coming!

  20. There seem to be over two dozen meal options available on airlines these days. Why choose the first option every time? If you don’t like microwaved goo, try the RVML of FPML next time.

  21. The Indian Airlines at least, has some good food… (for domestic travel). Maybe there is a difference between eating it when you are hungry and when you are not. I am always hungry 😉

    Destination Infinity

  22. I got the Mozarellasura Linguini Stotram callback tune in vodafone but the tune gets cut off before “Ai Frutti di Mare…” . So I only get the first two verse which kinda sucks coz i really liked the tune in the last verse.

  23. Hi Krish, discovered couple of months ago through Dan Brown navala article! while awaiting ur next post after Facebook dig…explored almost all ur stuff..though infinitely amused ,never was tempted to leave a comment. I am doing this now, to thank u for introducing me to your Sound cloud…just heard Saaraasaksha Pripalaya…it was soul stirring stuff. Jalsa jilpa is utter non-sense, which i super like but Sound Cloud is trying to transcend Sense… of course not bad idea to get Arnab & Darth Vadhiyar there too 🙂


  24. try puris..they are worse and you got to use all your teeth and fingers to take a bite. Pongal is okay but who asked them to try bonda and vada (mostly they serve uncooked batter). They can get just simple bread and give everyone 4 slices and some thing on the side. They could make a simple pasta and vegetables. Why gives several items that are all bad. I even once noted the name of the company and thought I will email them.. Why cant they make it a few good items. BTW I travelled once in Indian airlines -They said they ran out of vegetarian food the first time they came to my (few of us in the last seat) and said “Oh some other people claimed vege meals and we are out…” and we had some things – yeah that fruit and that bun ofcourse. They gave me two..eww..They did this again the next time. The guy next to me yelled at the hostess and went to the first class cabin and started muttering something..and he managed to get vegetarian food for him and his wife..Yelling on top of your voice works..BTW at that time even being so hungry if they would have showed me the bun the nest time would have killed my appetite.. That bun I think it is a WMD that we are not sure how to use.

  25. Haha. Air France is one side of the story. Have you ever traveled to China?

    Me: Sue-xi! No meat!
    Lady at Restaurant (looks like I have terminal cancer and responds in Mandarin): Oh no! Poor Child. How about shrimp?
    Me: No, no no! Nothing with a face on it!
    Her: That’s okay! I’ll get you chicken wings!
    Her: (Very disappointed): Here’s some spinach and soy sauce.

    Three weeks later and 18lbs lighter: “Mom, can I please have some of that upma that I used to refuse look at?”

    1. Reminds me of somebody I knew at IMSc who went for a postdoc in China. He asked some Chinese friends to record a message on his cellphone that he could play in restaurants so that they won’t serve him any meat. The message worked a bit too efficiently, and he noticed that once he had played the message, the restaurants tended to treat him more than usual care.

      So he went to some other Chinese friends and asked them to translate the message for him, which went “This person is seriously ill. If you give him meat, he will die. Please do not give him any meat at all.” Apparently nothing weaker would have worked.

  26. Ohh.. Had enough trouble holding to my sides, laughing, while reading this post..

    Thankfully, in the domestic flights in India, they don’t force you to eat the microwaved , blow dried food… and I am sure most of the flyers with senses resist the urge to try the untempting menu of eatables(?!) that’s on sale..

  27. Idha padichaprama aeroplane la oru thanni bottle kooda vangi kudikanum nu thonala. Excellent post though.

  28. Nice topic. For the air fare prices that are skyrocketing everyday, we’d expect them to serve us decent ( read edible) meals. They don’t even let us carry our own meals. It is almost as if we are held hostage in the aircraft and fed these “meals” by force ! And we pay for it too !!

    PS: your Mozerellasura Stotram was hilarious. So was your TR video of ‘Supress, Opress and Depress ‘ music. You chose a perfect character for your creativity. I hope he saw it and someone records his reaction. 🙂

  29. Forgive me my ignorance of South Indian folk music, but isn’t Mozarellsura Strotam has the same tune as “Ai Girinandini….”?

  30. So, what about the college mess? Minas Morgul remade?

    P.S. If you travel by Jet and happen to stop-over at Brussels, I do recommend the dessert. Mostly because it is bearable, and you generally haven’t eaten anything for the first 7 hrs, and won’t eat for the next 9 either.

  31. Awesome post! Although, I have to admit that in some of my recent trips, the food was pretty good. As far as the ‘bun’ is concerned, one of my root canal fillings got damaged partially due to that thing (zero exaggeration here). It can be used as a lethal weapon. And yeah, another horror story with regard to this topic is when they served Idli with Kootu. I think my taste buds got permanently damaged after that incident! The Isengard analogy was hilarious! Great post!

  32. BTW, why do you try eating on a plane?
    Beers, cashew/pea nuts (depending on how cheap the airline is), breakfast bread, butter, water and flavoured yoghurt.
    Agree, sticking to this strict diet on a trans-continental journey will most probably result in audible discharge of intestinal turbulence, but then kakkai ku than kunju ponn kunju, no?

  33. Konjam mokkayana post. Not upto your usual standards. Email forward padikkara mathiri irukku.

    Awesome work with the TRacer Bullet though. 🙂

  34. My daughter travelled by Lufthansa last week, so I sent the entry to her, and she said:
    This guy is too good. I think the meal he describes sounds like heaven compared to what I got. For Asian vegetarian, the kitchens of Isengaard moved slightly eastwards to merge with the Kitchens of Mordor. The cooking techniques were remarkably similar across the two. I received the same nuclear blasted, silica gel rice, albeit drenched in motor oil.

    On one side of this, a blanched brick of tofu that no doubt had received similar treatment to the rice. I wondered why they had bothered with security at the airports if they were going to present me with the weapon of mass destruction during my meal. Oleagenous goo would have been amrutham compared to the meal I received.

  35. Asian Vegetarian Hell. February 20, 2011. by krishashok. Single celled organisms swimming around in the primordial ooze met up with each other for dates, …

  36. Did you by any chance fly Air France? I think you must have. Their breads need to be accompanied by Chainsaws.

  37. too vivid description of that thing. feels like I am forced to eat it through again!!

    And please update the link for parodesy, I think there is a typo in the hyperlink.

  38. Following my recent experience in a long distant flight (not usual for me ) , I was so outraged by what was we were supposed to eat just because we were in a pressurized cabin space and dint dare to use the safety vest underneath our seats to escape Oleaginous goo best explains them all – Funny how they go through so much trouble to pack them up into barbie packs though!
    just gives you enough hope to have them crushed when you open those !!
    Loved your post !
    **Too bad you dont post often !!!

  39. “waiting to poke holes in your oesophagus”

    I am not a frequent flier. But you have given me enough reason to. I wish to try out the Asian Vegetarian Hell and choke over it in remembrance of this post. Too bad you don’t write often here. Or wherever.

  40. Last??!

    Despite the hard work evident in writing this piece, I cannot see how airline food can be anything but bad. Airline travel as a whole is dysfunctional, one aspect of it (food) cannot realistically improve over and beyond the baseline reality. Simple jokes about airline food can be witty but an extended write up can inadvertently end up showcasing the state of the system.
    A minor correction- the small trays with hot food are heated in conventional ovens (the Al foil is a giveaway). Small microwaves do exist for other purposes.


    The M.Strotram is nice. Thanks for sharing. I think I like it because the skillful mix of the classy original with random menu items evokes a feeling of restrained frivolity that makes one to re-wonder about culture, faith and dinner…
    I find myself getting a little pensive when the lyrics roll over non-kosher food items because of some consideration for what may have been Adi S. Garu’s personal food preferences. Then I tell myself it is probably alright since everything was ONE and the same for him!

  41. Hi Krish, or is it Ashok? Since you have two first names! I’m a recent follower and an even more recently converted FAN…turning fast, as you can tell!
    Love your blogs, and the observations on airline food are spot on! Though, I wonder if you’ve noticed passenger pleasure on seeing “Free” booze on intl flights; even if it’s served in plastic tea cups!

    Just an idea for your comic strip; the horror-scopic calendar which reveals the nakshatram and the fate of the household, each day. Hence highly capable of altering life’s plans for the day.

    Keep blogging/comi-stripping…makes a mundane day fun!

  42. Got back to reading on WP after a long time and it was a pleasure to find your blogaddress hadnt “moved over to somewhere” and that you continue to be as funny as before. Did you just suggest that railway food is better than standard Airline Asian Veg Meal? Hope you never have to jhelo standard asian veg issues en route to and fro UP or Guj. Other than that it is now a pleasure to live in these parts rather than anywhere else in India 🙂 All the best and keep posting : here if you pl.

  43. I must mention this your pictures loaded AFTER I was done with reading, commenting, reading the thread, and when I was about to leave 😦

  44. KA, the “choking hazard” description is perfect one for the stuff served in the name of’s a wonder that almost all airlines have the same stuff.

  45. Yeeeaaahhh! You said it! AND then you have to sit bibbed and literally tethered to those seats that give a new meaning to Hard Rock Cafe until they ‘clear’ the stuff … you get ‘served’ first and ‘de-served’ last so that you can enjoy that lingering lookku at that lovely unblemished BUN ….

    To all the brave survivors … Cheers I say!

  46. Krish,

    Just recently travelled on an airline… it was my first international flight. At first I thought this is the way it should be served on airlines or maybe majority of them might prefer it this way. But When I was returning I felt exactly like what you described… I landed up drinking just water. Its great to read something exactly like how I felt and know that many out there feel the same way. I hope the airlines improve atleast one of items on their menu and make it edible!

  47. Saare saare sambare: I mean seriously. I cant take it anymore. You need to say something about Ra-one on our behalf man.

  48. the food at kingfisher and thai airways sucks.. we were on a vacation to bangkok and literally were gonna throw up everything we had eaten had the flight been any more late.. next time m gonna try with emirates

  49. I just came across your blog and now I feel sad for not having run into before . Your writing is simply superb. Its almost like you capture the minds of us US residing , India remembering , airline flying people .

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