Friday, November 9, 2012

Stopover in Korea: Our Best Airline Food Experience

I have to say I am really surprised that Korean Air did not feature in the World Airline Awards.  I have never flown on Qatar Airways or Asiana Airlines, which topped the list for 2012, but I have experienced Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific (coming 3rd and 4th respectively).  I was infinitely more impressed by Korean Air.

First Impressions

You already get a warm fuzzy as soon as you reach your seat, because along with your blanket and care package of toothbrush, toothpaste and slippers, you are welcomed aboard with a bottle of water.  Don't look at me incredulously—it's the small things that count, especially when you are flying in Economy class.  Having to ask for water repeatedly is one of the more annoying aspects of long distance flying.  That, and having your bottle confiscated at airport security before boarding.  On a Korean Air flight, the crew continue to look after you, serving orange juice and more water before you even realise that you are thirsty.

Delicious Korean Meals

The signal that a meal or snack is about to arrive is when you are handed a hot towel to clean your hands and refresh yourself with.  You are already feeling pampered, but if this is the first time you have flown with Korean Air, you may not realise just how good that meal will be.  If you make the right selection, that is.  Always go for the traditional Korean dish, whether it be bibimbap or bulgogi, because all airlines are also quite capable of giving you the dreaded rubbery, overcooked omelette or soggy pasta.

Here is what you get with a bibimbap (비빔밥) meal:
  • mixed vegetables and mince
  • steamed rice
  • seaweed soup
  • gochujang (고추장), the delicious chilli bean paste which always accompanies the dish
  • sesame oil
  • pickled vegetables
  • dessert or fruit
A bibimbap has many components.
It may not look like much, but it's a lot of fun emptying your rice into your vegetables and squeezing the tube of chilli paste over the top, then drizzling over the fragrant sesame oil, and stirring it all up. The flavours here are amazing, far superior to the usual airline food.  I also have a soft spot for seaweed soup, so I am just about swooning when I see it presented with the meal.

A partially eaten bowl of bibimbap.
And to drink?  Go for juice or wine if you must, but I recommend the hyeonmi nokcha (현미녹차), or brown rice green tea.

Bag of Korean brown rice green tea, just dropped into hot water.
Now I have a special word of advice for vegetarians: don't order a vegetarian meal.  If you aren't worried about picking out the mince, the bibimbap will be a gazillion times better than the limp vegetables or stodgy mash you would otherwise be eating.  And the rice porridge (죽 juk) that other people get served for breakfast is vegetarian anyway.  Wouldn't you too like to sprinkle vegetable seasoning over it, and nibble on a traditional sweet such as yaksik (약식)?

Surprisingly Good Snacks

We were as impressed by the snacks served by Korean Air as by their meals.  Shortly after takeoff, each passenger was offered American honey roasted peanuts.  For some reason, I thought airlines stopped feeding people peanuts years ago, in case someone happened to be severely allergic.

Honey roasted peanuts offered by Korean Air.
If you get hungry between meals, not only can you ask for instant noodles, but the flight attendants bring snacks around.  We randomly grabbed a couple of items in the dark, which turned out to be a triangular-shaped rice-and-beef packet wrapped in seaweed (삼각김밥 samgak gimbap), and a long rectangular cardboard box containing a stick of hot margherita pizza.  Hot pizza!  That was the first time we have ever seen pizza on a plane!  [Added 30 November 2012: Japan Airlines has announced it will serve KFC on US- and Europe-bound flights over the Christmas period, from the beginning of December to the end of February, which is about as amazing.]

Hot margherita pizza, our first on a plane.
And While You Were Sleeping...

What to do if you want to sample the food, but need a nap in the meantime?  Well, in your seat pocket, there are stickers you can leave on the seat on front of you, to let the staff know whether they should wake you for your meal.  Should you nod off without leaving a note, they will check with the person behind you to make sure it is okay to leave your seat leaning back.  And when you wake, there will be a message, letting you know that you can simply ask for your meal if you still want it.  Imagine that!


All in all, we were completely won over by the level of service and the quality of the food on Korean Air.  Fly with them and try it out for yourself.  Just don't forget to choose the Korean meal options, or don't say I didn't warn you!


  1. Really loved your feed back about Korean air, especially about their food selections. Currently trying to plan my first trip to Asia but am not familiar at all with the airlines so this helps. If you have any other airline advice please let me know

    1. I am based in New Zealand and depending on where you are flying to in Asia, there is usually a very limited choice as to which airline is available - I can't speak for travel to Asia from other parts of the world, I'm afraid, but hope you enjoy your trip!


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