Route: IAH to GRU
Aircraft: Boeing 787-8
Eating vegetarian/vegan meals in board an airline is hit or miss as far as I can tell, but this was going to be my first experience with vegetarian meals in a premium class cabin. I was very interested to see how well they did.
After boarding the plane and taking my seat, one of the flight attendants stopped by my seat and not only grabbed a glass of sparkling water for me, but also handed me my menu.
Now as you may well know, ordering a vegetarian meal does indeed limit you on your choices. When I say it limits you, I mean you have no choice, you get what they give you. While this is unfortunate, I do understand, since most people don't order this special meal like I do. Anyways, I’m here to review vegetarian meals in premium classes of travel anyways, so I was interested to see how United handled the request. It would be nice if there was some sort of printed card or something from airlines that gave me an idea of what was going to be served, but it seems that is something I'm going to be wishing for well into the future.
After receiving a menu, I slide it into the little cubby hole below the entertainment screen while the boarding continued. A little while later, another flight attendant came by with the amenity kits and dropped off another menu. I found this amusing as I now had two menus and wasn’t going to order anything from either one.
Toward the tail end of the boarding process, the first flight attendant came by and took everyone’s orders. Addressing us by our names, she asked what we wanted. I told her as you often need to, that I had ordered the vegetarian meal. She looked at her sheet and immediately said, yes you did, I have it written right here, don’t know why I asked such a silly question. She was fun, joked with us and really was an enjoyable person on the plane. This is the type of person you really want to board a plane to.
Once we were in the air, we were offered drinks and food service began. I wanted to try the champagne, but found it to be a little too dry for my taste. It was a very slow process of consumption. One thing to know about me is that alcohol is not a favorite of mine, that might be putting it mildly. For me to like something it needs to be sweet, and it needs to reek of grape flavors…. think adult grape juice. My taste buds don’t handle bitter very well, so alcohol is often few and far between. In this case, I wouldn't actually go for the champagne again. Might just be my preference.
Soon after drinks were served, the flight attendants came around the cabin with the all mighty bread basket. To my pleasure, there was indeed some pretzel bread!!! Soft pretzels are a guilty pleasure for me and pretzel bread is the best thing ever to come to air travel. Of course on the side they gave me butter which I quickly ignored.
First out of the kitchen was the appetizer. Now United had taken my main course order earlier, which was the vegetarian meal I had already ordered prior to boarding, but that apparently hadn’t been passed along for the other courses. Flight attendants came by and threw down a fish appetizer before I could correct them.
On their next pass through the cabin, I did grab them and correct the order. He apologized and within a minute, had my appetizer to me. Now this is where things were a little weird. In my mind exists this stereotype of companies that aren’t used to dealing with vegetarian meals. They always seem to think that all we eat is random vegetables raw and unseasoned.My thought on this stems from the fact that this is almost always served to me at some point. On this flight, the appetizer covered this stereotype. A plate of asparagus, peppers, and squash was set in front of me. It seems weird, and confused… though the asparagus was quite tasty.
Next up was the salad course, straight forward, I love salad for almost any meal, so this was something I enjoyed. Balsamic vinaigrette was the dressing on offer and was actually quite good. Sometimes the oil used in this type of dressing can be quite bad on airplanes and ruins the dressing. This was not the case here, they used some sort of dressing I hadn’t had before and it was really good.
After the salad came the main course. Right here is where United won me over on the food front. Indian food is one of my favorites, spiced well, a little bit of heat with some basmati rice… heaven on a plate as far as I’m concerned. United plated an Indian spiced dish with okra, squash, and a thick sauce or stewed dish that included beans/chickpeas of some sort. On the side was a decently large piece of naan bread from what I could tell.
Naan is another favorite of mine, but it wasn’t very well executed here, better to have just left it out. The rest of the dish was incredible, maybe I’m giving it too high of praise here since it wouldn’t have won any awards on the ground, but in the air, the dish was quite good and pleasantly surprised me. I really appreciate the effort of United to make a vegetarian dish that had some thought put into it.
One place where things fell apart was dessert. This seems to be a weak point with multiple airlines, since I had a similar issue on American during the return. Dessert is set up to be a sundae that is made right at your seat, I don’t normally do milk, so I passed on this dessert and really they didn’t have an option that was vegan. I’m not sure why this is, they went through effort to hit every other course, but no dessert. I find this to be weird and lacking, why offer this as an option if you aren’t going to follow through. Also, fruit is not a dessert, cutting some fruit shows the same level of effort as throwing vegetables on a tray and calling it a vegan meal.
After getting some rest, I woke up about 1 hour prior to breakfast being served. Once breakfast came, the flight attendants dropped off the vegetarian meal for breakfast. Again, it was Indian inspired and I loved it. Fruit on the side, an Indian flavored couscous, and a side of sauce and beans similar to what was for dinner. One unique thing here was the savory Indian flavored donuts. These were interesting, I wouldn’t say these impressed like the other parts of the meal, but they were tasty. So overall breakfast was another well executed success.
Before I completely praise United here, let me point out something you may have noticed in the above picture... yogurt. I don't know why this happens all the time in the airline industry, but when I order a vegetarian meal (yes this is also a vegan meal) they always seem to shove something non-vegan in one of their meals. I bring this up because while I don't get bent out of shape if milk or cheese made it into my meal, very strict vegan's do rely on the airline to provide a meal they can eat. If yogurt is added on to the side, there is already some broken trust here. If this simple detail can't be gotten right, can we fully trust that milk or some other product wasn't used in the creation of a more complicated dish? I don't know the answer to this, but everyone has to be aware of the complications that come with air travel, or eating out in general.
In the end, United blew me away with their meals. It may be that they nailed my likes with the Indian food, but having a well spiced meal in the air is something unexpected. I really think United is doing some good things when it comes to their meals, keep it up!