These days, when air fares are going up with every yard that a plane rises into the deep blue yonder, there is one boast that the airlines still love to make: "If you have a dietary requirement, we'll meet it. Vegetarian? We'll get it. Gluten? Of course. Halal? Salaam, if not salami. Kosher? Absolutely."
That is, they'll absolutely put it down in their records. But actually getting a piece of kosher meat on a tray is a matter frequently laden with difficulty.
Airline files are replete with letters I have written complaining about not having received what I ordered. There is, however, one thing worse than not getting an airline kosher meal. And that is… getting it.
There are strict kashrut requirements, of course. For one thing, there has to be precisely enough plastic around it all to guarantee that, although you are generally served before everyone else, you do not finally open the package until your fellow flyers have finished theirs.
You need a knife to pierce the covering - except that the knife is hidden inside it. By the time you have completed this obstacle course and wiped the gravy from your lap, there is another, inevitable frustration. The meat is cold, the fruit salad even colder - just like the water, which, even after all that time, is still virtually a block of ice.
You need a knife to pierce it but the knife is hidden inside
Coming out of America, a hungry Jew could be tempted to change his religion. I always worry about those packages marked "Wilton" served from New York. A slice of meat may be good enough to sole a rabbi's boots, but for eating? Describing it as "gourmet" only makes it worse.
Flying from Miami, you are likely to be served food from "Your Restaurant In The Sky". Well, had the "Kosher cuisine" from Weiss been on solid ground, I'd have refused to pay the bill. Try this menu for size: a sealed plastic box containing a collection of vegetables that might have been dug up in the 1990s; meatloaf that neither looks like meat nor tastes like a loaf. And all surrounded by globules of fat soaked up by what is, I suppose, some kind of pasta. The dessert remains a mystery. I daren't try it.
But all is not bad. One of the best kosher meals I've had was served by beautiful girls in head-scarves who smiled nicely- on Emirates. This was smoked salmon followed by chicken and potatoes .The meal, which did seem to have been cooked with some enthusiasm, was prepared by Cantors - actually a Rabbi Cantor himself, who happens to be the Lubavitch emissary to Bangkok.
Number one on the list, however, is the kosher meal offered as you leave Heathrow. Subtle, that: if you like your first meal, then you'll opt for the one on the way back.
This comes from the London firm of Hermolis. The food is plentiful, tasty and, perhaps most surprisingly, original. On my most recent flight out, the main course was cottage pie.The credit crunch has taken its toll and the smoked salmon that used to be a staple has been replaced by something I failed to identify, but the overall deal restores my faith in airbound kashrut.
Hermolis could do worse than organise a course in what they do - and make sure the Americans come along.