- SriLankan Airlines and Catering introduce new additions to menu
By Shailendree Wickrama Adittiya
Sri Lankan cuisine is unique not only due to its blend of spices and herbs, which lends dishes rich aromas and deep flavours, but because of the nutritional value of the ingredients used on a daily basis. SriLankan Airlines has embarked on a journey to take our cuisine above and beyond the nation with a new range of menu items under the theme “SriLankan Flavours”.
These dishes will be included in the Sri Lankan menu available onboard SriLankan long-haul and medium-haul flights, as well as at the airline’s signature business class lounges at the Bandaranaike International Airport. The meals not only showcase culinary traditions passed down through generations, but will also place emphasis on the nutritional and medicinal benefits of the ingredients.
The additions include egg roti, kuruluthuda rice, iramusu punch, waraka compote, and lewariya. SriLankan Catering, which prepares these meals for the airline, on Wednesday (30 November), invited members of the media to have a taste of the new dishes as well as tour the premises in order to better understand the complex operations carried out by SriLankan Catering.
Enhanced ‘Sri Lankanness’
At the event, SriLankan Airlines Product Development Manager Maria Sathasivam gave the audience a look into the thinking behind the campaign to heighten the “Sri Lankanness” of the onboard meal option.
Sathasivam explained that as an airline that competes with the biggest names in aviation on account of Sri Lanka’s geographical location, it has always been a challenge for SriLankan Airlines to find out what makes them unique, and what they can do to set them apart and differentiate themselves.
“What makes us unique is our people with their inherent warmth and friendliness, and this has been the positioning of SriLankan Airlines for many years,” Sathasivam said, adding that SriLankan Airlines wants passengers to experience this “Sri Lankanness” onboard and at every touchpoint. “We want them to remember it, and more importantly, we want them to come back for it.”
Along these lines was the need to differentiate themselves in terms of what is offered onboard, specifically the Sri Lankan meal option, through which the airline wanted to place emphasis on Sri Lankan food, and its deep-rooted history.
“We embarked on this campaign at the early part of this year, where we wanted to enhance the Sri Lankan meal that was offered as an option on most flights. Together with the Sri Lankan food option, we also have a continental or fusion option, depending on the destination of the flight,” Sathasivam explained.
As part of the new initiative, all three meals served onboard were revisited, presenting the food we love to an international platform.
An authentic and unique experience
“What we wanted to retain was the authenticity of the ingredients. We wanted to talk about the nutritional, medicinal, and wellbeing aspects of the ingredients that go into our food, and we wanted to highlight preparation methods as well, which are traditional recipes that are handed down over many, many years,” Sathasivam said.
What SriLankan Airlines wished to do was create an experience, which for foreigners, comes in the form of a sense of country and the natural beauty the country has to offer. For Sri Lankan travellers, the airline provides a sense of familiarity and home. This is communicated through the interior design of the aircraft, the decor, seat covers and amenities. “Our service is designed to highlight our people, with hospitality being very natural to us.”
Food plays a key role in creating this experience, and SriLankan Airlines serves dishes that a passenger would not find on any other airline. This goes beyond the onboard experience as well, since these dishes are showcased on all digital channels, creating conversations, highlighting key aspects of culture by way of food, and sharing stories and recipes.
“We would like to champion local produce, which is traditionally grown here, and champion the industries that grow these as well. We want to do an activation in the early part of next year which would see SriLankan Catering and SriLankan Airlines partnering with local chefs and the hospitality industry to get a wider scope of people participating in the curation of the meals,” Sathasivam said.
She added that this would bring together different perspectives and different ideas so that there is always something new being introduced when it comes to the Sri Lankan food option that is available on board.
While SriLankan Airlines is enhancing the “Sri Lankanness” presented on board, it is SriLankan Catering that is bringing the flavours and aromas of Sri Lankan cuisine to the passenger’s plate. SriLankan Catering Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mangala Wijesekera explained what they do, as well as how their services go beyond catering.
“SriLankan Catering is the catering arm of SriLankan Airlines, but we operate independently because we cater to all international airlines, and not only Sri Lankan Airlines,” he said.
“We were formed in 1979 as a joint venture between SriLankan Airlines, known as Air Lanka back then, and Thai Airways, and in 1989, we became a fully owned subsidiary of SriLankan Airlines. Air Lanka was rebranded as SriLankan Airlines, and likewise, Air Lanka Catering Services was rebranded as SriLankan Catering in 2000.”
Their main objective is airline catering, and SriLankan Catering is the sole airline caterer in Sri Lanka. “We hold the exclusive rights in all our international airports to cater to the airlines,” Wijesekera said, adding that, apart from this, they also run an industrial laundry, with a capacity of 6,000 kg a day (and 35 kg dry cleaning per cycle), restaurants, and airport operations, which include the nine lounges in the country’s international airports, as well as the transit hotel at Bandaranaike International Airport. They also provide outside catering and industrial catering.
“We are the largest commercial kitchen in the country, which not many people know. We are bigger than any five-star hotel in the country,” he said, adding that SriLankan Catering has the capacity to cater to 100-125 flights or 25,000 meals daily in the current capacity of the kitchen.
Wijesekera further added: “We are capable of producing any kind of cuisine. The different international airlines, including SriLankan Airlines, decide the cuisine they want to serve on-board depending on the route they take; so it can be Sri Lankan, Middle Eastern, etc. It depends on the airline’s requirements.”
SriLankan Catering currently provides inflight catering to SriLankan Airlines, as well as other airlines such as Emirates, Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airways, Oman Air, and Gulf Air. This goes beyond food, however, as they provide services related to equipment, cutlery, crockery, and so on. During the tour around the premises, for instance, the team pointed out how meals are prepared and individually packed before being loaded onto food trays and trolleys before flights, as well as how food trays are cleaned and headsets repaired and sanitised post-flight.
The SriLankan Catering kitchen is one that never closes. It operates around the clock, throughout the year, with well-trained staff that skillfully and deftly put together those well-presented meals we all look forward to in-flight.
The latest addition to SriLankan Catering’s services is Cuisine Gastronome, which are frozen ready-to-eat meals, available in local supermarkets. “This is a product that came out of the Covid-19 pandemic crisis, where the airline industry collapsed and airline catering came to a halt. As a result of that, we went into the frozen meal market, which is quite popular elsewhere in the world,” Wijesekera said, adding that this was the first time Sri Lankan cuisine was being presented this way.
These ready-to-eat meals are exported to Australia and Canada as well, and SriLankan Catering sees a lot of potential in the frozen food market.
“With the frozen concept, we can serve any meal to any restaurant, even a fine dining restaurant, in industrial capacity. We have just started it and it is being developed at the moment,” he said.
While SriLankan Catering sees its ready-to-eat meals as one with great potential, it also has a positive outlook overall, and believes tourism will see a revival next year, with SriLankan Airlines increasing its passengers to and from Sri Lanka.
Photos Lalith Perera