In-flight food is mostly standard. For desi flyers, there are always complaints as to the blandness, absence of variety, and lack of options for kids. Airlines keep experimenting with their foods to win the hearts of patrons. Taking a step in this direction, AirAsia is introducing Santan menu from May, offering a new spread with a focus on vegetarian options and food different regions in India to satisfy taste buds of domestic flyers.

Derived from the Malaysian word santan, meaning coconut milk, which is a commonly used ingredient in Asian cooking, the label offers a wide selection of vegetarian, Asian and international options for everyone. The menu also offers a special kids meal.

The overall menu makes 14 new additions. On pre-booking, the flyers will get a complimentary beverage.

Air Asia says it came up with the new Santan menu after taking customer feedbacks and reviews from the crew every fortnight.

The price range, the company claims, remains unchanged.

Speaking to TheStatesman.com, senior chef Sachin Sikka said there would be vegetarian options with variety in every segment — breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner.

“We realised that (lack of vegetarian options) and therefore included a lot of vegetarian options. In fact, the entire travel industry is moving away from meat-heavy…” said AirAsia COO Sanjay Kumar.

He added: “There is one activity (review) that has been ongoing in the company on every quarterly basis and based on such feedback from the customers and then with the help of our catering partners, we try to solve these problems. Quality or quantity, spicy or oily, whatever are the issues, we come out with changes every quarter.”

“We have introduced popular flavors. We have also introduced more variety to the vegetarian dishes which surely, should help with better acceptance on board and better reviews,” said Chef Sikka.

Asked to comment on the nutrition value of the meals on offer, Sikka said: “Nutrition wise, our menu has been graded quite well. (There is) Jain Menu. We have introduced a new dish, a multi-grain biryani with red rice which adds to nutritional value.”

Sanjay Kumar added: “We try to introduce vegan options from time to time, now that veganism is picking up. We also try to include more protein-rich food, (and) that’s why we have a good selection of roti and rice on board…it’s all fresh, it’s all hot food. The concept of ‘airline food’, what used to exist a decade back, we are trying to break that.”

Does nutrition takes a hit to accommodate the popularity factor?

“It’s the combination of both,” said Sanjay Kumar.

Chef Sikka said: “Nutrition has to be there. People will buy what they like but at the same time it has to be nutritious.”

The kids special menu is a full kit consisting of a pizza, a packet of juice and cake. “A hot meal with juice and other ancillaries are added and as a kit it is given to the child on board, so that there is more than just one meal in front of the child,” said Chef Sikka.

Kumar said the kids menu was decided after inviting some children to the kitchen and taking their feedback. “We called about 20 kids to our kitchens and offered them a platter of options, including healthy options like daliya, poha but all they cared for was the pizza. Besides, while travelling kids like these things.”

The new Air Asia menu include Andhra Upma and Chicken Chettinad with Tomato Rice as new additions in the South Indian foods category.

On the North Indian menu, Puri-Bhaji and Halwa will pave the way for stuffed parathas with chicken crocket.

Grilled Basa (fish) and Corn Chilli Pasta, the two favourite dishes of JRD Tata, have been introduced too.

Besides, there will be a new dish from Malaysia, Nasi Lemak, which is the “national dish” of the country. It is a Malay fragrant rice dish cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaf. The dish will use chicken instead of anchovies.