This food review of the low lactose special meal on Cathay Pacific in Economy Class was conducted by Accredited Practising Dietitian, Dr Gloria Leung
This was my flight home after a fun and eventful holiday in Hong Kong (HK). I don’t usually go on holiday during this time of the year. But back in May, my sister (who recently moved to HK for work), asked me to enter a raffle ran by Cathay in collaboration with HK airport, so I could visit her. With some rare luck, I won these free (tax-only) return tickets from Melbourne to HK, which sent me on this holiday to unwind and spend some quality time with my sister and aunty.
When I checked-in online the day prior, I noticed the large variety of special dietary requirement meal options that Cathay offers. I was pretty impressed; and there was a “low-lactose” option amongst the selection. Being lactose intolerant, I was intrigued to find out what it would include. I was a bit tentative as special meals on economy flights are typically subpar, but knowing that it’s an Asian airline which usually serves dishes that are naturally dairy-free, I decided to give it a go. So lets check out the special meal low lactose Cathay Pacific economy class.
Low Lactose Special Meal – Main Meal Service
The flight departed at 11.30am from Hong Kong, so lunch was served as the first main meal service. Continuing with the theme of this trip, I decided to have fun till the last second. So I only had a coffee for breakfast and went shopping around HK Airport until boarding. The meal service on the way to Hong Kong was pretty good (this was a normal meal), so I thought I could just eat on the flight. As expected, by the time lunch was served at around 12.30pm, I was starving.
Special meals are usually served first on flights. The flight crew did confirm with me that I ordered a “low-lactose” meal, but unlike the usual meal service, it was not accompanied by a menu and they also did not tell me what was in it. By visual inspection, it seemed to have include:
- A hot main dish – baked fish and vegetables (asparagus, carrot, tomato) served with steamed white rice
- A salad (cubed tomato, cubed cucumber, shredded lettuce with a lemon wedge)
- A fruit jelly
- A wholemeal bread roll
I was very disappointed by this meal because it was completely tasteless. There was no seasoning in any of the components of the main dish. Initially I thought the red specks on the fish fillet was seasoning but I still couldn’t tell what it was by the end of the meal. The salad also had no dressing and the jelly tasted like plain agar-agar powder. I was quite shocked by this as dairy is not typically used as a sauce or for flavour in Cantonese dishes. There are plenty of Cantonese dairy-free ingredients that could have given this dish some flavour, e.g. ginger/ shallots/ spring onion combo, fermented black-bean or Chinese five-spice. An olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing would have enhanced the flavour and nutrition value of the salad.
Although the meal tasted rather plain, I would consider it nutritionally balanced for an on-flight meal. White fish is a good lean protein option, and I appreciated their effort on including 3 different-coloured vegetables. The fish and veggies seemed baked/ steamed, so we can assume that minimal oil was used and it also reheats well on the flight. There was a considerable white rice portion, mixing it with some brown rice, sweet potato or skinless mung bean would have helped me feel fuller for longer and boost my fibre intake for the day.
Low Lactose Special Meal – Second Meal Service
The second meal service was dinner which was served about 2 hours before landing. The first meal didn’t keep me full for long, so I was again starving by this stage. (Evident by the missing bread roll in the photo, which I ate in lightning speed before I remembered to take a photo). Again there was no menu, so by visual inspection, it seemed to have included:
- A hot main dish – grilled chicken breast, served with sauteed chopped greens, pumpkin mash and potato wedges
- A couple pieces of fruit (watermelon, dragonfruit, pineapple)
- A mango pudding with a mango coulis
- A wholemeal bread roll
Thankfully there was seasoning in the main dish and it tasted much better this time! The chicken breast was quite dry, but I prefer this over a fatty cut of meat or a greasy sauce over the top, to prevent an unsettled gut on-flight. The pudding had no taste, but it would have been fine if eaten with the mango coulis. However, because there was no menu, I thought the coulis was condensation from the pudding and ate most of the plain pudding on its own.
It was a pleasant surprise that the second meal also had 3 different-coloured vegetables (yes, I’m counting the diced tomatoes). Potato wedges (which I assume was deep-fried) doesn’t reheat well, so it had a soft, greasy coating. Boiled potatoes tossed in olive oil and herbs would have been a better option. I always appreciate cut fruit on flights, as it is refreshing and the tanginess helps with the nausea that comes with motion sickness. A larger portion would be ideal as it looked a bit sad in its dish, which would discourage people from eating it.
Final thoughts on special meal low lactose Cathay Pacific economy class – Hong Kong to Melbourne, Australia
Despite the taste (or the lack of), I was pleased that the main dishes were nutritionally balanced. The lack of seasoning makes me wonder if they use the same menu for several of the special meals (e.g. low salt, low fat). I would not expect there to be options for special meals, but offering a printed-menu or having the flight crew verbally inform passengers what’s included, is a small yet impactful improvement that could be made. I don’t think I would order a “low-lactose” meal next time I fly with an Asian airline, I would just pick the low dairy option from the normal menu. But I may try it again if it’s offered on a European or American airline, as I did survive on bread rolls only for a 15+ hour flight to Dublin pre-Covid!
NOTE: All pictures of Cathay Pacific Economy Class special meal were taken by Gloria and foods reviewed were from the foods given on the flight. There may be different options available at other times
If you are flying on Cathay Pacific or out of Hong Kong you might be interested in other reviews