Quality fare take off at the airport

With more and more of the world being opened up to international tourism, people from around the globe are discovering new culinary territory on their travels. From a late-night bowl of tonkotsu ramen in Osaka to on-the-go tortas in Mexico City, authentic food is what today’s travellers want when they visit new places. Not so long ago the opportunity to discover a country’s true gastronomic delights came only after clearing customs, getting in a taxi and heading into town. Nowadays, however, those keen to sample local cuisine on arrival in a new destination need not even leave the airport. In airports worldwide, restaurants are offering authentic dishes that showcase the best of what a country has to offer.

Authentic tastes for discerning travellers

Until recently airports were zones of neutrality and transition – save for the odd cultural souvenir that tried to maintain the holiday spirit yet actually did nothing but confirm its demise. The culinary offering was equally bland, consisting of nondescript fast food or off-the-shelf sandwiches. Simply because a person is travelling doesn’t mean their taste buds have switched off, and airports have started to listen to travellers who are demanding good food. Today more than ever, the airport is a gastronomic treasure trove; its authorities have recognised that people in transit have time on their hands, money to spend and the desire to eat well.

This year is the apex of an ongoing trend that has revolutionised the airport food industry. All across the world high-calibre chefs have poured their efforts into creating quality restaurants, cafés and bistrots to meet demand and have been met with significant success. Between 2013 and 2015 the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority saw a $5.1m increase in revenue after introducing local restaurant Ben’s Chili Bowl, world-renowned chefs Michael Symon and Carla Hall, and almost a dozen other eateries at its airports.

The recipe clearly works: give people tasty, authentic food and they will happily spend money. Importantly, the airports that have seen the most success are those that have offered travellers an authentic culinary experience that represents city and country.

Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport, for example, is welcoming five local chefs to whip up traditionally Texan cuisine. One of the chefs, Roland Laurenzo, heads up local institution El Tiempo Cantina – his mother is said to have brought fajitas to the US in the ’70s. Tacos, fresh seafood, enchiladas and guacamole feature on the menu, which offers travellers a real taste of the Lone Star State. Laurenzo is just one of many chefs around the world who are proving that airports should be part of the cultural experience and not a neutral zone.

What we can expect to see from this growing trend is greater resources and emphasis being placed by airports on their gastronomic offering. The success of chefs such as Bruno Loubet at Gatwick Airport and Michael Voltaggio at Los Angeles International Airport demonstrates that before a flight people are still seeking a good sit-down meal, just as they would on a Saturday evening in their home city. Not all airports have fully capitalised on the trend but we are sure to see an increasing number of departures lounges making room for high-quality restaurants that are authentic reflections of their culinary contexts.

Bistrot has been offering faithful local cuisine across Europe since 2013: diners can sample fish straight from Lake Geneva at Bistrot Genève Aéroport, or traditional Dutch krentenbollen at Bistrot Centraal Utrecht. The recently opened Bistrot Fiorenzuola d’Arda is a further step in Autogrill’s gastronomic revolution. Sitting on the A1 motorway between the important culinary cities of Piacenza and Parma, Bistrot d’Arda is located in the first-ever bridge motorway diner, built in 1959 by Autogrill. The building was a symbol of gastronomic modernisation at the time and the new Bistrot continues its legacy of quality on-the-go food.