Special meals – What’s the deal with Hindu meals?

by Anshul
a plate of food on a table

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Special meals are offered by most airlines and cater to passengers with restrictive diets based on religion, diet or medical needs. Special meals have to be pre-ordered, ideally at the time of booking or at least 24-48 hours ahead of the flight. On a recent Cathay Pacific flight, my friend was in for a rude shock when his Hindu meal contained meat. So really, what’s the deal with Hindu meals?

Hindu Meal inflight

As it turns out a ‘Hindu meal’ in Cathay is categorized as a “Non-vegetarian, Indian-style meal prepared according to Hindu customs that contains no beef, veal or pork, but with lamb, domestic fowl, other meats, fish and milk products.”. What my friend was looking for and should have ordered was a ‘Vegetarian Hindu Meal’. And sure enough, a quick research into other airlines’ special meal menus revealed that most airlines describe ‘Hindu meal’  as non-vegetarian.

I am no expert on religion but shouldn’t a Hindu meal by default be vegetarian? All things considered, I am always both amazed and impressed by the extensive meal options airlines cater.

Personally, I order special meals only because my wife is vegan and that a special meal is always served before regular food service begins. In my opinion, the special meals also taste fresher and don’t suffer from “flight food smell” in comparison.

Random thoughts on Special Meals

Special meals are usually categorized as Religious Meals, Medical and Dietary Meals and Other special meals. The usual suspects under religious meals are Hindu Meal, Muslim Meal, Jain Meal and Kosher Meal. Why Kosher? Why not Jewish Meal? Or Why Muslim meal and not Halal meal?

What about other religious groups that are diet specific – Buddhists? Rastafarian?

Take Away

  • Always review your special meals options on the airlines’ website. While similar, special meal descriptions can vary from airline to airline.
  • If you are considering a special meal, make your selection at the time of booking or by calling the airlines well in advance. Special meals** do not incur extra charges.
  • Always have plan B in place incase airlines fail to deliver on the special meal order. Flight changes, weather, logistics  can all lead to your special meal not making it onboard.
  • **If you are celebrating a milestone (or not) some airlines offer Champagne and cake as part of “Special Meal” order (extra charges ofcourse).
  • Last but not least, if you identify as a Hindu and are vegetarian – A Hindu Meal won’t cut it 😉

Do you special order meals when flying? Share your experience with a comment below.






M January 5, 2024 - 7:19 am

Hindu vegetarian = Asian vegetarian special meal

deb binder February 7, 2017 - 5:56 pm

We are vegetarian and were sad to find that United doesn’t allow meal selection to Central America in business class. Both ways a choice of beef or chicken. Of course, I brought my own food…

Bling February 7, 2017 - 6:35 pm

Yes! Thank you for pointing it out, can be so frustrating if it takes one by surprise. Good on you for doing due diligence. Airlines in general though are getting better at offering atleast one vegetarian item on their standard menu (at least in business). But as you pointed out, even that cannot be relied upon..

Priti Ruparel February 7, 2017 - 2:33 pm

I recently flew to India by KLM and had ordered for Hindu meal, I was surprised to get a meat item and since I recently turned non-vegetarian, I didn’t have any problem. But I always assumed that Hindu meal is vegetarian. You are right and maybe its this assumption that I shouldn’t keep in mind, Very informative article and henceforth I will keep in mind these nuances when choosing my meal option in an international flight. Thank you!

Anshul February 7, 2017 - 5:28 pm

Join the ‘assumption’ club 😉 I still cant wrap my head around a hindu meal being non-veg. Thanks for sharing your experience Priti..

Savvy Consumer February 7, 2017 - 2:39 am

There’s no religious law that prohibits Hindus from eating meat for religious reasons. Most Hindus are vegetarian, but it’s not very rare to bump into someone who does eat meat. It’s pretty commonplace and veg and non-veg menus are readily available when you travel across India, even though a majority population of the country is vegetarian. I’ve come across the Hindu Veg and Non-Veg meals on Singapore Airline flights. The Non-Veg Hindu meals usually don’t have beef.

Bling February 7, 2017 - 8:03 am

My family is Hindu but I totally lived under the impression that we were non-traditional hindus and ate meat. I also assumed that Indians had adopted the meat eating through the Persian rulers that invaded India. And that an “authentic Hindu” family would never eat meat. Wow, was I wrong. Thanks for sharing – Cheers!

Savvy Consumer February 7, 2017 - 8:16 am

Yes, it depends on each family and the family’s sub-culture and principles in most cases. I’ve come across Nepalese and Balinese Hindus who eat meat regularly. At the same time, you’ll find a lot of 2nd generation Hindus in the US and Europe who are still strictly vegetarian and avoid all kinds of meat.

Sergey Fedorov February 9, 2017 - 2:54 am

In India itself many Hindus in Bengal, Assam and Kashmir are non-Vegetarian, including Brahmanas. Some places in South India too.

Sergey Fedorov February 7, 2017 - 1:24 am

That’s a common misconception that Hinduism prohibits eating meat. In fact, even beef is allowed by scriptures, however in actual practice for historical reasons majority of Hindus avoid it. There are certain kinds of meat (as well as other products) considered impure for high castes, extensive lists are available in Dharma-shastras.

Bling February 7, 2017 - 7:59 am

Spot on! I am born in a Hindu family but we ate meat (but not beef) regularly. I just assumed we were not ‘traditional’ and an authentic Hindu family would never eat meat. A quick search on the hard facts is quite the contrary. Fascinating. Thanks for sharing, cheers!

Sachin July 15, 2019 - 1:11 pm

Bling- As a fellow hindu, you definitely don’t know much about your own religion. Hindus mostly from Gujarat and the Brahmins from most parts of India ( I say most because there are fish-eating brahmins) are primarily vegetarian but don’t paint that as a general picture of hindus across India. Hindus eat all kinds of meat ( including beef for those from Kerala), but generally hindu meal should be non-vegetarian meal that doesn’t contains beef and never assumed to be a veggie meal. 80-90 percent of hindus in India are non-vegetarian so the “non-traditional” variants are the Brahmins or Gujaratis .

Bling July 15, 2019 - 4:41 pm

Hey! I never claimed to know much about hinduism or any religion for that matter. On the contrary, I feel like I can always learn more..

Other comments suggest that I am not the only one that assumed a ‘hindu meal’ would be veg by default. Was happy to explore and learn.


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