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Pie in the sky: Emirates airline to serve up its own kosher food

Items produced at special production facility will have certification from the US-based Orthodox Union; move apparently intended to turn the Gulf city into a hub for Jewish travel

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Ross Kriel, left, and Emirates Flight Catering CEO Saeed Mohammed signing an MOU about cooperating on kosher meals produced locally, Abu Dhabi, September 17, 2020 (courtesy Emirates)
Ross Kriel, left, and Emirates Flight Catering CEO Saeed Mohammed signing an MOU about cooperating on kosher meals produced locally, Abu Dhabi, September 17, 2020 (courtesy Emirates)

The United Arab Emirates’ flagship airline’s catering service will start producing and serving kosher in-flight meals, in a bid to woo Jewish travelers following the normalization of ties with Israel.

Emirates Flight Catering on Thursday announced that it has signed a memorandum of understanding with CCL Holdings, a company owned by the president of the Jewish Council of the Emirates, Ross Kriel.

“The new partnership will be called Kosher Arabia, and production is expected to begin by January 2021,” Emirates Flight Catering, or EKFC, said in a press release. EKFC says it is one of the world’s largest catering operations, serving more than 100 airlines.

The meals will be produced at a special facility set up for kosher food in the UAE, and will be certified as adhering to the Jewish dietary laws by the US-based Orthodox Union, which will collaborate with the South African Union of Orthodox Synagogues, according to the press release.

“We are delighted to enter into an agreement with CCL to provide kosher food,” the CEO of Emirates Flight Catering, Saeed Mohammed, said in a statement.

Currently, Emirates passengers asking for kosher meals have been served food prepared by a branch of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic sect in Thailand.

“We’ve been watching the global trends for kosher food, and with recent developments we expect that demand for kosher food in the UAE and region will grow quickly,” Mohammed said. “Our partnership will cover all food channels and we will also explore opening restaurants across Dubai and the GCC.”

Producing kosher food locally will also help the company cater to religious Jewish clients ahead of the upcoming Expo 2020, he said. “Making freshly prepared meals here in the UAE gives us better control over meal design and quality assurance.”

Kriel said Kosher Arabia was set up to meet the “growing demand in the UAE, not only from the Jewish community here but also from other consumers looking for healthy and halal-compliant options.”

“This is a total game-changer for Jewish travel (leisure and business) to the UAE,” said Ariella Steinreich, a frequent business traveler to the UAE. “Before this, I could get kosher food on flights from New York to the UAE but never on flights from the UAE back to New York, which is a 15-hour flight. The announcement today is a further example of the UAE opening its door to Jewish travel by making sure that we have access to kosher food.”

An Emirates Airline plane taxis at the Dubai airport in the United Arab Emirates, May 9, 2018. (Kamran Jebreili/AP)

In apparent anticipation of an influx of Jewish tourists, local authorities in Abu Dhabi last week instructed all hotels in the city to prepare kosher food options.

In a written message sent to the managers of all hotels in the Emirati capital, its Department of Culture and Tourism cites is commitment to serve “all visitors and tourists in the emirate of Abu Dhabi.” Therefore, “all hotel establishments are advised to include Kosher food options on room service menus and at all food and beverage outlets in their establishments.”

The city has about 160 hotels and apartment hotels.

Estimates of how many Jews currently live in the Emirates range from the low hundreds to 1,500. There are three congregations — two Orthodox and one egalitarian. The vast majority of Jews in the UAE live in Dubai.

Emirates Flight Catering works with more than 100 airlines and UAE government entities. In 2019, the company produced over 80 million meals.

OU is one of the leading Orthodox Jewish organizations in the US and says that its kosher certification agency verifies over 1 million ingredients in over 100 countries.

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