Finnish carrier Finnair, which commences a scheduled air service to New Delhi from Oct 30, has entered into a pact with the Mumbai-based Ambassador Group for in-flight catering for the new sector.
Promoted by Narangs International Hotels Ltd, the Ambassador Group has already deputed its chefs to train their counterparts at Finnair's catering division here on how to prepare Indian meals for the airline's service to India.
"This sector will only serve Indian food - both vegetarian and non-vegetarian," Finnair director for catering Olli Karvonen said at the airline's office at the Vantaa Airport here, showcasing some items that will form a part of the menu on the Helsinki-New Delhi route.
The fare includes pulao (aromatic rice), alu palak (potatoes and spinach), paneer or chicken makhani (cottage cheese or chicken in cream sauce), samosas, chicken tikkas (charcoal grilled marinated chicken), prawn malai curry (prawn in spiced up cream sauce) and lentils.
"While Indians flying on this sector will appreciate their home food, we believe it will also be welcomed by the Europeans or other passengers," Karvonen told a group of visiting Indian journalists here.
"We are also recruiting Indian crew. Two-three flight attendants from India will be deployed on every flight," he added.
"The food will also be paired with the choicest of wines that are best suited for the spicy Indian food and palate," said Kishore Bhutani, vice president of operations at the Ambassador Group.
"Most of the spices that will go into the food will be sourced locally. In fact, the recipes have been specifically written keeping in mind the availability of ingredients here and perfected accordingly," he added.
According to airline officials, India is not a new market for Finnair since it has been operating chartered flights to Goa for over 20 years and uses the Ahmedabad airport for refuelling for its service to Phuket in Thailand.
Finnair, which is starting with three flights a week, is considering expanding the service to all seven days by the summer of 2007, by which time it may also look at targeting Mumbai or Chennai.
"We will of course target the business travellers since trade and business ties between India and Finland are expanding fast. But we will also promote leisure tourism to Finland," said Finnair president and chief executive Jukka Hienonen.
The service will start with a McDonnell Douglas MD-11 aircraft and use Airbus A-340 or A-350 aircraft from the summer of 2007, when the service will be operated daily, officials added.
Statistics released by the Finnish government show that the country was home to 1,619 Indians in 2005, as against 756 in 2000. The numbers are expanding fast due to growing bilateral trade and investment relations.
Finland's most famous company in India, Nokia, has set up a manufacturing unit in Chennai for $150 million. The Bangalore-based IT major Wipro's recently purchased Finland's Saraware Oy for $31.90 million
This apart, the Chennai-based Sterling Infotech Group recently announced its foray into the renewable energy sector with the acquisition of a 40 percent stake in Finland for around $27 million.
"Finnair is ideally located between India and the US. And the growing trade ties with India means increased traffic for not just passengers but also cargo," said Chandru Iyer, consultant with Finpro - the Finnish investment promotion agency.
Officials of the Association of Finnish Travel Agents said around 5,800 tourists from the Nordic country travelled to India in 2004 - up 26 percent on 2003 - and visas issued to Finns by the Indian embassy in Helsinki have gone up fivefold to 30 a day.
The main attractions for Indians travelling to Finland has been the Siberian dog safari, a meeting with Santa Claus, watching the celestial spell of Northern Lights, ice bars, saunas, igloo hotels and designer fashion from the house of Marimekko.