Container ship cuisine

We are currently at 8°42’11.7″S 122°45’42.58″W, en route to Auckland, New Zealand. Last night we gained another hour, making the ship’s time UTC -8.

Of all the fears one might have in advance of boarding a container ship for 28 days (and I believe Stephanie may have experienced them all), the thing that concerned me the most was that the food would be horrible. At one point I started reading an account of someone else’s container ship voyage, and abruptly stopped at the point where they started complaining about breakfast—with an image of liverwurst on toast stuck in my head.

As an insurance policy, Stephanie and I visited a Trader Joe’s in New Jersey before we left and stocked up on a treasure trove of nuts, pretzels, dried fruits, and Mojo Bars. How much beer and wine would you bring for 28 days at sea? We picked up four six-packs (Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA, Rogue American Amber Ale, Flying Dog In-Heat Wheat Hefeweisen, and Leffe Blonde) and 4 bottles of wine. If we needed to supplement that, apparently we could buy beer and wine on board.

Danilo in the Cap Cleveland galley
Danilo in the galley

Like most fears of the unknown, mine were unfounded. Completely and utterly. The Cap Cleveland is currently served by an amazing chief cook, Danilo (dan-E-lo) and his messman (or steward) Cyrille (SIGH-ril). Our first night on board we went down for dinner and discovered we were having a pork chop with gravy and Greek salad. The first shock was the prominent portion of meat—I could only imagine what must have been going through Stephanie’s head. We’re not vegetarians by any means, but we cook with meat infrequently at home. The pork chop turned out to be very good, but I chuckled at my first thought: “Meat with gravy every night—it could be worse!”

The next morning that day’s menu listed breakfast as “eggs served your way, bacon or sausage, croissants”. We asked for our eggs scrambled and bacon, but something got lost in translation, and we got “ham and eggs”. It was good, but it was a Wednesday, and my weekday breakfast is usually just tea and a granola bar, so I felt stuffed. Lunch was gravy on pork sausage, but I’d barely digested breakfast, so I stuck to the soup, which is served with every lunch. Dinner was chicken with grapes, and although I had resigned myself to 28 days of meat with gravy, I was impressed by the subtle touch of sliced grapes in a light sauce over the sauteed chicken breast.

This is about the time we really started to suffer from lack of air conditioning, and thus lack of appetite. There was a passable cheeseburger one night, and slightly undercooked pizza upon our return from Savannah, but those were probably the only low points the whole trip—American food no less! Thankfully the AC was fixed in Savannah, which provided the comfort we needed to better appreciate our meals (not to mention a barbecue party to lift the spirits).

Justin in the Cap Cleveland officer's mess
Justin (still waking up) in the officer’s mess

That Saturday, I went down for breakfast and had a raisin pancake (apparently a Filipino specialty?). It was great. For lunch the soup was borscht, which I was prepared to decline with visions of cold beet soup in my head, but they served a hot borscht with tender chunks of stew beef. It was wonderful. At about this point we started to realize that everything was homemade. This was soup made from scratch, or nearly so. It could have been lunch by itself, but it was followed by a tasty quarter of roast chicken with mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables.

Even though meat or fish plays a prominent role in every lunch and dinner on the ship, they are always balanced with some form of “starch”, usually rice, pasta, or potatoes, and some vegetables. It’s very manly eating (oh right, I forgot, we’re traveling on a container ship with a bunch of seamen), but it’s more balanced than how we tend to eat at home. Even though we’re eating more and exerting less than usual, Stephanie likes to proclaim, “It’s ok because it’s so balanced!” Dinner that night was baked cod with shrimp fried rice. The meat with gravy trend was finally broken—we were going to be just fine. Especially with Nutella as a standard condiment on the table.

The other remarkable thing, after nearly three weeks on the ship, is that only three or four meals have been duplicated. We’ve had incredibly tender steak topped with compound butter, spaghetti bolognese with a homemade sauce, served, somewhat strangely, with fried chicken wings (when we mentioned it to Jeoffrey, the third mate, he said, “Oh yeah, just like they do at Jollybee, a fast food restaurant in the Philippines”), homemade spring rolls (after mentioning lumpia), chicken fricassee, lightly fried whole fish, green bean and spinach soup (apparently it’s a traditional Filipino lentil dish), homemade cream of mushroom soup, lamb stew, roast turkey, beef stroganoff, homemade Russian meatball raviolis, and the list goes on.

Dessert is usually a piece of fruit: strawberries, pears, apples, watermelon, or orange slices. Last night we had baked pears with chocolate sauce! And if that wasn’t enough, they also bake breads and pastries. Like these homemade donuts that forced Stephanie to break her one-donut-a-year rule!

Homemade donuts on the Cap Cleveland
Homemade donuts at sea