What's Cooking in Cruising's International Kitchen?

March 12, 2008

What's for dinner? There may no more important question in cruise travel. And while at today's "Dining at Sea," a panel discussion on cruise ship cuisine, we heard about a couple of new trends (cruise line execs represented areas of expertise such as restaurant design and food and beverage).

Is it retro? Or a case of the more things change, the more they stay the same? Over the past 20 years, the quantity of lobster and filet orders remains ... stable, and it's unlikely that shellfish and red meat will lose their entrenched status at the table either.

The catch term of Seatrade has been "globalization" and that concept is increasingly popular when it comes to gastronomy. There has been a marked increase in regional cuisine; all the lines are adding ethnic variety to alternative eateries in some way. MSC Cruises features sushi alongside its signature Italian cuisine; NCL has a French bistro, a hibachi-style steakhouse, an Italian trattoria and a Tex-Mex tapas joint. Even Fun Ship line Carnival offers increasingly sophisticated fare, from gourmet bakeries and sushi counters to tandoori.

Menu internationalization is spreading to main restaurant venues, too. That's because cruise travel is accommodating more international passengers and expanding geographically -- South America, Asia, Europe, etc. When Royal Caribbean's Splendour of the Seas was sailing in South America, for instance, pan de queso, an addictive cheese bread was offered onboard (seriously, it is cat nip for humans not to mention a Brazilian institution). In Europe, RCI caters to a large number of passengers from the United Kingdom, and so historic British staples -- bangers and mash, steak and kidney pie, certain tea brands -- are always available in the Mediterranean.

The global nature of cruise travel has created some problems too. Fixed seating times of 6 and 8 p.m. for a Spaniard? No, no, no. Lines have to be flexible enough to accommodate a predominantly Indonesian passenger base one week, where almost no alcohol was served at all (it's a Muslim country), and then reconfigure in a flash to deal with an Australian majority, who happen to enjoy the drink, the next.

--by Dan Askin, Assistant Editor

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