Food(s) … Glorious Food(s)

Lets say you’ve spent thousands of dollars to go on a once in a life-time vacation to … Portugal. You’re out touring the city and come across this wonderful little plaza with a majestic fountain in the center. Surrounding the plaza you can hear the sounds of people engaging in countless meals (AND conversations) – you can smell the aroma’s of recipes you’ve never tasted before.

Why are you opening the door to McDonalds?!!

So, like with your TV remote, lets “rewind” (squiggly noises as you watch what you just saw in reverse) … “STOP”. You’re entering the plaza (again). You note the sounds, you smell the smells, but THIS TIME …. you throw caution to the wind and open the door into a cafe whose name you can’t even pronounce.

o…..m…..g

THAT impression should be with you ANYWHERE you travel when it comes time to eat. Why settle for “a burger” when that same meat can be cooked and served up so many other ways … with a traditional flavour?

There may be times, like when you’re on a cruise and you settle for “the buffet” — simply because it comes with the package. You think, “I’ll change it up and little and head to one of the Dining Rooms where there is a set menu and the dishes look prettier when they come out compared to your piles in “the buffet”. THERE ARE OTHER OPTIONS available, but they do cost extra. Most cruises offer “multi-night dinner packages” which give you opportunities to eat in “specialty” restaurants and order things not offered in the buffet or dining rooms (the latter come with your package as well).

Since we only cruise with ROYAL CARIBBEAN, I can only vouch for the choices they offer, which of course vary per ship. Typically, ROYAL CARIBBEAN offers a steak-house (CHOPS – $$), an Italian restaurant (GIOVANNI’S TABLE or JAMIE OLIVER’s – $$), a Japanese option (IZUMI – $$), a Mexican menu (BOLERO’s – $$), and on a few ships — an Experimental/Fusion Cuisine (WONDERLAND – $$) .. personally not impressed with the last. Just recently, they have added a new “seafood option ($$)” and of course there is the ever-popular “burger and shake joint” – JOHNNY ROCKETS, and there New York-style Pizza cafe, SORRENTOS. (the $$ = additional cost, not included with your cruise).

… things change

Now, because “the buffet” and dining room(s) come with your cruise, many people think the food will always be the same, and (depending on the length of your cruise) may taste absolutely wonderful on day 1 but probably loses it’s appeal by day 7. NOT TRUE. One of the things I like about the buffet and dining room menus is the fact that they are always changing and THEY ARE ALWAYS FRESH. The menu may be REPEATED (especially on longer cruises) but it’s rare that the same options are presented night-after-night. There may be a few “comfort staples” offered each night, but the main entrees do change.

True, there are only so many options for breakfast (but you can still find more than your basic bacon and eggs), and lunch-time is pretty much kept to lighter foods (who wants to lay by the pool with a full stomach??) but come dinner time — each night features a different theme YET at the same time, (since there are so many stations on a cruise buffet) the favourite staples for those who are still cautious — or for children who refuse to eat anything but hot-dogs and mac-n-cheese.

One of the things people don’t realize when you enter a port to get off ship and explore is … you are not the only ones getting off the ship. Most ships chef’s and cooking staff also get off ship … to shop for fresh ingredients. I mean, logistically it makes complete sense — how can they store enough food for THOUSANDS of meals without it going bad. THEY CAN’T. So, when in port, they head out at first docking and by mid afternoon, pallets of fresh produce, vegetables, seafood and meats are pulling up beside the ship to be used for the next days meals.

If you’ve taken advantage of the “CHEF’S TABLE” dining experience you are guaranteed the freshest foods bought that day while in port. So before you purchase this dining option, look at your itinerary to see which days you ARE in port, and chances are, the chef will be producing his menu from items found in that port.

the dining “experience”

I was always one who thought “a meal is a meal, is a meal, is a meal”. It doesn’t have to be. I think it was on our Alaskan cruise (May 2019) where I “gave in” to trying the “CHEF’S TABLE” experience. Typically, I am a .. more casual diner — the type who is happy with a quick buffet because I eat and run … and the idea of having to (1) get dressed for dinner, (2) having to eat with 14 complete strangers around a single table and getting to know these people, (3) listening to how each course was selected and prepared, and (4) remembering NO ELBOWS ON THE TABLE. There was A LOT going against my enjoying this dinner.

We met people from India, Australia (watch those Aussie’s — they’re a party group), people from England, a couple from the US, and 2 others at the end of the table who (like I wanted to) kept to themselves.

Each course of a Chef’s Table Dinner is paired with a specific wine – another thing I wasn’t really thrilled about (I’m not a wine drinker) and the thought of having to drink my way through dinner was a little disturbing – but, I went with the team and drank all but the reds. Even dessert came with a wine – 5 courses, 5 wines.

With all these wines, and our individual side cocktails, our group became the (unwanted) life of the restaurant. MOST “Chef Table’s” are usually in small secluded ding rooms — this was basically a screened in section of the restaurant. Conversations and laughter flowed as freely as those wines – some people beyond the screens didn’t appreciate that.

We over-stayed our 2hr dinner period, leaving the EMPTY restaurant behind us and realizing I REALLY DID HAVE A GOOD TIME, and is now something I plan with every cruise we go on.

… back to basics

The idea behind this whole blog was to get people to “break the comfort barrier” when it comes to dining while on vacation. When you get home, your family and friends are undoubtedly going to ask you “what was the food like?”

Are you REALLY going to say “I was surprised the Big Mac sauce tasted the same as here at home!” ■

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