There are few activities to keep one occupied aboard a freighter, and even fewer opportunities for social interaction, so the thrice-daily ritual of taking a meal in the Officers’ Mess acquires exaggerated importance. Breakfast is served from 07:30 to 08:00, lunch from 12:00 to 12:30, and supper from 17:30 to 18:00. I am usually greeted at the door by Michael, the ever-smiling Filipino Steward, who acts as waiter. I eat with the German officers, while the crew (all Filipino) eats in a separate room.
The food can be best described as “home-style German fare”, meaning heavy on meat and gravy and light on vegetables. Breakfast is usually eggs-to-order accompanied by either sausage or bacon. Lunch, the largest meal, always features an absurdly large slab of protein, often fried (and therefore delicious). Supper is smaller, but is otherwise similar to lunch. As in Germany, wieners show up in unexpected places: sometimes fried in onions and served alongside an omelet, sometimes chopped up in soup, and once served alone, boiled, as a sort of appetizer.
Michael sets out a small buffet of sliced beads, deli meats, and cheeses at every meal, so if the main course is not already smothered in cheese, you can add your own. Occasionally he includes a plate of iceberg lettuce, sometimes with sliced green peppers and mealy tomato, which nobody eats except me, and which gets recycled into the following day’s salad bowl with an ever-heavier dressing until it can no longer support the weight and must be disposed of. On special occasions there will be additional items up for grabs: tubs of yogurt, for instance, or sliced melon.
Juxtaposed against the German cuisine is an array of boxed and bottled sauces, beverages, and condiments picked up at ports all over the world: orange juice from China, yogurt from Canada, milk from the USA, a red sauce of unfathomable spiciness from Korea, curried ketchup from Germany. Reconstituted iced tea is served with every meal. Nobody on board drinks water; when I asked for some, Michael, confused at first, kindly brought a case of spring water to my room.
A paper copy of the week’s menu is posted on the wall. Its design has been improved with a fabulously random assortment of clip art. For instance, Monday’s lunch of “fry chicken leg” is accompanied by a picture of an adjustable wrench; Friday’s breakfast of “melba on toast” by a tiger crouching in a thicket; Sunday’s dinner of “kalte platte” by a female golfer lining up a putt. The menu is for information only, not to assist with choice, since there is only one option for each meal. Not in the mood for “Entopf with boiled sausage”? Too bad. However, it useful in that it provides warning to brace one’s digestive system with a preventative dose of Metamucil, if necessary. It also improves moral; the anticipation of ice-cream Wednesday, or Saturday’s pancake breakfast, or Monday’s dessert of pudding-avec-canned-fruit, causes a palpable excitement to build onboard.
The officer’s pantry is available 24 hours a day if I get the munchies. On the counter are a selection of teas, a bag of sliced white bread, a jar of peanut butter, and fourteen varieties of jam. In the fridge are the same plates of cheeses and meats, tightly wrapped, that Michael sets out during meals. There is a distressing lack of anything sweet, except an ancient tin of butter biscuits that, once discovered, I immediately devoured. Some sundry items are also available for purchase from the so-called “slop chest”, including beer and chocolate bars (but remember: cash only).
All told, the food is reasonably good, especially considering that everything must be purchased and stored weeks in advance. The Fish Caspress was one of my favourites, consisting of lightly battered and fried fish dressed with slices of grapes and melted Swiss cheese, served with an herbed baked potato, rice, and some sort of pickled vegetable. The Eintopf, a sort of stew made with beans and chopped up sausage and served with garlic bread, was also quite tasty.
One afternoon, the crew invites me join them for lunch in their separate dining room, where Filipino cuisine is self-served at long communal tables. The meal features half of a fish—I get the tail end, fin included—lightly fried, accompanied by rice and vegetables. The fish is delicious and flaky, and not overcooked, which is the tendency on the German side. I also quite enjoyed the sour pork tamarind soup. Despite being cheaper and less formally presented, I find the Filipino food more flavorful and satisfying than the German fare served across the hall.
The culinary experience aboard a German-operated cargo ship is nothing to write home about (present blog post excepted). But the food is hot and tasty, and there’s nothing like a heavy meal of meat and cheese to accompany a day of reading and movie-watching. I recommend bringing aboard some of your own favourite snacks or drinks to keep in your room, but otherwise, just come equipped with a hearty Teutonic appetite.