Monday, 12 January 2009

Eating at sea

In 1937 the diarist and critic James Agate went to New York on the SS Bremen, one of a pair built for the Norddeutsche Lloyd line which sparked the building of the large and luxurious express liners of the 1930s.

He wasn't much interested in the ship but complained that there was no-one on board he had ever heard of except Max Schmeling, and noted on the first day that the food was "excellent beyond belief":

For lunch we had the most decorative hors d'oeuvres, langouste and a German family dish of chopped beef. How these Germans eat! A man at the next table breakfasted off grapefruit, a haddock, a dish which the menu described as "Saut├ęd chicken liver in claret with mushrooms" and fresh strawberries. At eleven o'clock they bring round soup and rich-looking delicatessen, after which you are supposed to be ready for lunch at twelve-thirty. At two oclock they begin with coffee and cakes, tea at four, and the rest of the day is a thick-coming procession of kickshaws with, at seven o'clock, an eight-course dinner to relieve the monotony.

Agate was not much of a traveller, or he would have known that gluttony across the Atlantic was by then well-established not only on German liners but on all their competitors such as the Queen Mary and the Normandie. The transatlantic liners are no more, but today's cruise ships continue the tradition; this probably started only in the thirties, for the kind of food that was served at sea in earlier years was very different.

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