In the Belly of the Beast

September 4th, 2008. Filed under: Thursday's Travels.

That is where our travels today will take us.  The beast is a cruise ship.  I’m sure many of you have taken cruises and are aware of all the food available.  It’s everywhere you look, day and night.  You don’t even have to leave your cabin.  But there’s a secret you don’t know.  The best food isn’t always topside.  Sometimes it’s in the belly of the beast.

As a sea person, I had access to every dining area that you as a guest on board the ship had.  I did have to have special permission to eat in the main dining room, but I could eat in all of the other areas at any time as long as I was in proper uniform.  You all had very good food as well as atmosphere on my ships, but you didn’t necessarily have the best. 

Down in the belly of the beast were our mess halls.  The captain’s mess was where the master and staff captains took their meals.  It was always an honor to be invited to dine with the captain and his guests.  Those meals were top notch.  The dining room I was supposed to eat in was the officer’s mess.  We had all the fancy extras in there such as the cappuccino/espresso machine.  The food was always good there as well, but sometimes it got a little stuffy.  Unless, of course, you worked at it. 

On one of my ships, the captain decided we had to eat in the “proper” mess hall.  That just wasn’t my idea of fun.  Most of the bridge and engine officers were Italian.  They were very nice, but they had a bit of an attitude about women in general.  They tended to sit at the same seat, at the same table every meal.  I got a little tired of the unofficially assigned tables, so I decided if I had to eat there, I was going to provide myself with a little entertainment.  Every meal I sat in a different place.  It was so funny to see one of the Italians come in and see me in “his” seat.  He’d stand there for a few seconds trying to figure out where to sit down.  Eventually, I told one of them that it really was okay to go ahead and sit at the table with me.  The guys started loosening up, laughing and talking with everyone.  It wasn’t a very large room.  Small enough to lob one of the dinner rolls towards the other side of the room and hit your target.  You guessed it.  A couple meals lobbing the rolls back and forth to a guy we called “ponytail,” and one evening it turned into a full fledged food fight.  Not only did we all have a great time, even the Italians helped the waiters and bus boys clean up the room.

The next mess hall down in the pecking order was the staff mess.  That’s usually where most of the people I hung with liked to eat.  Officially, it was for the category of ship’s employees who were neither officers nor crew.  These were mostly people in the cruise department, Steiner salon, casino, photographers, shoppies and shore side employees who happened to be sailing.  This was a bigger, busier mess hall where you always found something interesting being discussed at meals.  Sometimes the something interesting was planning a get together; sometimes just something nonsensical and fun.

The next mess hall was the largest.  It was the crew mess.  Technically, we were all crew, but commonly, everyone who was neither an officer nor a staff member ate here.  The only time I ate in the crew mess was when we were in Finland or Italy setting up a new ship.  We all ate in the crew mess at the beginning  of the set up and then later during the two week Atlantic crossing, all the officers and staff ate in the main passenger dining room so the waiters could practice on us.  We usually carried new employees over with us.  The training of the waiters and bus boys began in the staff mess and progressed through the officer’s mess.  When we got them trained really well, they went upstairs to the passengers.  Of course, we moaned and groaned when we lost the good ones, but knew they needed to leave us in order to make better tips.

The absolute best place to eat on the ship was in the Chinese laundry.  Part of their contract was to have their own kitchen and mess hall.  But it was a very exclusive dining establishment.  If you were Chinese and working in another department, you were usually invited.  That’s it.  Until Ramon came along. 

The ship’s infirmary was down on deck three, just down the hall from the laundry.  Boy, did it ever smell good down that hallway! Ramon was our new Mexican doctor.  Never at a loss for words, the day I met him, the first words out of my mouth were, “You don’t look Mexican.”  Glad he has a good sense of humor.  Ramon is a native Mexican from Monterrey, whose parents just happen to be Chinese.  The guys from the laundry don’t come to the infirmary very often, but the word got out that the doctor was Chinese and the laundry manager dropped in to welcome him to the ship.  Is wasn’t too long before Sam invited the doctor to a meal in the laundry.  I think I only got invited because Sam was polite and thought I might like a good Chinese meal.  Or maybe it was because I said something to the effect that I liked Chinese food, too.  Anyway, Ramon and I became regular diners in the laundry.  When it was my turn to keep the infirmary open during dinner hour, the cook delivered Chinese take out.  None of the passenger food could beat the real deal Chinese meals and being invited to stay after to watch Chinese soap operas.  Priceless.

1 Response to In the Belly of the Beast

  1. Pamela

    Fun read, and informative. Specific dishes and their tastes? I do like Mexican food!

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