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HOLLAND AMERICA BREAKFAST or OH CAPTAIN! MY CAPTAIN…! OR THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU BOOK YOUR HAL CRUISE! The inventive Mr Heinz may have misrepresented his products by stating that he had created 57 varieties. That’s OK. Some 70 years later the “Heinz 57 varieties” just became “Heinz”. They continue to make the…
HOLLAND AMERICA BREAKFAST
OH CAPTAIN! MY CAPTAIN…!
OR THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU BOOK YOUR HAL CRUISE!
The inventive Mr Heinz may have misrepresented his products by stating that he had created 57 varieties. That’s OK. Some 70 years later the “Heinz 57 varieties” just became “Heinz”. They continue to make the best baked beans on the planet and as they say; “A million housewives every day pick up a tin of beans and say Beans Means Heinz.” Or, as they later said “Beanz Meanz Heinz.”
Heinz marketing people created the ‘single serve’ tin of baked beans, designed to appeal to the hungry, growing teenager. Half the size of a normal tin, there was enough of the lovely stuff to sit nicely on two slices of well-done toast cut into four. Heinz baked beans are thick enough to need a spoon to help them out of the tin. Thick enough to keep the toast crunchy.
Either Holland America buy cheap home brand style baked beans, or they add large quantities of water. A request at breakfast for two slices of toast well done is fine. What you get is two slices of toast well done. Ask then for baked beans what you get is half a large spoon of watery beans. So you ask for more. Another half spoon is delivered to the plate, spreading unappealingly across the middle. “ More.” You say. “I want enough baked beans to sit on top of my two pieces of toast!” Trying to communicate the fact that one just wants a plate of baked beans on toast for your breakfast is a daunting proposition, and results in a long line of hungry people standing behind you getting restive.
You give up.
The following morning you decide that baked beans on toast is just too difficult, and anyway the sauce is so thin that when you try to cut into the toast, what you end up with on your fork is a gluggy mess. No crunch.
So the next day, feeling a little hungry, you decide to go for the full English Breakfast. They have all the makings. Bacon English style and American style. They have scrambled eggs, (not recommended. Scrambled eggs served from a bain marie are pitiful.) It’s so easy to make scrambled eggs to order in the same way they make their fresh and lovely omelettes. But they don’t. They make it in bulk and let it sit. When it comes to scrambled eggs you would be better off to let them sit exactly where they are, congealing and releasing more water into the tray.
Back to the Full English. One begins to wonder if Holland America has ordered some kind of portion control. I like my bacon English style, so here comes one floppy piece of bacon, about half a rasher. Two fried eggs. No problem the eggs are perfect. One sausage, (cold) two slices of toast well done. Fine. And baked beans. Half a serving spoon of sloppy, unappetizing excuses for baked beans. It spreads across the plate, infecting everything on it. With every serving you have to ask for more. Our American friends had to constantly ask for more than two small crispy pieces of bacon. The portion control holds up the hungry queue. Over a 36 day cruise, not once was the hot food actually hot. Kept in a Bain Marie, it reeks of salmonella.
For the first week it’s sort of OK. There is a good range of food for the hungry carnivore. Lamb, steak, turkey, pork, chicken, and all the main food groups. There are vegetables. I actually saw Brussels sprouts once. I like Brussels sprouts. These were the small, usually sweet type. I wanted them. The first bite revealed that they had been simply blanched into surrender. The outer leaves cooked but inside cold and uncooked. There is nothing wrong with vegetables being crunchy in the Chinese style, but not just dunked into hot water until they scream “No more! I give up!”
I’m not a big man. Over six feet but only 74 kg, so I don’t have a big stomach. But a serving of three insufficiently cooked Brussels sprouts makes even a man with my tiny appetite keep asking for at least another spoonful. With every serving I began to feel more and more like the hungry little Oliver Twist. There are carrots too! Each time you have to ask for more, for the first serve onto your plate is the equivalent of one thinly sliced baby carrot. These, soft and well cooked. And cold having stood in the bain marie for some time.
Broccoli. I like Broccoli. I saw the well blanched product actually being cooked. The server took a basket of broccoli, and dunked it into boiling water for a minute or two before pouring it into a waiting bain marie tin. I asked for broccoli and got two tiny florets. “More please.” One more tiny floret. “I’d like two more large florets please,” said I, and was looked at as if I were some kind of sea creature come to eat them out of house and home. Behind me the queue was growing, and growing restive, (again.) I still had not loaded my plate with the simple meat and three veg daily dietary requirement.
Overall though the Holland America food was ho-humm OK. For the first week.
After visiting Port Stanley in the Falklands (or Maldives if you are Argentinian) we were so pleasantly surprised to find that there was Atlantic crab! And lobster! So surprised were the passengers that they fell upon the fresh delights like a flock of hungry North Atlantic Black Backed Gulls. (Black Backed Gulls are a big, eternally hungry sharp-beaked creature.) We ate our fill, some portly passengers loading their plates with only crab! The same thing with the lobster. I can’t eat five or six lobster tails, but there was a section of aged and frail, but portly passengers who could. And did. I began to understand their apparent greed, for the following day it was back to the very ordinary diet of the same old same old. Baked potato, mashed potato, carrots, broccoli, something made up of potato slices and cheese melted on the top, all sitting in the bain marie. One day there was a nice large piece of beef. I like my roast beef a bit rare and was assured that it was. My lovely and polite server cut a thick slice and displayed it to me. It looked just right. Thick and juicy. “Yes, please.” I said. When my plate was sufficiently loaded with Yorkshire pudding, mashed potato broccoli, carrots, and my roast beef, I walked to my seat, and sat salivating while cutting into the meat. Oh dear! In the centre it was not cold, it was still slightly frozen! However, I was taught to eat what was on my plate and never complain. The mashed potato was still warm, the vegetables also. By the time ten days had elapsed I had become used to the menu. I had got used to our American friends loading up their plates with fried chicken equivalent to a large bucket of a certain food chain. Fried chicken was very popular. I even tried it once and was almost convinced that it was nice. Our American friends complained quite loudly about it, but still tucked in with some gusto.
The next day I stayed close to a toilet. I had eaten the beef, and suffered the consequences!
During our second week we stopped at the little port of La Serena in Chile. It is a fishing town, quite lovely and in need of development which is going on at this moment. The hill on which the town stands is an advertisement for what not to do when you build, and I could imagine after an unnatural heavy rain, the entire town sliding down the mountain into the sea. It does need some shoring up. However, this is about food. The fish market is a cornucopia of fishy delights. Scallops, shellfish by the tonne, varieties of fish brought in that very morning. Wow! I thought, perhaps the chef would be ashore buying up a good quantity of piscatorial munchies. Cheap cheap cheap! Because, frankly I was getting quite fed of up the menu, and when that menu advertised trout and what was served was grilled fillets of trout with the texture of parchment I looked forward to a sudden decent seafood meal that evening. Sorry, no go. Just the same old stuff.
What I do not understand is that the ship had a big variety of all the food groups. Good food. Fruit. Vegetables, seafood, Asian food with noodles and a choice of makings. Everything to keep 1200 passengers very happy and replete. The only thing missing was any kind of imagination in the cooking. Well, not the only thing. There are a few other issues. The food preparation is probably good, the serving staff are well trained in health and safety issues. They wear gloves and serve with good implements. BUT. Yes there is a BUT and a big one. Before I began to write this piece I took the time at 11am to walk around the Lido restaurant. Bagged sandwiches and rolls were already stacked and waiting. These sandwiches contained ham, chicken, turkey, cheese and salads. They had probably been refrigerated in the kitchen, and delivered to the servery to get to room temperature. Not a problem in that. But after reaching room temperature meat, cheese and even salad begins to quickly reach the danger point and microbes begin to have sex. Hmmm!
There was a large and beautiful looking piece of pork, the crackling on top looking very attractive. BUT. Yes that BUT again. It was sitting on a board, and would probably sit there for another hour until it was time to serve. Not good.
It is quite possible that the bain marie was faulty on both sides, but probably not. Not once in the entire time we were aboard the MS Zaandam, was the meat hot, or the vegetables. Tepid is the best I can say. And tepid is not cool! Tepid is bloody dangerous!
And don’t for once think that eating salad will protect you from the Bad Belly Bug. It won’t. I have travelled the world during a lifetime of writing. Eaten from street food stalls, experienced a huge range of delicious and adventurous foods and only once or twice had a situation. That’s because if you follow a simple rule you will most likely remain safe. 1. Eat the food only if you can see the flame! 2. Avoid the salad. Don’t believe that if you only eat salad you’ll be safe. In many countries the salad vegetables are grown in… well… in…. you know. Or the water may be badly recycled pooh water. Just avoid the salad. 3. If the food has been kept at the wrong temperature in a bain marie, no matter how well the kitchen cooks, or the servers serve. 4. If the lovely big piece of beef, cooked rare has been left sitting for over 45 minutes you are taking a risk with your health.
In our time on the MS Zaandam, never once did we see anyone dipping a food thermometer into the food being kept in the bain marie. Not good. All the food preparation in the world, or the great serving techniques will be negated by good food kept badly. It’s all about the temperature!
With all the great quality food kept on board, there was no imagination. There was the possibility of a thousand dishes that could be created in a matter of minutes. Quick scrambled eggs for example. Just let the omelette cook do the scrambled eggs using the same mix and it will be fresh and hot and not a great big glug with tepid water bleeding out of it. There are a thousand ways to cook a trout. What a waste of a creature to end up being cut into fillets and served tepid! It’s a noble fish. It deserves better.
Where was the gorgeous and very cheap Salmon? One huge Salmon, baked or broiled whole and served in flaky portions would have been a winner! Where were the chicken schnitzels? Easy to cook and quick and easy to make. Where were the casseroles when the chill was on the win in the Chilean fjords?
I began this piece with baked beans. Cold, sloppy baked beans.
We came on this Holland America cruise for 36 days even against my own opinions. You’ve read my blogs on Holland America before. This time it was the destinations that lured us. And, I have to say that this was a wonderful trip ending in Vancouver.
The ingredients in the food for this trip were top quality. Only what was done to it was an offence to the poor creatures who gave up their lives to feed us. NO creature should die in vain. If you kill an animal to eat, then you must clean your plate. My mum taught us that. But what does one do if the food is a potential health hazard? Do you still eat it? In this instance we did eat most of it. In the main it was tepid, and never hot. Chicken soup delivered to my stateroom when I had a bad cold was nice, but worryingly tepid. I ate it, and had no problem. However, it’s throwing a dice at every meal.
I’m probably going to go back to Star Clippers on our next trip. (If they go where I want to go.) We had planned to take a 28 day cruise on the Holland America ship the MS Prinsendam (sic). For $16,000 per person over the 28 days it’s twice the price of the MS Zaandam, but it’s a little ship and the crew is almost a 1 to 1 ratio with the passengers. I worry though. If the food is apportioned in the same manner across the fleet, then I can’t rationalise that amount of money regardless of the destinations.
Food is an important part of travel adventures, as is probably yours. It is part of the experience of travelling. We love the bistros where the food is flamboyantly flamed, the food stalls where the food is cooked over hot coals. We have stayed healthy all these years, whether in China, or India or Indonesia or Malaysia or… anywhere. We have eaten in markets that spring up in car parks in Kuala Lumpur. We have munched on fresh goat’s milk bread in China. We’ve eaten crispy scorpion and fried insects in Indonesia. But never, never would I give time to baked beans on toast on a Holland America cruise!
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FOOTNOTE: I would not expect Holland America to keep the passengers honestly informed but today the food was hot, the shower water scalding, and the Bain Marie bubbling at a nice temperature. (Now I wonder if the boiler parts we saw being lifted on board in Valparaiso have something to do with it. Hmmmm!)
UPDATE: The improvement lasted twenty four hours. Back to the same old stodge day after day! Frankly I have seen and eaten institutional food in a hospital better than this. Appalling. Can you give half a star? Well I will.