My frequent trips on the Stena ferry between Göteborg and Kiel are always happily awaited experiences of culinary self-denial. It is in fact okay to name Stena Germanica and Stena Scandinavica in one article. Although the last few years have brought about a series of updates and renovations that resulted in a few differences between these boats, the kitchen philosophy is a consistent whole. To maintain the fun in this article, I am not reviewing the à la carte restaurant in the centre of these boats, which generally has a decent middle-of-the-road cuisine and pretty high prices. I am in fact not reviewing at all, but I will give some pointers about how to deal with Stena’s Temptations in practice.
The Scandinavian Buffet
Since a trip in 1967 on the brand-new Prins Hamlet from Bremerhaven to Harwich, I have been addicted to buffets on boat trips. I was almost eight years old then and, running wild amongst meatballs and browned chicken thighs, I ate more than any of the grown-ups of the company. This episode was soon followed by a solid sleep attack, and my parents could go search for John Wayne. During the whole vacation, I was excited about the trip back.
The Stena Line Food Presentation Policy Board of our days has developed a few effective tactics to prevent their buffet from being looted by starving youngsters. One of these is to base the majority of the many salads on mayonnaise – not just some mayonnaise, but lots of stiff, greasy mayonnaise. You take two bites and you’re done for a day or two. You’ll probably also need to order Aquavit, which is not included in the price (unlike beer and wine). So especially for the vitamin-and-veggie searchers amongst the guests, the buffet will lead to a complete standstill of affairs within minutes. Not much easier is the situation for those who like smoked salmon – even here, one has to take care scooping around heaps of mayonnaise. Other items from the traditional buffet are heavy by themselves: slices of oven-baked ribs, chicken thighs, meatballs and small sausages, “Janssons Temptation“, bits of smoked eel, various herring creations etc. Those bold enough to attempt trying something of everything will not be happy at the end of the evening. Those tough enough to arrive at olives, cheese and cake will probably surrender in view of huge wheels of plaster-type Brie, soup bowls full of flavorless black Spanish olives or the cream-oozing layer cakes. If you really want to enjoy the buffet, go there with a plan. I once got myself some white wine, sat down with a neat heap of gravlax, a pile of potatoes, and a chunk of butter and had the nicest feast imaginable.
The Globetrotter bar, now: TASTE – the Experience
Since the buffet price began including free wine and beer, I have turned my attention to other pleasures – it has become too expensive; you’re charged as if you’re expected to empty three platters of smoked salmon while boozing yourself silly. There are other methods of merry culinary self-punishment available on board. For me, tradition creates extra happiness points: I always order Filet Mignon (lit.: tiny fillet) at the Globetrotter bar (the bar’s new name after the renovation is “TASTE – the Experience”), which usually comes with fries and a heap of lettuce, all swimming in prefab Sauce Béarnaise. Small variations in the presentation do occur. The meat can be well done, rare, tough, sinewy, slightly more, or substantially less, according to the free will of the fry-man in his solitary fry-man corner. The lettuce comes without any dressing at all. Usually, a large bowl of wobbly-stiff and gleaming mayonnaise lurks beside the fork-and-knife-tray, but I once had the wits to ask for olive oil and vinegar at the counter, and there was some! The Filet Mignon, a glass of Spanish red wine, a nice book and a dash of mayonnaise on my fries for a Belgian accent, what could make me happier apart from the anticipation of being roused by a loudspeaker voice at seven a.m. next morning?
The answer: Shrimp. Perhaps not the shrimp sandwich from the library-bar. I once got one that contained a very smelly boiled egg. Well, they did give me a free extra sandwich… But seriously, shrimp lovers ought to consider this alternative: the Globetrotter, excuse me, TASTE – the Experience menu contains something called Räkor i trängsel, which could be translated as ‘shrimp in a crowd’. The guest considering this extended shrimp sandwich should plan ahead. Whichever sauce or spice you like most with your shrimp: prepare a small container of it at home. You will get shrimp, and I mean lots of them. Order Räkor i trängsel, a beer and a vodka, and you’ll be happy as a Tuna.
Kiel has a host of breakfast places, and you’ll miss the 9:20 train to Hamburg anyway (honestly, who is making that timetable?). Do I need to say more?