Silversea's new S.A.L.T. program will deliver immersive culinary experiences on and off its cruise ship around the world. Tess Falotico, a writer and recent culinary school graduate, heads to Southeast Asia for a taste.
SOUTH SEAS — This is the luxury cruise experience: I board the ship in Bali after traveling for 30 hours from New York City (eight hours to Milan, six hours to Dubai, nine hours to Bali, seven scattered hours in layovers and drives). My suite has been prepared by Hitesh, who will be my butler for the week. I sink into the bathtub and wonder what I should have delivered to my balcony for breakfast in the morning.
No, this is the luxury cruise experience: I’m driven to Kaum, a bustling beachside club and restaurant, where chef Wayan Kresna Yasa has prepared a traditional Indonesian tasting menu of grilled barramundi dressed in turmeric and tamarind, ground duck salad, vegetables from the garden, and a smattering of complex, spicy sambals.
Or maybe this is the luxury cruise experience: I’m in the sidecar of a motorized tricycle stumbling up an unpaved hill on the Filipino island of Romblon toward an open-air cooking demo at a local home.
On Silversea’s forthcoming Silver Moon, whose inaugural sail in August 2020 will go from Trieste to Rome, the luxury cruise experience will be all of the above. Launching along with the ship is Sea And Land Taste (S.A.L.T.), a series of immersive culinary offerings created in partnership with James Beard Award-winning food journalist Adam Sachs. Silversea C.M.O. Barbara Muckermann describes S.A.L.T. as a way to "travel deeper in luxury." Passengers on a typical cruise can visit country after country — yet still eat the same chicken dinner on board every night, never scratching the surface of new cuisines and culinary offerings. S.A.L.T. has been devised to immerse guests in their destinations as much or as little as they’d like, through experiences like winery tours, market visits, and dinners with local hosts.
For the traveler who'd rather not ride to lunch in the sidecar of a scooter or who prefers the familiarity of that chicken dinner, there will be on-board cooking demos in the S.A.L.T. Lab with hand-selected local experts, as well as tastings of regional dishes and cocktails at the S.A.L.T. Kitchen and S.A.L.T. Bar.
Sachs, who was tapped to find the best local experiences and experts around the world, has built a program that will appeal to fans of Parts Unknown, achieving a sense of true cultural exploration and a high-low mix of holes in the wall, buzzy restaurants, and fine dining. This spring, Fathom sent me to join two dozen other writers on a pilot of the S.A.L.T. program on Silversea's Silver Muse ship, sailing from Bali to the Philippines.
We park on a busy street in Ubud and dodge scooters crossing the street to Nusantara. (Its sister restaurant, Locavore, is on the 2018 list of the 50 Best Restaurants in Asia.) Breakfast is savory and exceptional: rich Balinese coffee, rice stained with turmeric, crisped pork belly, oyster mushrooms, and spicy sambals.
Then it’s off to the jungle to see where it all came from. An altar guards the rice fields, and livestock graze among wild plants ready to be foraged by innovative chefs. We brush past coffee plants, watch a local pro collect sap from a palm tree for coconut sugar, and pick mangosteen to peel and savor. At the end of our trek, Locavore's Local Parts truck sits parked and propped open. Servers pass house-cured meats, and a suckling pig sweats over coals. We eat the tender pork on sandwiches with tangy, homemade condiments, and sip cocktails made with muddled herbs foraged from this very plot.
Back on board the ship, Balinese-Australian food writer Maya Kerthyasa has set up a hands-on cooking demonstration. I chop shallots and ginger to fry in coconut oil for sambal goreng. Another group uses a mortar and pestle to grind suna cekuh, a paste of coriander, ginger, lesser galangal, coconut, and candlenuts. Maya takes a little sambal and a little spice paste and tosses it with blanched fern tips and freshly shredded coconut. She smells a handful of the dressed salad in lieu of tasting it and decides it needs salt and a little more spice paste. The result is a complexly flavored tangle of greens, which we eat for lunch en route to Borneo.
We’ve docked in Sandakan, the humid city on the Malaysian northern coast of Borneo. Our chariot, a slightly embarrassing tour bus, awaits to take us to Good Taste Bak But The (Lorong Bandar Nam Tung 2, Pusat Bandar Sandakan, 90000 Sandakan, Sabah) for breakfast. Inside the open-front shop, we sit on plastic chairs next to whirring fans plucking tender pork ribs from their savory broth.
At Sandakan Central Market, we taste ripe mangoes, buy chiles to smuggle home, and take photos of the hammy fish salesmen. I’m still full from breakfast when we get to San Da Gen Kopitiam, but it’s too charming to resist, lined with vintage spice tins and records. Chef Linn Yong serves lunch — crispy roasted chicken, coconut rice, and various sambals and sides like dried anchovies and hard-boiled eggs — followed by sweet iced coffee with condensed milk and custard tarts.
At the harbor on Romblon, we're directed to our motorized tricycles, the most popular form of transportation on the island. Each is decorated to the driver’s liking, and I ride in one painted to resemble a New York City taxi. Rather fortuitously, “Empire State of Mind” blares through the surprisingly powerful sound system. We amble uphill past school-uniformed children. Every time the Sulu Sea peeks out behind the trees, the view catches me off guard.
In the earth-floored courtyard of a small home, the family matriarch uses a mortar and pestle nearly twice her size to grind chiles, coconut, and ginger into a paste. She folds them into finely chopped prawns, wraps the mixture in banana leaves, and cooks the little dumplings over a makeshift grill fashioned from an old gas canister. The result is sweet, spicy, and truly crave-able. This, like most of the meals I’ve had so far, is an unpolished and wonderful experience, especially compared to the sanitized excursions offered on most luxury cruises.
We drive back down the hill, through the main square of Romblon, to a long driveway, guarded by a group of pre-teens singing karaoke. At the end of the path is Romblon Yacht Club, and beyond that is a perfect waterfront view. Within moments of arriving, I’m holding a coconut spiked with a straw. Lunch is perfect: a spicy and nutty papaya salad, Filipino mangoes to ruin me for all other mangoes, and a fish soup worth sweating over in the 90-degree heat.
I think the feast can’t be matched, until the following day in Manila at the palatial home of the Trinidad family, who founded Manila’s Center for Culinary Arts. There, the Filipino chef Sau Del Rosario has led a group of students from CCA, where he is the culinary director, in preparing an over-the-top spread for our group. I start at the first buffet-style table, filling my plate Aklan oysters and fern salad with watermelon and salted eggs. Next are seafood-macadamia stew and pork sisig, a mix of chopped offal, egg, chilis, and onion, scented with calamansi. Round three: ube halaya, a striking, creamy cake of bright purple yams.
We’re joined for lunch by Nicole Ponseca, CEO and founder of Jeepney and Maharlika in New York and author of the James Beard Award-nominated book I Am Filipino: And This Is How We Cook. Tucking into duck breast adobo, she tells us, “We’re witnessing a renaissance in Filipino food in real time.” And what a luxury it is to get a taste.
Life on Board Silversea
Silversea’s reputation for immaculate common spaces, luxurious suites, and generous hospitality precedes it. When Silver Moon debuts in August 2020, it will host 596 guests in plush suites with muted decor, views, and marble bathrooms. In addition to the consistent collection of restaurants Silversea devotees return for, including the pizzeria Spaccanapoli and the Japanese Kaiseki, will be the S.A.L.T. Kitchen, whose menu will change according to the destination. Similarly, the S.A.L.T. Bar will serve regionally inspired cocktails.
The Silver Moon’s first journey will be an 11-day trip from Trieste to Rome, and by February 2021, it will sail from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro. (Journeys are available to book through April 2021, and rates include economy-class airfare.) S.A.L.T. excursions and on-board programming will be tailored to immerse guests in each destination. Silversea’s impressive non-culinary activities will be available as well — a hike on Mount Etna or an art tour of Salvador de Bahia, for example — and guests usually have one full day in each port to either join an excursion or explore on their own.