Becky Wiggins is one of the first to try Silversea’s new S.A.L.T program. After a belly full of food, she tells about her gastronomical journey.
There’s a tiny burger on the plate in front of me. I’m told to pop it straight into my mouth. Surprisingly, it melts immediately.
It’s not actually a burger, but a delightful, tomato-scented meringue, filling my mouth with tantalising flavours. It’s sweet, but salty; tart, acidic, then earthy. I’m in foodie heaven.
Silversea Cruises recently announced a brand new culinary experience: S.A.L.T. (Sea And Land Taste), which will debut on their brand new ship Silver Moon, coming in August 2020.
I’ve been invited to experience an exclusive, specially curated preview.
We’re experiencing a multi course tasting menu at Toyo Eatery in Manila, awarded the ‘Miele One to Watch Award’ by Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants List in 2018. Course after course of incredibly creative flavour combinations are placed in front of us: a cassava chip with delicate sea urchin and sweet potato; a tiny squid stuffed with hot, mustardy rice and glazed with ginger, onion, garlic and tomato; mackerel cured with coconut vinegar, served with zingy pickled cucumber.
Dessert is a tantalising smoked coconut cream with reduced coconut vinegar, candied cashews and local mango. Our culinary journey has started on a high.
From Toyo Eatery, we head to our home for the next week, Silversea’s elegant Silver Muse. After an exhilarating drive through the crazy Manila traffic, we spot her nestled serenely in glittering Manila Bay.
We’re welcomed with chilled champagne and I’m shown to my suite by a butler in tails, where we discuss my choice of toiletries (Ortigia), my favourite tipple (gin), and even whether I’d like him to unpack my suitcase (aware of the shocking mess inside, I politely decline).
I wander, champagne in hand and discover a well-appointed bathroom with a full-sized bath and corner shower, a dressing room with plenty of drawer and hanging space and a bedroom with a huge mirror masquerading as a TV screen.
There’s also a lounge area with a sofa, dressing table space and a table holding chilled champagne on ice.
On our first evening, we dine in opulent, Asian-fusion themed Indochine, one of eight restaurants on board, where local Filipino dishes have been added to the menu as part of our S.A.L.T. experience. It includes spicy sinigang soup, and fragrant, vinegary chicken adobo.
We get the chance to meet our convivial host: multi award winning journalist and former Editor in Chief of Saveur Magazine, Adam Sachs.
As with many cruise lines, Silversea is facing a change of demographic, and with this younger audience comes a challenge to connect the generations.
Mr Sachs explains that guests on board Silver Moon (and Silver Dawn, coming in 2021) will be able to dip in and out of an array of specially curated S.A.L.T. experiences.
The dedicated S.A.L.T. Lab (the space currently occupied by speciality French restaurant, La Dame, which will be relocated next to the Arts Café) will provide the perfect setting for guests to explore the cuisine of their destination with cookery classes and lectures. The S.A.L.T. bar will serve local spirits, beers, wines and juices.
We dock bright and early at the beautiful island of Coron in the Philippines, stepping blinking out into the sunshine, dazzled by the otherworldly jade colour of the water. We join our first guest-host, Filipino food expert and New York Restaurateur, Nicole Ponseca and our local guide, Clang.
The colourful ex- military jeepneys take us to the harbour where we climb on board local ‘banca’ outrigger boats, and after a few technical difficulties (ours refuses to start) we’re soon skimming the jade water over to Balangay Lajala, where we receive a warm welcome from the children of the Tagbanwa tribe, descended from the original inhabitants of the Philippines.
We’re treated to a show and tell of the foods that the Tagbanwa live on, and taste the most fragrant mango I’ve ever eaten alongside the weirdly astringent fruit of the cashew, which magically seems to suck every last bit of moisture from your mouth, whilst still managing to taste completely delicious.
Back on our bancas, we sail into a hidden cove to buy fresh coconuts, opened by a lady with the most terrifying knife skills, before hiking up steep stone steps and down the other side.
Our last stop comes courtesy of wonderful little motorcycle and sidecar taxis. We zip up into the mountains to a local restaurant, the Funny Lion, for an incredible Kamayan feast: the whole table is groaning with mountains of food: stuffed squid, local fish, roast chicken, huge shrimp, sticky rice, salted eggs, and local seaweed that’s like teeny green bunches of grapes, delicious dipped into a savoury, garlicky soy vinegar. Our host gives us a quick lesson on eating with your fingers (it’s not as straightforward as you’d think) and we tuck in.
We spend the next day listening to Ms Ponseca’s fascinating lecture on the cultural influences on Filipino food (everything from Spanish to British, Chinese, Greek, Indian and of course American).
We taste different vinegars and fermented shrimp and fish pastes, and watch as Ms Ponseca cooks a fermented fish and rice dish called kinilaw (bit of an acquired taste, this one) and a moreish classic Filipino adobo.
Our next port of call is Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysian. Piling into mini vans, we head to local institution, the Heng Sing Coffee Shop for a traditional breakfast: spicy Sabah tom yum, laksa made with evaporated milk, fried noodles with rice wine and kon lo mee with roasted pork and egg rolls. It’s the most delicious feast and such fun to sit amongst the locals as they chat over their breakfast.
Our next stop is high in the mountains, and the engines in our little vans strain as we wind through the lush hillside to Kokol Haven, a stunning resort where we’re warmly welcomed with lemongrass juice and… aprons!
After a fascinating demonstration of a local curry dish, rich with coconut milk, garlic and curry leaves, we’re set to work making traditional local dishes: fragrant pumpkin with cucumber shoots, cooked in coconut milk and seasoned with dried, crushed shrimp; a delicious shrimp dish cooked with tamarind and turmeric that leaves us all stained orange; and a tangy spiced fish dish.
After all our hard work, we’re treated to a feast, with both the dishes that we’ve cooked and more traditional local food, including a sago pudding in coconut milk, sweetened with palm sugar.
As Silver Muse powers on to Singapore, we’re joined by our next host, food writer and owner of supper club FatFuku (literally ‘fat luck’) Annette Tan is in the teppanyaki restaurant, Kaiseki, for a chat about Singaporean food and a demonstration of her family’s own Peranakan chicken curry, often eaten with chunks of baguette, which is really popular in Singapore, along with delicate, lacy roti jala and fried bee hoon: noodles with spongy sliced fishcakes.
Singapore is a melting pot of cultural influences, informed by its colonial past (hence the popularity of afternoon tea), and Annette is on hand to introduce us to some delicious sweet treats: kueh bingka made with cassava, chiffon cake infused with pandan leaves and kueh ko swee, a little like squares of sweet green blancmange covered in coconut. It’s all delicious.
When we dock in Singapore, we understand the background to the hawker centres (created after food vendors were removed from the streets to a regulated, covered area – they’re so popular in Singapore, there’s one every two square miles) and we know exactly what to look for.
Our final lunch, on the most beautifully dressed table I’ve ever seen, features local lamb satay with pineapple sauce, traditional Peranakan duck soup, our nasi ulam and ayam buah keluak – chicken cooked with buah keluak – a classic dish made with a poisonous seed that can kill if not prepared correctly.
I board the plane carrying a few extra pounds along with my hand luggage, an understanding of the culture and cuisine of the areas that we’ve visited and an arsenal of recipes to try at home.