Silversea's New Culinary Program Wants to Help You Eat Off the Beaten Path
On a test run of S.A.L.T. by Silversea Cruises, one writer explores Bali, Borneo, and the white-sand islands of the Philippines.
A large freshwater prawn poked its head out of a coconut-frond basket. Another followed, then another. They shimmied up, then dove to the sandy ground, attempting a run for their lives.
Too late, though. Milagros Montero caught them — for the second time that morning, the first being at the river near her home — and put them back. Soon, she would shell and de-vein them, with lightning dexterity, and feed them through a manual grinder with hot chilis, ginger, and shallots. This is how Montero and her son, Jason, make their sarsa na uyang, steamed fish cakes, which sell out by mid-morning at the local market.
Officially launching with Silversea's new ship Silver Moon in August, S.A.L.T. (short for Sea and Land Taste) upends what most of us expect from cruise food. Passengers get to know hole-in-the-wall restaurants and artisanal food producers through excursions on land, and when they reboard they can experience hands-on cooking classes, demos by regional experts, and new venues showcasing dishes from the day's destination. Curated by James Beard Award–winning food writer Adam Sachs, the experience promises to pick up where travel guidebooks leave off — which is how I found myself in the Monteros' courtyard in a neon-green forest on tiny Romblon, just one of the 7,000-plus islands that make up the Philippines.
It was a world away from the all-suite, 596-passenger Silver Muse, our vessel for the preview, with its grand Italianate columns and ever-present air-conditioning. After being taken to shore earlier that morning, we seafarers had traveled in a convoy of motorized tricycles — the island's favored mode of transport. But to get to the Montero home, we'd traveled much farther than just those bumpy seven miles from port.
During the preceding week, we had navigated the silky waters around Indonesia, first calling at Bali, where an excursion took us through a working farm in the Ubud highlands. Strolling across the patchwork rice paddies, I met a farmer boiling coconut sap into disks of sugar, a beekeeper cracking open a hive to reveal tart red honey, and a gaggle of local kids. They were eager to walk with me, teaching me Balinese and tossing me freshly picked fruits to try. Our walk culminated in a picnic above the terraced farms. Sure, the feast of babi guling — suckling pig roasted in an earth oven — was catered by buzzy expat hot spot Nusantara and paired with botanical cocktails of local herbs. Still, we were far from Ubud's touristy, eaten-prayed-and-loved town center.
As travelers hit the road to seek out unique regional cuisines — preferably ones yet to be seen on Netflix — cruise operators are stepping up to the plate. Veering away from the floor plan of its sister ships, the Silver Moon replaces the standard formal restaurant with S.A.L.T. Lab, a test kitchen that hosts workshops with regional experts. For our sailing, Silversea had tapped Maya Kerthyasa, a food writer and member of the Ubud royal family, to accompany us around Bali and lead us in making the building blocks of the cuisine, like sambal matah, from scratch. "Food is a form of invitation," she said, mixing the spicy shallot paste — laced with the scent of wild ginger — and explaining the religious symbolism hidden within Balinese cooking. Traveling with an insider like Kerthyasa guaranteed we would try the authentic version of a dish — and that we could begin to understand it.
The revived obsession with hyper-local ingredients has also reached the kitchens at sea. At port in Sandakan, in the Malaysian part of Borneo, I found executive chef Anne-Mari Cornelius combing through the market for banana flowers, green mangoes, and fish sauce. "Our passengers are world travelers," she told me. "I have to meet them there by bringing the market to the table." On the Silver Moon, that meeting will take place in a new restaurant named S.A.L.T. Kitchen, where a constantly rotating menu will showcase regional ingredients from along the route.
The new ship will call at ports ranging from Lisbon to Lima, Rome to Rio, and S.A.L.T. will eventually roll out across Silversea's entire fleet. For now, on Romblon, I was happy to tuck into mouth-searing skewers, fresh off the fire.
Apologies to the prawns.
To book: silversea.com, seven-day sailings on the Silver Moon from $5,400, all-inclusive
A version of this story first appeared in the January 2020 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline A Moveable Feast. Silversea provided support for the reporting of this story.