Ferry van Eeuwen
My mother used to be a very good cook. Guests loved her touch of cooking, probably also because of her Hungarian heritage. Sometimes we had dishes which were unknown in Holland, but which seemed to please the palates of most, if not all guests. Even at a young age I had a keen interest in her cooking exercises, which often seemed to have a magical touch to it. But as a boy I was not accepted in the kitchen, let alone do a little magic on my own. Probably that was also part of the Hungarian heritage, as men over there do not and don't want to play any role in the kitchen. That's all women stuff and unmanly to undertake such chores to the Hungarian males. When we began visiting Hungary, in order to meet our family there, we were somewhat shocked to find out that my aunt never ate with us. She seemed to be cooking all day, starting in the morning and served dinner and withdrew then into the kitchen. She also did the dishes afterwards and my wife or daughter were not allowed to help out a bit. She was a fat little lady, so she seemed to manage to take a bite or two between things, that was not the problem. At one moment I suggested to my wife that coming back home in Holland we could do things likewise. That brought on quite a storm from both my wife and daughter. They more or less questioned my sanity. I hastened to declare that it all was a little joke, but they definitely were not ready for that kind of humour it seemed. My uncle was curious what the uproar was all about, but I found some kind of excuse to explain it.
At the age of 18 years I went to sea, for 9 years as it turned out. During that period I forgot about my interest in cooking as the ship's galley was normally speaking no visiting place for officers or crew. I met one or two captains who used to 'inspect" the galley every morning at about 11 o'clock. These zealous efforts did not go unnoticed and were looked upon as a quite suspicious activity. Then indeed it soon became known that there always was something special waiting for the captain to 'inspect'. Like a juicy steak or some fried fish. It was some kind of pre-dinner snack, as most captains attended the second table starting at 12.30 hours. We used to eat warm meals twice a day, but the main meal was served at 12 and 12.30 in the afternoon. With the second warm meal there was also bread etc. being served. Being young and always hungry I used to have both then!
Food was usually good to very good on board ships. I really depended on the chief cook's abilities. Some could do wonders and others, using more or less the same ingredients, could make it foul tasting. A very filling course we often had was Lapskous, a one pan meat dish with vegetables. It was not a culinary hand stand in our eyes, but not bad. It belonged to our world at sea. I used to sail in a number of Shell Tankers and with Shell it was customary to serve a big Indonesian 'rice table' every Sunday afternoon. Everybody seemed to love that treat. On Sundays a number of us did not even go to breakfast, just to increase the intake capacity! A real 'rice table' as enjoyed by the Dutch in the East Indies during the colonial period, consisted out of about 20 dishes. On board a Shell Tanker it was not more than may be five dishes, but we did not care. We loved it as it was. On board a number of Shell Tankers we had Chinese crews and thus Chinese cooks. They did not do too well on the European kitchen and if enough officers agreed, we got a lot of very fine Chinese food during the week. It really gave me a taste for rice and mie. On Dutch crew ships the menu was more or less fixed by the day of the week. As an example Friday on board each Dutch ship was fish-day, always. No surprises there!
Having visited many countries and tasted the local food and specialties there, I must say that in the far east I had high regards of the Thai and Taiwanese kitchens. Only later I also learned to appreciate the Japanese kitchen. I have become a sushi addict over time and even make my own. In South America, as young guys, we loved to go eating in Buenos Aires. Only one thing: steak. But so big and gorgeous that I still feel the taste of it. Some of the steaks were bigger than the plate it was served on! We had it accompanied with the local chimichurri sauce, which was also great. In Europe I was fascinated by the Turkish kitchen. Before my first visit to Turkey I always thought that it would be a kind of 'sheep meat' country only. But I was very wrong. Often we dined on the 'mezes' only. 'Mezes' being a score of small plates with all kind of wonderful things and morsels, sometimes indefinable but tasting great. You can compare it to the Spanish 'tapas', but more exotic and refined in my opinion. Coming second in Europe in my opinion was the Italian kitchen, but that checks out. All children seem to love Italian food. We did not have a high opinion of the famous French kitchen I must confess. But on our budget we probably went to the wrong places. Argentina and Turkey especially were very friendly priced for hungry young sailors. French prices were on the 'up' so to speak, so we lowered then quickly our culinary sights.
My real cooking exploits - I am exaggerating a bit now - occurred after I quit being a seaman and during my marriage. I soon became the 'weekend cook', as during the week I was always late from work. I had a preference for Asian food as I we used to get that quite often on board the ship. Also visiting Asian countries I thought it had a wonderful flavour. Especially the wok technique was interesting, also because of the crunchy texture and lively colour of vegetables.