Ask The Expert: How To Eat Well On A Cruise Ship

With so much on offer onboard a cruise, Princess Cruises' executive chef Nilo Palma shares his tried-and-tested tips on how to dine well without going overboard.
Buffet-style dining might be slowly going out of fashion with discerning gourmands, but one thing remains coveted — choice. And that's a key appeal of dining onboard a cruise ship, where guests are spoilt for choice with an array of cuisines ranging from casual to fancy to choose from.

Yet, how does one sample everything a cruise ship has to offer, without going overboard and getting diners' fatigue?
Enter Nilo Palma, executive chef of luxury cruise operator Princess Cruises. The veteran chef has been in the cruise industry since 1993, and is well-versed in planning menus across the various restaurants in a ship.

He notes that it is important to space out diners' meals and keep the high-protein options for the middle part of the cruise. "Don’t give them too much protein or high-energy food on the first few days, or they will feel tired fast because the food is too heavy," he says.
It's also imperative to have some light options on hand, such as clear noodle broths or dried fruits and nuts to snack on. Here, he shares tips on how to enjoy the various spreads onboard a cruise ship without ending up too full, too early on.

Breakfast of champions

It might be tempting to reach for strips of crispy bacon, or pile your plate with juicy sausages. But chef Nilo advises against filling your stomach with such greasy food in the morning. "If you feel too full, you won't be able to enjoy the rest of the meals later on. It's still early, so relax, take it slow," he says.
Instead, he suggests putting together a light yogurt parfait and topping your bircher muesli with dried fruits or nuts for a protein-packed breakfast. On Sapphire Princess, there's even the complimentary option of having this delivered to your room for a healthy breakfast-in-bed. 
Lunch with a crunch

For lunch, chef Nilo is careful to make sure the menu doesn't overlap with what is being served for dinner. For instance, he shares that the kitchen should not serve beef courses for both meals, back-to-back. Lunch is when he recommends filling up on greens to give an energy boost for the day, and dressing it in fat-free olive oil. It's also the best time to indulge in deep-fried items for those craving a bit of crunch.

"Lunch is when I'll have some fried food, like fish and chips with a glass of cold beer," says chef Nilo with a chuckle. To assuage any guilt, he shares how certain ships under Princess Cruises use a state-of-the-art heat wave oven that creates the same texture of fried food, sans the oil. Fish, for instance, is wrapped in filo pastry and put inside the oven to be heated up until the shell crisps up and the fish remains tender and juicy.
A light salad of fresh mozzarella and tomatoes dressed in tangy balsamic vinegar is a refreshing choice for a warm day.
A light salad of fresh mozzarella and tomatoes dressed in tangy balsamic vinegar is a refreshing choice for a warm day.
If the weather feels too warm for fried food, chef Nilo's lunch pick is a simple panini sandwich dressed with fresh mozzarella and plump tomatoes, a treat he enjoys at the International Café on Sapphire Princess.

Teatime Munchies

You've had your lunch and enjoyed a dip in one of the five pools. Now, it's not quite dinner yet but your stomach is hungry for a little something. This is when chef Nilo recommends filling up on some noodle soup or a light afternoon tea of some cakes and pastries served canapé-style. "For noodles, you can ask for egg-less, or buckwheat or wheat noodles with no gluten so it is not too heavy. If you are craving something to eat and just want to fill your stomach but not too much, have a nice hot broth, like a wonton soup, in between meals to tide over the hunger pangs," he says.
A bowl of clear noodle soup is a good way to stave off mid-day hunger pangs
A bowl of clear noodle soup is a good way to stave off mid-day hunger pangs
Personally, chef Nilo would also take teatime as a chance to snack on some nachos with guacamole, and perhaps another cup of coffee or tea. "I like to find a quiet spot, and I'll have some chicken strips on fajitas or some lovely nachos with a bit of minced beef; some spicy guacamole on the side. It's a snack that always hits the spot," he shares.

Meat For Dinner

Dinner is when people are ready to sit back and indulge in heavier meals, such as a steak with a side of roasted potatoes. 
Chef Nilo reveals a secret that it is possible to try every dish on the vast menu. “Head into the main dining room and ask for a little bit of everything — the chef will know how to change a dish from a regular portion, to smaller, to sampler portion. And he will also be more creative in plating, so you can perhaps enjoy a little bit of spring roll, some nice pâté, a bouquet of salad before you have a sampler platter of meats."

A Stroll Before Supper

After dinner, take a walk around the deck and stretch those leg muscles a little. Before sleeping, chef Nilo always enjoys some fresh fruits and a nice cup of hot tea. "Fresh fruits helps you to digest the food better at night and balance out your stomach juices so you don't feel bloated before you sleep," he says. A great way to end the night and start a new day ready to feast again.

About Princess Cruises

Princess Cruises will be at the NATAS Travel Fair from 11 to 13 August 2017. For special rates on their 3 to 12 Nights Southeast Asia sailings, Princess Cruises is offering free gratuities for the first two guests, and the third and fourth guests cruise from S$199. Fares start from $599 each. Promotion is valid until 30 September 2017.
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