RAIL TRIPS HAVE been known to offer culinary adventures. There’s the elegance of the Orient Express, the glamor of the Santa Fe Super Chief, the history of the Trans-Siberian Railway, the high-speed excitementof Japan’s Shinkansen. These and others are the topic of a new book, Food on the Move, edited by Sharon Hudgins, and reviewed by Corby Kummer in The New York Times Book Review, December 2, 2018.
Unlike with planes or cruise ships, NYT reviewer Kummer observes, “Trains can replenish their stocks with the very freshest and most local produce every day. Enterprising galley chefs can explore the best local bakers and fishmongers and farmers and take their goods aboard at dawn stops.”
Darjeeling Himalayan Toy Train. On this adventure, Kummer notes, travelers “would telegraph orders to a railway kitchen down the line for hot delivery at the next stop.”
The Trans-Siberian Railway. The book’s editor Sharon Hudgins recalls a 1994 trip across Siberia: “The vendors quickly unpacked their wares and set up an instant outdoors buffet on the ground: hot piroshki,… sweet pastries and yeast buns, jars of fruit preserves… salmon caviar, fresh white curd cheese… Siberian pine nuts… smoked or salted fish—all wrapped in newspapers or served in paper cones made from pages torn out of books and magazines.”
The Flying Scotsman, by contrast, is cited as offering the infamous “British Railway sandwich.” This sounds almost as dodgy as its Parly Trains, so-called ghost trains because of the regulation-dictated infrequency of their service.
Another related SimanaitisSays reference is The Coronation Scot, a competing train running a parallel London/Scotland route to the west of The Flying Scotsman’s. BBC Paul Temple radio mysteries began and ended with Vivian Ellis’ Coronation Scot theme.
The Coronation Scot, newly built in 1937, reached 114 mph near Crewe, England, on its London/Glasgow run.
Nor has the British Railway sandwich generated nostalgia as that evoked by Flanders and Swann’s The Slow Train.
Japan’s Shinkansen. Observes Kummer, “Preparing food for, rather than in, trains rose to an international art in Japan where railway dining centered on ekiben, literally “station lunch box.”
Sold at train stations, these complete meals-in-a-box are artfully arranged, with specialities of the region and season. The box comes exquisitely wrapped and, after dining, it’s part of the bento tradition to refold its wrapping artfully.
A Hiroshima/Tokyo Shinkansen trip actually costs more than a discounted air fare. But its four-hour adventure is rather more pleasurable than the accompanying hassle at either end of a one-and-a-half-hour flight. The food can be more adventurous too.
On one of my Japanese visits, adverse weather precluded my Hiroshima/Tokyo return flight. Instead, Mazda booked me a First Class Shinkansen ride. And I dined splendidly along the way.
Image from The New York Times, November 28, 2018.
My Food on the Move hasn’t arrived as yet. But I’m confident this book is going to provide added tasty tidbits. ds