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Varuna Dining

4.5 / 5.0
Editor Rating
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Editor Rating
Jeannine Williamson
Cruise Critic Contributor

All meals and snacks are included in the cruise fare. The ship has one main dining room, located aft on the Main Deck, which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Early-risers can get tea, coffee and cookies from the saloon. All meals are buffet-style with tea and coffee served to the table at breakfast and water served to the table at lunch and dinner.

Meals are served at set times in one sitting with an open seating arrangement. Seated at two communal tables, mealtimes are convivial affairs and passengers are joined by the G Adventures' CEO, guide, naturalist and senior members of the crew such as the cruise manager.

There is a varied choice of delicious dishes, mostly Indian and different at every meal. All of the food is freshly cooked and the chef goes out each day to buy vegetables and other ingredients. To whet the appetite, lunch and dinner menus are posted on the notice board outside the dining room each morning. The staff members line up behind the service dishes and the cruise manager can provide detailed information about each dish if required. As vegetarianism is widespread in India, this is one ship where vegetarians are completely spoiled for choice and will never get bored with the options on offer. Even though there is plenty of choice at each meal, they will also get extra dishes cooked by the chef to make up for the meat, poultry or fish dishes available for other passengers. Other dietary requirements can be catered for, which should be advised at the time of booking.

Dining Room (Deck 1): The dining room seats all passengers at two long communal tables in one sitting. With a wooden floor and walls decorated with bird paintings, the decor is again inspired by the ship's natural surroundings.

The tables have comfy chairs, with gold and cream cushioned coverings, and the intricate folded napkins at each meal -- such as a lotus flower -- were a cause of comment and delight at every meal. There are floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows down both sides of the room, so you don't miss any passing views during meals. The buffet table is situated at the far end of the dining room and passengers go up and help themselves at each meal. In addition to the lunch and dinner menus being posted on the notice board earlier in the day, the daily menu is also shown on the buffet table and often includes a charming lyrical description of the dishes, such as "lip-smacking paneer curry" and Assam "wonder rice."

Buffet breakfast is generally served at 7 a.m. and all passengers are expected to go in on or near that time as breakfast is usually followed by an excursion at around 8:30 a.m. The buffet features cereals, fresh fruit and Indian specialties such as stewed guava, yogurt, oatmeal, cooked ham, chicken sausages, pancakes, a hot potato-based Indian dish and other items such as Indian steamed cake. There is an egg station where the chef cooks omelets, scrambled eggs and fried eggs to order. Toast is automatically served to the table, along with tea and coffee.

Lunch is generally served at 1 p.m., depending on the excursion schedule. Each day it features a choice of six main hot items with various pickles, sauces and accompaniments followed by dessert. A typical meal might be lamb moussaka, chicken olive roll, honey roasted vegetables, stuffed zucchini, cheese corn fritters and salad followed by warm butterscotch tart. It is usual to take samples of each dish, and vegetarians always get additional dishes to replace the meat or poultry items. Another day could feature a different type of cuisine, such as Chinese, with pork and bamboo shoots, chili fish, spicy Shezwan vegetables, sweet and sour cheese, noodles and egg fried rice, cabbage and coconut salad followed by the novelty of deep-fried ice cream.

Dinner is served at a set time each night, generally 7:30 p.m. after the daily briefing. The food is outstanding and totally different from many of the "westernized" Indian dishes served at restaurants back home. Despite what many people might think, Indian cuisine is not necessarily hot, and can range from delicate flavors to more spicy dishes. "Heat levels" can be adjusted by the chef to suit any individual preferences.

The meal always begins with a hot soup, such as carrot and coriander or mushroom and chicken (with an additional vegetarian option if necessary), which is served to the table. Afterward, it is similar to the lunch setup with six main dishes. These might typically be slow-cooked lamb nihari (based on an 18th-century recipe from the royal kitchens of Awadh), plantain dumplings cooked in tomato and onions and topped with yogurt, mixed greens cooked with spices on an iron cooking plate, mixed vegetable kohlapuri, till fali (green beans cooked in Bengali seasonings with sesame seeds), karela kurkura (deep-friend gourd chips), lentil dal, potato cakes and subz yakhni pulao (a Hyderabad rice dish in fragrant mixed vegetables served with onion raita), followed by papaya fool. During the main course, the wait staff serve baskets of warm homemade Indian bread, such as naan, chapati, parata and poori, to the table.

On one evening, a traditional tandoori meal cooked in a clay oven is served on the Sun Deck and preceded by a selection of warm canapes. Passengers can watch the chef prepare naan bread in the oven before the meal that features chicken, prawns, fish and vegetables prepared in the "dry" style of tandoori cuisine.

Complimentary water is served during lunch and dinner and passengers can order beer, wine and other drinks from the bar.

All food on the ship is cooked in purified water and ice cubes are made in the same way.

Saloon (Deck 2): Tea, coffee, cookies and cakes are served from 6:30 a.m. until breakfast is served in the main dining room. If there is an early morning excursion, the saloon will open at an earlier time and also serve sandwiches to fill the gap between passengers returning from the tour for a later breakfast. In the evening, a selection of warm canapes are served before dinner and chips, nuts and other snacks are served with drinks.

Sun Deck (Deck 3): After breakfast, and for the rest of the day, complimentary tea, coffee and cookies are available from the bar on the Sun Deck. Passengers can also top up their water bottles from the water cooler, which is available 24/7.

There is no room service.

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