Breakfast is served

What did you have for breakfast on this eleventh day of May? Cereal, tea and toast? Coffee to go? Nothing at all?

P & O crest on a Tourist Class menu, 1933.

On the morning of 11th May 1933, as the s.s. ‘Mongolia’ steamed up the English Channel on the last leg of a voyage from Australia, tourist class passengers would have found this menu card on their breakfast tables.

Tourist class breakfast menu from s.s. Mongolia, 1933.If you’ve ever been to sea as a fare-paying passenger, you’ll know that shipboard meals are different. They’re made for people with time to actually sit down to eat, relax and be waited on; who don’t have to rush out to work or wash the dishes. Not normal. The variety and volume of food available is not what you’d expect at home, either. If we ate like that every day the obesity epidemic would be ten times worse than it is.

But this list, modest by modern cruise ship standards, shows us how tastes have changed in eighty-five years. Would any of these be your first choice at breakfast, especially if the dining room was moving around a bit? Kippered herrings – popular in Victorian and Edwardian days and allegedly making a comeback, but not on my plate at 8 a.m. Grilled calf’s liver – not at any time. Creamed potatoes – for breakfast?

Tea, toast and marmalade would be a safe bet in most sea conditions, or try the Golden Syrup. A blast from the past and still available. Liquid sugar – it even makes porridge edible. Spread it on two slices of toast, feed them to a lethargic child and he’ll be bouncing off the walls for the rest of the day.

P & O passenger cargo ship. Image from a company postcard.

A notice on the back of the menu says “The Galley and Pantries will be open for Inspection by Passengers at 11.00 a.m. to-day. All those wishing to visit same please assemble in Forward Dining Saloon at that hour.”

Also – “Passengers are kindly requested to have as much baggage as possible packed by 5.00 p.m. to-day, in order that it may be stowed on deck, and thereby facilitate disembarkation.” The ‘Mongolia’ was due to arrive at Dover at 10.30 p.m. – hardly a convenient time – although this was “only approximate ….. subject to weather conditions, also strength & direction of tidal streams.”

‘Mongolia’ had a comparitively long career. Entering P & O service as a new passenger/cargo ship in 1922, she was transferred to the subsidiary New Zealand Shipping Company in 1938 and became the s.s. ‘Rimutaka’. Then she was the ‘Europa’ of Incres Shipping (Italy) in 1950, followed by ‘Nassau’ (’51 – ’61) and ‘Acapulco’ (’61 – ’63) before being broken up in January 1965.