‘Pomp and circumstance’: Dine like an affluent Victorian passenger at SS Great Britain’s Dishes of Discovery event

Discover how it felt to dine onboard the SS Great Britain as a Victorian passenger in this new immersive experience

This summer, from 23 July until 4 September, the SS Great Britain is taking passengers on a journey to taste the world through their new Dishes of Discovery event.

The event offers guests the chance to sample delicacies inspired by Victorian voyages to destinations visited by the ship in the 18th Century.

Visitors who step aboard the SS Great Britain this summer will taste historic recipes from Mumbai, Cape Town and Crimea - discovering how the SS Great Britain connected people and places around the world.

As interpretation manager, Nathalie Fey, explained, the dishes chosen for visitors to sample are to represent the lesser known ports that the ship went to.

Here, interpretations manager Nathalie Fey shows off one of the dishes

Very few people know that she visited over six continents and had a very diverse crew and passengers - the SS Great Britain went around the world 32 times. The Dishes of Discovery event aims to raise awareness of this.

How has Dishes of Discovery been put together? ​​The dishes have been created by Bristol-based social enterprise, Travelling Kitchen, whose team worked with the ship’s archivists to explore historic recipes from around the globe.

The extensive collections at the SS Great Britain include diary entries written by passengers and crew onboard the ship. These entries have provided the curators and programming staff with information about the specific voyages and experiences of travellers.

Diary archives show exactly what it was like to be a passenger on the voyages

So, what can you expect from the summer event, exactly? Bristol World took a sneak peek into how it will all work.

Taking place in the First Class Dining Saloon, the whole experience has an air of pomp and circumstance, and immediately allows you to understand the ways in which the affluent passengers of the SS Great Britain would have travelled.

It’s a full immersive and sensory experience, something that the curators of the museum prioritise in every aspect of the ship’s journey for observers.

“It’s all about creating different layers of storytelling for guests on the SS Great Britain, so we have added sensory elements and now have added taste,” says active interpretation manager Simon Strain.

“On the rest of the boat, you encounter smells, for example, which makes it visceral and potent for young people and visitors. The whole ship is an immersive experience so the taste is now the final addition.”

The dishes created include a zingy Melon and Ginger Jam from Cape Town, traditional Borsch from Crimea and a tropical green coriander and coconut chutney from Mumbai - and are typical of those that passengers would have encountered as they disembarked in the faraway destinations.

The dishes created include a zingy Melon and Ginger Jam from Cape Town, traditional Borsch from Crimea and a tropical green coriander and coconut chutney from Mumbai

SS Great Britain’s interpretation team studied diaries and documents to create these authentic recipes.

Many people don’t realise that the ship went to places such as Ukraine, but the event helps you to understand and learn more, and it turns out she served as a troop ship in the Crimean War and made her way over there.

Joanna Mathers, Head of Collections, at SS Great Britain explains: “We have made some fascinating discoveries as part of this project.

“One of the dishes - the green coriander and coconut chutney - was inspired by Samuel Archer, the ship’s surgeon on a voyage to Mumbai in 1857. We have access to his diary, which describes the food he experienced and this process gives visitors to the ship a chance to step back in time to the days before mass travel.

The event gives a real feel of how it would be to sail the SS Great Britain in Victorian times

“These flavours would’ve been brand new and exotic, and for many, their first time encountering the likes of coconut, ginger and melon.”

The Dishes of Discovery event allows you to learn all about the way in which Victorian passengers would eat. In addition to the physical tasting sessions available of the food, there are a number of other resources to allow you to understand the context fully.

You can, for example, see a sample menu as you enter the first class dining saloon. As we were diving into the food on offer to sample, Mr Strain explained how meat would have been served three times a day for rich passengers, which would have been fresh meat as thousands of animals would be kept on the top deck.

Lower class passengers would have meat maybe once a day, but it would be salt meat and served with heavy carbs.

The Dishes of Discovery concept means you can really get under the skin of what it was like to dine onboard the SS Great Britain, from where the food would come from to how the passengers would feel.

While walking around the dining room, you’ll hear tales told by the interpretation managers and SS Great Britain staff

While walking around the dining room, you’ll hear tales told by the interpretation managers and SS Great Britain staff. I was particularly interested to hear all about how the Victorian passengers felt when they were experiencing certain passages and experiencing new food.

Mr Strain explained how, when the ship stopped at ports, this was the passenger and crew’s time to purchase fresh fruit and veg. “This was a real treat,” smiles Mr Strain.

“In the archives we hold of passenger accounts, people talk about buying it themselves, finding new fruit and veg in different countries, trying it for the first time, and how this was a mindblowing experience.”

Ms Fey continues: “This was clearly a time when mass tourism was experienced only by a select few, and the sense of excitement at trying new and exotic foods really comes across in some of the passenger and crew diaries.

“Dishes of Discovery aims to give visitors to the SS Great Britain a chance to experience this thrill of encountering new and unusual foods for the first time, on board, all summer long!”