There’s More to a Dining Car Than Food.

Call it a dining car or a diner or, as in Europe, a restaurant car, but the one thing people remember most about a long-distance train ride is the experience of having a full-on meal in a rolling restaurant.

And no wonder. There you are, enjoying a cheeseburger with bacon and a cold beer for lunch, and all the while you’re crossing the desert of West Texas … or climbing over Donner Pass in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains … or rolling through the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia.  I’ve always found dining car meals to be at least as interesting and enjoyable as the rest of the long-distance train experience.
Russian diner
Three years ago, I took an overnight train from Berlin to Moscow. Breakfast on the second day was served in my compartment, but I went to the dining car for lunch. The decor was, shall we say, a tad over-done, with window shades and drapes that almost completely obscured the view outside. This dining car had a staff of one—a waiter/cook, who took the orders, prepared the food in a tiny galley, then served it.

Russian mealWhen I sat down at a table, he presented two menus. He held up the first one and said, “Money!” Then he held up the second menu and said, “No money!” I chose an item from the second menu and, sure enough, there was no charge; the cost was included in my fare. The very good beer was extra however.

A week later, I left Moscow on my Trans-Siberian journey aboard a train chartered by a German company. The dining car meals were good, but not great, and there was no choice. I had no problem with everyone getting the same dish except for the time I found a whole fish staring up at me from the plate. I was happy to give it to Jon Opem from Norway who was seated across from me. He responded by buying the table a bottle of wine. One thing led to another and to this day, I consider Jon and his wife, Bente, to be very good friends.

Sometimes I think what the world needs is a lot more dining cars.