Combat Rations

Lunch with the French Special Forces

Okay, at the prompting of Hungry Pat, another cuisine posting.

Quick quiz

Which army would you be in if your Meal Ready to Eat pack contained the following:

Potted Meat of Mackerel Stewed Beef Indian chicken and rice

Nope, as “squaddie” as that sounds, it’s actually one of the menus dished out in French ration packs. Of course there’s more familiarly “national” fare in there, like sauté of rabbit, mutton stew flageolets, stewed lamb “Navarin,” duck and liver paté and earthenware dish “cassoulet.” (Earthenware dish? Blimey, it’s in a can!) But rumors that it contained a small bottle of wine are not true, although they may have been in the past. And check out the gorgeous little cooker.

Now would it be a function of being a non-combatant army that makes the German Army’s Einmannpackung include a vegetarian option: Stir fried vegetables with tofu. The rest of the main courses seem to reflect a history of Wehrmacht WWII conquests — Cevapcicci (Yugoslavian Sausages), ghoulash (which is Hungarian, after all) and Lyon sausage. Nuff said.

Pass the alchohol heater, tovarish

The Russian equivalent is predictably more lacking in choice, and offers some idiosyncratic variations on the standard meat and veg stew by including barley porridge and buckwheat rice. Including an alchohol based cooking system doesn’t seem like a good idea given some of the truly miserable locales in which this army is deployed — hey, if I was on guard duty in Grozny, I’d be drinking the fuel sweetened with the jam or something and diluted…

The British Army caters to a fast-changing and diverse nation in its combat rations. According to this story, the standard ground beef mince meal now comes with three alternative flavoring sachets — bolognese, chili and curry.

But I’m curious about what the armies of Iran and Indonesia, India and Pakistan — and of course, China’s People’s Army — put in their ration packs. And also what the insurgents of the Taliban and Hizballah eat in the field.

So here’s an appeal to Rootless Cosmopolitan readers who care about food: Send in whatever you know, and lets compile a composite picture of armies marching on their stomachs. Looking forward to your replies!

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21 Responses to Combat Rations

  1. Pat says:

    At least the U.S. military gets Skittles. Of course, my Navy bro is about to endure his downed pilot survival week in a few months, so he gets to eat bugs and rabbits in the woods and get the crap kicked out of him in a faux-capture situation.

    I think I’d rather eat potted meat product. Although he did tell me an entertaining story about one overly enthusiastic trainee who killed his commander’s dog and ate it.

  2. Les Visible says:

    excellent work and a great comment by Pat.

  3. Ainsley says:

    My sons completed their Marine Corps “School of Infantry” training this past summer. Three weeks in the field found them digging through their MRE packets to find the following: macaroni & cheese, beef stroganoff, brownies, cookies, tobasco sauce and instant tea.

  4. P. Drano says:

    “Charlie didn’t get much USO. He was dug in too deep or moving too fast. His idea of great R&R was cold rice and a little rat meat.”

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  6. Dagney Braggart says:

    My father reported that there was a French Foreign Legion jodie (or maybe it was a song) which included the words (translated):

    The Legion is your Father
    France is your mother,
    It is she who feeds you on beans and rotten pork

    He never contradicted this description—then again, that was long ago, and the Legion is evidently now more like the S.A.S.than anything else—what do _they_ eat (beside “…shite like you for breakfast,”)?

  7. Michael Szkolny says:

    The most wonderful source for historical information on this topic is the book “The White Flag Principle” by Shimon Tzabar
    (Allen Lane The Penguin Press 1972), an early Israeli dissident and satirist who sadly died two weeks ago at the age of 81. The thesis of this book, which manages to combine scholarly research with at times hilarious satire, is that it is historically much better for a nation state to lose a war than to win one,
    from which it follows that if this principle is accepted then when any war between states arises a nation should strive to lose it as quickly as possible. Much of the book is devoted to a historical analysis of apparent strategies for doing just that.

    One strategy mentioned is to demoralise your troops as quickly as possible by feeding them meagre and unpalatable rations while providing banquets for the officer class. A particularly pertinent example for our own time is the British defeat at the siege of Kut-al-Amarah. According to the above source the British daily rations issued to Indian troops during the siege consisted of 4 ounces of barely, nine ounces of vegetables and one ounce of ghee.
    At the same time the British officers held a celebratory dinner with the following menu:

    Hors d’oeuvres: Olives of All Nations
    Soup: Cheval d’artillier
    Fish: Sole Trench Sabot
    Entree: Cutlets Jaipur Pony Superb
    Joint: Horse Loin Shell Trimmings
    Mule Saddle with Bhoosa Sauce
    Sweets: Windie Lizzie Pudding with Flatulent Fanny Sauce
    Savoury: Whizz Bang with Starling on Toast
    Dessert: Liquorice Root Mahaila Squares
    Coracle Chunks Bomb Shells
    Coffee: S&T Special and Arabian
    Wines: Liquorice, Tigris Water, Date Juice etc.
    Cigars: Relief Special
    Cigarettes: Kut Favorites

    Unfortunately for the British, although they lost the siege of
    Kut-al-Amarah, they eventually defeated the Ottoman Turks
    in the region. That is doubtless the source of much of the
    current US/UK imperial hubris in the region.

    For an obituary of Shimon Tzabar see

  8. Earl Divoky says:

    Michael Szkolny, I was sorry to hear that. I have that book. Pretty amazing dude. Still, reaching 81 is nothing to sneeze at.

    During the American Civil War the Confederate soldiers had problems of supply to the extent that they joked that “CSA” on their belt buckles stood for Corn, Salt and Apples–too often what they ate.

  9. Rosie says:

    did you get this message:

    In Iran soldiers and officers are sent home for meals, and if they are not able to go home for their three meals a day, then their family will have to bring them their lunches, breakfasts and dinners. Iranian Govt under the leadership of Hashemi Rafsanjoni who is an American and World Bank Stooge, all rations and “assistants” to the personnel of the army and guards and conscripts was cut off in order to save money and pay up loan installments to the Word Bank. Since some 18 years ago, soldiers and officers and conscripts (all male over 18 yearsof age must join the army for at least two years) must buy their own equipment and attire: army uniforms, boots, underwear, any protective gear must be bought by the individual from the word go. That is, when one first joins the army, one must buy one’s own univerform, boots, what have you. Iranian army does not even pay a living wage to the soldiers and officers which are supposed to protect the state and country and people of Iran from foreign invasion. As you may know, 99.9% of Iranians are starving, due to free trade and privatizations and cost savings measures introduced by the WB and IMF. And so you can imagine what kind of food rations families can provide for their men who have joined the army in order to earn the whole family’s living.

  10. Maximillan says:

    Here in singapore our field rations are produced by a government contractor called SFI (Singapore food industries) and come with choice of vegetarian or normal. There’s supposed to be like 10 to 15 varieties of food to choose from but in all honesty they taste the same – bland and a peculiar taste that i kinda suspect is from the preservatives used. The most common variety (i think 3 in 4) is the glutinous rice and chicken combo. You get a desert (usually beans in milk), a pack of dogtag (dogs refuse to eat them even) biscuits, a pack of holicks sweet, packed coffee/tea/peach-tea, two muesli-fruit bars. Anyway when we’re in the field most of us usually cook something warm or pack our own dried foods. Shelf life our rations are known to last at least 2 years or maybe more. From my own experience I left a pack at the back of my cupboard and it was still edible after 3 years so haha…

  11. Maximillan says:

    Lol i just checked the dates on them packs and they last 10 years OMG…

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  13. Very informative article. I’ve found your site via Bing and I’m really happy about the information you provide in your posts. Btw your sites layout is really messed up on the Chrome browser. Would be great if you could fix that. Anyhow keep up the great work!

  14. n.n says:

    Very late to the game, but I expect people will still be stumbling across this site now and then.

    Anyway, Maximillan, the chicken and sticky rice is disgusting. In my platoon most of us discarded those very quietly. The desserts weren’t too bad, especially if you were lucky and got the barley ones rather than the beans. But the best part of the package, surprisingly, was those horrible biscuits. If you know what to do with them, you can make a damn good approximation of mocha cake.

    1 packet of SFI biscuits. The chocolate ones work well, although you can use any kind. The butter ones are not recommended as they have a nasty synthetic butter taste.
    1/2 packet of instant 3-in-1 coffee (from rations).
    1/2 packet of instant 3-in-1 Milo (from rations).
    Lukewarm water.

    1. Open biscuit packet at one end. Ensure packet has no leaks.
    2. Pour instant coffee and instant Milo into biscuit packet.
    3. Shake well so the powder disperses evenly.
    4. Pour in water up to about 1/3 of the packet’s height.
    5. Stand packet against your boot, your field pack, or any other convenient location. (It needs to be standing or the water will run out.)
    6. When there is no more visible liquid in the packet, the biscuits should have absorbed the liquid and turned into a cakey substance which is ready for consumption. If the tops of the biscuits are still hard and crunchy, add more water (but not too much) and let stand further.
    7. If you fancy a drink with your cake, boil some water and pour the leftover coffee and Milo powder in.

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