Chow in Iraq

November 30, 2008 at 7:00 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

June 24, 2008

OK it is no secret that I like food. I like to cook and try new things. Being in the Army has allowed me to travel and sample all sorts of new dishes whether that is kimichi, alligator, rocky mountain oysters, crayfish, soups and other dishes from southwest Asia, sushi, and all of the Iraqi food I’ve eaten. I will eat just about anything at least once, OK well I never tried the Ka-go-gi (dog) in Korea but I never was in a restaurant that would serve it. Since I think I will eat anything I don’t consider myself a picky eater, Shantel on the other hand will disagree with me, she claims it is hard to cook for me because I like a lot of flavor and spice to my food and I’m not a big fan of eating the same thing regularly, unless it is steak, of course. Put that way she is probably right, I do prefer my food with a lot of flavor, spice, and variety.

With all of that said I haven’t seen an American Dining Facility since the early part of May and have been living off Iraqi food, both from the Officer’s kitchen and the Soldier’s kitchen, MRE’s and the British equivalent, Halal meals (meals originally designed to meet the religious requirements of Iraqi soldiers and people) and something we call UGR meals, I’m tired of them all and would give just about anything to eat in the mess hall at Ramadi, which I was beginning to think was one of the crappier ones in Iraq.

I believe it was Napoleon who once said that an Army marches on its stomach. That is as true in the early 21st century as it was in the early 19th century. What is in the following posts is a description of what I and the rest of the team eat, along with pictures. One picture I failed to get was of the massive amounts of food and drink supplies that we do have available. I believe that only the American Army would make sure that an isolated 25 man team would be this well supplied with food. Even if I complain somewhat about some of the meals, make no mistake this stuff is ten times better than the c-rations that were the American Soldiers primary source of field chow from World War II until the advent of the MRE and are even better than those earlier versions of the MRE that I ate when I first came in the Army, some 14 years ago.


MREs are sometimes called Meals Rejected by Ethopian by soldiers, OK that is not very politically correct but you could see how someone might think a a starving African wouldn’t want to eat it if that is all you had to eat for two weeks straight. Some of you have had them on a limited basis and like them, I do too, just in limited quantities and not on a regular basis. Most MREs come with a main entrée; Meatloaf with Gravy, Jambalya, Chicken Fajita, Beef Stew, among others (there are 24 or 30 different variety’s I can’t remember exactly) then there are the sides, and each entrée comes with different sides, there is wheat snack bread, crackers (they are kind of like saltines on steroids), peanut butter, jam (strawberry and apple varieties) cheese (regular, bacon and jalapeño varieties) applesauce (raspberry and regular) raisins, cranberries, pretzels, pound cake (carrot, spice, lemon, poppyseed) you don’t always get all of the listed sides, it is kind of mix and match, some entrees come with some while others even more different ones. Each entrée though always comes with the same sides so sometimes it is as much about the sides you get in a meal as it is the entrée itself. I’m a big fan of the cheese. The jam always seems to come with the crackers and not the snack bread and is good but it tends drip through the holes in the cracker and get your hands all sticky. Also included are matches, toilet paper, wet nap, gum, Tabasco sauce or crushed red pepper, or some other type seasoning and finally a water activated entrée heater. The above pictures kind of show the evolution of the MRE from bag to finished meal, ready to eat, contents of the bag in this case a Meatloaf and Gravy entrée and mashed potatoes with mint chocolate chip cookies for desert.

For this posting I’ve arranged all of the contents of the MRE on a cardboard tray and warmed it in a microwave this makes the meal look fairly appetizing. You can do that when you are in a static position, but this not what the MRE is designed for. It is designed for eating on the go. When on the go you stop just long enough to put the entrée in the water activated heater put them both back into the cardboard box the entrée came in and wait for it to heat up. While waiting you will munch on the sides that come with it and then you will remove the entrée from the heater slit the pouch open and then eat the entrée right out of the pouch.


The big brother to the MRE is the UGR-E it is a meal designed to feed 18 soldiers and includes a main entrée, vegetable dish, and desert as well candy, instant coffee, and wet naps, everything you need comes in the one box.
You take out all of the sides and utensils out of the box and then place the heater pads in the trays with the food. Once the heater pads are in place then you pull the tab on the edge of the tray and a water solution is released onto the heater pads which causes a chemical reaction that produces heat and heats up the meals.

After about thirty minutes the meals are hot enough to eat. Supposedly there are 13 or 14 dinner varieties and 6 or 7 breakfast varieties. We have only seen Chicken Breasts, Pork Ribs in BBQ Sauce, Beef Burgundy, Spaghetti, Pasta with Sausage, and Szechuan Chicken. Sides include mashed potatoes with gravy, jalapeno cornbread, glazed carrots, mexi-corn, green beans, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate cake, and a type of pound cake, M&Ms, Shock-a-Lots (chocolate covered coffee beans), Twizzler nibs and Reese’s Pieces. This is what a heated up meal looks like on Chinese/Italian Night (szechuan chicken and spaghetti and meatballs).
British MRE

We have managed to get in good with some of the British supply sergeants both at Shiaba and COP Basrah and they have provided us with some cases of their MRE equivalent rations. There are two types a 24 hour ration that, as you guessed it, is designed to provide a soldier with his meals for a 24 hour period, breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as what they call a hot weather supplement. The above picture is a box of 24 hour rations. Notice the zeroing target on the side of the box, we don’t do that with our MREs our boxes just have a postcard on the side. I’m not sure who has the better idea.

This box included sausage and beans (beanie weenies), brown biscuits (hard crackers), fruit biscuits (crackers with fruit bits baked in them) chicken and mushroom soup base, chicken and mushroom paste (you combine the soup base and the paste to make a more filling soup), pork casserole (more like a stew than a casserole) and syrup pudding ( a block of breading of some sort soaked in maple syrup). Also included are the standard sundry items much like the MRE, matches, toilet paper, white tea (it’s not actually white), hot chocolate flavored drink mix, fruit flavored drink mix, fruit flavored hard candy, a Nestle chocolate bar they call a “Yorkie” (it’s always melted and ends up getting thrown away) and a sport drink much like Gatorade. Being a “Silly Yank” I have no idea what is supposed to be for breakfast, lunch or dinner, but I like to eat the soup and paste mix together with a couple of brown biscuits soaked in them and then the pork casserole with the syrup pudding. This meal tastes pretty good but I’m a not sure if I like the syrup pudding, just a little too sweet for me after a while. Other main entrees/meals include steak and vegetables, beef stew and dumplings, chicken mushrooms and pasta, corned beef hash, lamb and potatoes, vegetable tikka masala, rice pudding, fruit dumplings and tomato beef broth with chili beef paste. The only other one of those that I have had are the steak and vegetables, tomato beef broth with chili beef paste and the fruit dumplings. They were all pretty good except for the fruit dumplings which I didn’t warm up, I think that they might be better nuked.
This is what the pork casserole, syrup pudding, and chicken mushroom soup with chicken mushroom paste looks like heated up and ready to eat. Notice the field expedient soup bowl, a water bottle cut in half with the top half stuffed into the bottom, makes a pretty good insulator for soup or coffee. I had to heat this in the microwave since it doesn’t come with a water activated heater like an MRE does. I don’t know if the Brits issue a heater separately or if their tracked vehicles have a hot water heater that allows them to warm up the meals, some of our tracked vehicles have a heater like this for MREs .

This is the hot weather supplement. Supposedly it is supposed to last longer in the desert, most of the stuff doesn’t melt and takes little preparation. The package contains three flavored citrus drink packets; a savory snack, in this case Mini Cheddar Biscuits (much like Cheez-Its); an energy bar ,kind of like a peanut candy bar; a meal pouch, pasta with mushrooms in tomato sauce; a sweet snack that the Brits call a flapjack but is more like an oatmeal bar with a sugary taste; and a fruit snack pouch, which is a cherry applesauce in a squeeze tube.
After eating on the British rations for a few days I’ve come to the conclusion that even though I like them better than the MREs that is probably because they are new to me. I bet the British soldiers feel the same way about their rations that American soldiers do “Man, not the pasta and mushrooms in tomato sauce, again!”

Here is the field expedient BBQ grill that we constructed. American Soldiers can come up with anything if they put their mind to it. Our G3 advisor got some whole chickens, and a beef brisket for Memorial Day and he preceded to do a feast for the team and the Iraqi staff. Unfortunately for him he underestimated how long it would take to cook the 20 some pounds of brisket and dinner was finally served around 11pm on Memorial Day. We have since put it use a couple of other times with some food that we acquired once again from our friends the British supply sergeants (it’s amazing what a few flashlights, automatic open knives, sunglasses, and some other things will acquire you)

This is our team NCOIC cutting strip steaks from a whole strip loin of meat. This is also what steaks for 21-25 Soldiers and Marines look like on the grill. We had an excellent BBQ this night with strip steaks, burgers and baked potatoes. The Iraqis find it amusing when we tell them that in the States it is mainly the man who does this kind of cooking. In Iraq the women does ALL of the cooking unless it is done in a restaurant and then men do the cooking.
When it comes to BBQing in Iraq I’m forced to yield the majority of the grilling duties to the Team NCOIC who is pretty protective of his grilling domain. Although I have suitably impressed him with my ability to cook flesh over an open flame for him to allow me to start the fire and occasionally do the chicken.

I’m hoping that as Macen learns to eat on his own, that he doesn’t take after his father when it comes to the eating department. Yes, that’s a chunk of chicken on my knife and I am eating it straight from the knife, and that is a cigar in my hand as well (the Army won’t let me drink beer in Iraq, even if that is a staple of BBQing, and I’ve got to have one vice over here right?). The team medic had to be called in shortly after this picture was taken to administer stitches as I bit down on the knife instead of the chicken. Just joking!
Halal Meals
Halal meals are meals that have been developed as Humanitarian Assistance meals and as meals for the Iraqi Soldiers when they don’t have the opportunity to set up their kitchen and buy food on the local economy, basically an Iraq MRE provided by the US government. Since the Iraqi Soldiers don’t particularly like them we have a stockpile left over from the move to Basrah and the time before we established steady state operations. Rather than let them go to waste we eat on them occasionally. There are two different types one that comes in a self contained box with everything in it and another that has a boxed main entrée and a supplemental bag that goes with it. Below is a picture of the boxed meal.

The box meal contains a canned main entrée, roasted peanuts, dried banana chips, breakfast cereal (frosted flakes, coco puffs, rice crispies), sunflower seeds, pretzels and the regular MRE style sundry items. Since they are designed for the Middle East there are lots of mutton and chicken varieties, some favorites include the chicken curry and the mutton stew with potatoes. The one pictured above is a a chicken chili and it really wasn’t that good too many beans and not my idea of chicken chili at all.

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