Thursday, November 13, 2014

Be Rational

Remembrance day was just a few days ago, in Canada this day is about remembering all of the Canadians that gave their lives, and their time to keep Canada awesome.  Recently I had the oportunity to sample a small part of the life of someone serving abroad.  I was given a Canadian military ration pack to try out.  For those that don't know what a ration pack is, it is a bag of food that should be able to give the average soldier substanance for one day.  Historically ration packs have been given a bad rap, it's been said that the basic food is just enough to keep someone alive, but nothing to keep them happy.  However, with the advancement in food science and packaging, ration packs have become fairly sofisticated, and now offer some pretty fancy meals to soldiers that may have nothing but a fire (or sometimes not even that) to heat up their meals.
The pack I received is for a soldier that notionally has some way of boiling water.  The pack contained a pretty wide range of foods, from a small Werthers candy to suck on, to a bag/box of something that claims to be sweet and sour pork.  It also comes with various powedered fruit drinks, coffee, tea, and a bag of Oreos.  I pretty much munched down the Werthers and Oreos imediately after opening the package.  They were exactly what you might expect, mini Oreos and a nice smooth butterscotch candy to suck on.  I'll probably never drink the coffee, and the tea and powedered drink were un-eventful.
The real highlight of this meal is the sweet and sour pork, or at least that's what was written in huge letter on the box that all of this comes in.  To prepare the pork you have to boil it in water for about 10 minutes.  I can assure you that this has nothing to do with "cooking" anything, and it's more about warming it up.  The side dish of rice involves taking some boiling water and pouring it into an envelope, sealing it closed, then letting it sit for 10 minutes.  I assume that the bags you cook these dishes in are also designed to be eaten out of, but since I was at home, and since I wanted to photograph them, I decided it might be better to serve everything on a plate.
It's not the most appealing looking plate of food, but it smelled pretty good.  My assumption throughout the whole process of making this food was that the pork would be disgusting and the rice would be tolerable.  I was wrong.  The pork, while not being the best asian meal I've ever eaten, wasn't that bad.  The meat was pretty tough, but what can I expect from something that can sit in a bag for months.  The sauce was actually pretty tasty, and I the chunks of fruit and vegetables throughout the sauce was a really nice surprise.  The rice on the other hand was horible.  I can't say that I've ever tasted rice that was actually inedible, until today.  It wasn't just the texture, but the "butter" flavour just ruined everything.  I think the rice would have worked out so much better if it was just plain rice.
For dessert I was offered pears in a syrup.  For some reason I imagined some kind of poached pear served with a caramel like syrup.  I really thought it would have been something fancy, but it wasn't.  What I got was a bowl of pears that looked identical to the types of pears one might find out of a can at the grocery store.  It wasn't bad, but it could have been better.  I think a little spice, or some kind of caramelized flavour could take these typical pears and made them something special.  I'm not saying I wouldn't be grateful for these if I was stuck out in a jungle with nothing else, but why aren't the people that serve our country entitled to something with a bit of extra flavour.
The next day I decided to treat myself to the "lunch" portion of the ration pack.  Or at least that's what I assume this is supposed to be.  Frankly it didn't really have much explanation and the peanut butter, jam, and pita really didn't go with anything else in the pack.  I decided to make myself a peanut butter and jam pita lunch, and it was OK.  The delivery method was a little messy, but once I squished the pitas together my poor peanut butter and jam squirting skills went unnoticed.  The great thing about this sandwich is that it reminded me of being a kid.  When I was a kid I loved making pita sandwiches, I liked pita bread more than sliced bread.  This simple ration pack made me feel like I was a kid again, back home.  I sure hope that the folks that eat these packs overseas get the same feeling, because they deserve a little bit of home comfort.



mark said...

I have been a fan of MRE's since 1998 and was really excited to see your review. I often wonder how other countries MRE's would compare in actuality. There is a lot of good information on the past and presently available MRE's

Chris Stewart said...

What an interesting site. As luck would have it, after writing this article I've been offered more ration packs to write about. I'm thinking of writing a piece on alternative ways to heat up this packs out in the field, and also looking to see if I can make alternative (maybe better) meals using only the ingredients provided in the packs. Do you have any suggestions that might help me out?