Military menus with an Oriental touch

We’ve discussed military ration packs before in these pages (and the trials and tribulations of civilians who overdose on them!).  Most of us have distinctly un-fond memories of older types of ration pack, although I’m told that more recent versions are less unpalatable.

There’s a new twist to the subject, though:  Far Eastern nations are introducing their own versions of MRE’s – and they sound quite tasty.  Strategy Page reports:

Japan has finally agreed to replace its canned combat rations with the plastic pouch (MRE, Meal Ready to Eat) system pioneered by the United States. Japan is the last holdout for canned combat rations in East Asia.

. . .

There were cultural and historical factors at play here as well. During World War II Japan, although still a poor country by Western standards, had the most modern armed forces in East Asia. Although defeated, Japan continued to honor the sacrifices of its veterans (and ignore the many war crimes they committed against non-Japanese). One of the most notable sacrifices was food. Especially for Japanese troops who served in the Pacific (most were in China) the eventual American dominance of the waters between Japanese held islands meant a lot of Japanese troops got very hungry. Actually over half a million died from starvation or malnutrition. The survivors returned home to a devastated economy and went hungry for another decade along with most other Japanese. But by the 1970s the economy began to take off and superior food became a national obsession. This was especially true in the new Japanese military where the government and the voters did all they could to see that soldiers and sailors had the best food possible. That played a large role in tolerating canned combat rations for so long.

Another factor was the enthusiastic acceptance of MRE type rations by the Chinese and South Koreans, who are also fanatical about their food and managed to make MREs as tasty as the canned stuff. Since the 1990s the Chinese military has dramatically improved the quality of food it supplies to its troops in the field (outside their bases). At the base there are kitchens and traditionally cooked food. For centuries Chinese (along with Japanese and Korean) troops in the field used rice balls and various forms of preserved (smoked or salted) meat plus whatever they could catch or take locally. By the 1970s China began developing field rations similar to those used in the West during World War II and what the Japanese had long used. This included compressed biscuits (a Western staple for centuries) preserved with sealed plastic (shrink wrap) and some canned items. After the 1970s Chinese food researchers paid more attention to essential ingredients (vitamins, minerals and the right kinds and quantities of calories) for active military personnel. Since the late 1990s Chinese military food developers also paid more attention to taste, having noted that some of their previous food items were so unpalatable that troops would avoid eating them. The Chinese also developed special rations for troops operating at high altitudes (Tibet) or for extreme situations where high radiation levels are present. Japanese tourists noted all this and when the Internet arrived after 2000 Japanese troops could follow Chinese military food developments as well. Both Japanese civilians and soldiers began buying Chinese MREs (which manufacturers made available to civilians because of great curiosity and MREs were useful for outdoor activities and travelers).

There’s more at the link.

I’ll be interested to see how Far Eastern nations handle the issue of sauces and flavorings.  US MRE’s typically offer salt, pepper, mustard, ketchup and Tabasco.  I wonder if Chinese equivalents will offer soy sauce, sweet-and-sour sauce and other typical offerings?  If so, I can see an awful lot of swapping going on during international deployments . . .



  1. I encountered South Korean Cs during my trip to SE Asia back in '69. Folks from the White Horse Division were operating in our vicinity and we did have some contact with them. One time I was given some of their Cs. I couldn't read the cans, of course, but after opening them I found what was inside was somewhat spicier than the GI version. Mostly I remember red cabbage as an ingredient.

  2. There's several channels with civilians trying combat rations from different military's around the world


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