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When you grow up in a small rural town in the Finger Lakes area of New York State as I did, you can hold on to some strange misconceptions because you don’t know any better. When I started moving around the US and the UK as a military wife I learned that dirt isn’t the same wherever you go. In some places, it isn’t even the same color. And the plants that thrived near my childhood home wouldn’t necessarily survive in another location. The same holds for birds. I learned about different backyard songbirds each time I moved. I enjoyed getting acquainted with them and knowing their proper names.

From lack of experience, I also thought food was the same wherever one might travel. If I hadn’t left my home area I wouldn’t have been introduced to Huevos Rancheros, Greek gyros, or jerked chicken served with plantains. I would never have had steak au poivre in a French restaurant in London or enjoyed the beignets that New Orleans is famous for. I wouldn’t have been able to go to a port and buy fresh-caught shrimp from a deep-sea fisherman. I wouldn’t have learned there are many ways to make baked beans other than the way my mother did. Nor would I have been introduced to Yorkshire pudding which is not a dish of cold creamy mousse but what I know as a popover. While living in England familiar foods were called by different names, for example, French fries are chips, and what I call stew is goulash. I like my food, it wasn’t a problem, just another interesting experience.

I was a dependent, a support to my husband, comfortable at home with our little ones. I never had to serve in a war zone or “in the field” where active-duty military members were fed K-rations, or C-rations depending on the time period of service. Stories from veterans about what those rations looked and tasted like can be high spirited with expletives thrown in. I have heard one man say, “They included that tiny bottle of Tabasco sauce and I used it to make whatever I was looking at palatable.” In the reverse, I have heard high praise for the canned cherry cobbler.

The MREs that are in use currently have a better reputation than the rations did according to the people who I know that have eaten them. I include a complete list of what is in the package because I have always wondered how toilet paper gets supplied. (IF you eat, you must go!) It doesn’t sound like a bad meal to me, but I’m not too fussy when it comes to food choices.

QUICK NUTRITION FOR SOLDIERS ON THE GO

GoArmy.com article on MREs

MREs are the main operational food ration for the United States Armed Forces. It originated from the c-rations and k-rations from World War II, and later developed into MCI (Meal, Combat, Individual) rations used in Korea and Vietnam. In 1980 the MRE was developed and is still the U.S. Army’s primary ration.

Generally, an MRE contains the following items:

  • Entree – the main course, such as spaghetti or beef stew
  • Side dish – rice, corn, fruit, or mashed potatoes, etc.
  • Cracker or bread
  • Spread – peanut butter, jelly, or cheese spread
  • Dessert – cookies or pound cakes
  • Candy – M&Ms, Skittles, or Tootsie Rolls
  • Beverages – Gatorade-like mixes, cocoa, dairy shakes, coffee, tea
  • Hot sauce or seasoning – in some MREs
  • Flameless Ration Heater – to heat the entree
  • Accessories – spoon, matches, creamer, sugar, salt, chewing gum, toilet paper, etc.

Each MRE provides an average of 1,250 calories (13 percent protein, 36 percent fat, and 51 percent carbohydrates) and one-third of the Military Recommended Daily Allowance of vitamins and minerals. A full day’s worth of meals would consist of three MREs. 

In my Veterans writing group we have discussed food on more than one occasion. Some of the prompts were: tell about a dish you ate in a foreign country, a memorable or holiday meal you had while serving, a unique way of cooking something you were familiar with, or an entree you learned to like though you didn’t expect to. Both of the WWII vets wrote about fresh-made German sausage. While sharing their stories they discovered they had been in the same sausage shop in Europe a few months apart. The owner stood back and watched on both occasions as the Americans took/stole his inventory. The rest of the story is that the shop owner moved to Buffalo, NY, after the war and my friends found out so went to visit him and apologize for their wartime actions. “We were just hungry. We meant him no ill will,” Kurt told us before going to meet the man for the second time. On their return, Bob explained, “We shook hands and passed around the forgiveness.”

When talking with a Korean War vet about his travels, he mentioned kimchi, made the traditional way, in an inground pit. He said the first time he had it he was skeptical, but by the time he returned to the states from Korea he craved it and still does 60 years later. If you don’t know, it is fermented Napa cabbage and radish with a lot of garlic and plenty of spice. I have to be honest, I have never tried it because of the smell. Maybe I’m missing something.

While living in England, we did our major grocery shopping at the base commissary. It was stocked with familiar name brands and the prices were set for the benefit of the American serving overseas. This was during the mid-1970s so fast-food chains like McDonald’s had not yet opened there. The two items we couldn’t wait to get back to the states to ingest were hot dogs and Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Silly I know, but some flavors can’t be replaced or reproduced in my kitchen. Now I would love to be able to go to an English Chippy for some deep-fried, battered Rockfish and malt vinegar covered chips wrapped together in butcher paper.

Are there any types of food have you been introduced to while traveling and wish you could have again? Use the comments section to share where you’ve been and what type of food played a part in making your memories.

Sue Spitulnik was an Air Force wife who stays connected to the military/veteran community through her membership in the Rochester (NY) Veterans Writing Group. The group has recently published an anthology of some of their military experiences, United in Service, United in Sacrifice, available on Amazon. If you would like to contact her directly you can do so at her blog, susansleggs.com


66 Comments

  1. tnkerr says:

    Geschnetzeltes mit Rösti – Switzerland, I can make it,but not very well.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Ann Edall-Robson says:

    Sue, this is a wonderful insight into food that I had never considered or thought about. Although one of our favourite places to eat is only a few hours away from our home, it has been several years since we have enjoyed the English Fish and Chips followed by the Sticky Pudding. The pub located inside of the Georgetown Inn, Canmore, AB serves both. With any luck, we might be able to take a road trip this year to look after the craving.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Norah says:

      English fish and chips – they’re rarely the same here in Australia. While not English, the best I had was in Port Rush, Northern Ireland. We ate hunched over on seats by the shore, trying to eat before it cooled, while avoiding eating our hair at the same time. 🙂

      Liked by 4 people

      • SueSpitulnik says:

        Norah, I enjoyed steamed fresh lobster along with my hair on the coast of Maine while traveling with my hubby. The wind and hair can make eating an exercise.

        Liked by 4 people

      • Norah says:

        Yes, hair can be a challenge – but worth it for fresh lobster!

        Liked by 1 person

      • ellenbest24 says:

        The beauty of Fish and chips lays in the level of hunger. After a climb up golden cap on Dorset’s crumbling coastline, the wind threatening to throw us crashing to the sea at any given moment … you know you have earnt your Fish and chips. Those were the best tasting ones ever. This occasion, possibly, because our intrepid skills were still needed. We had to wave away, run from and shout at a flock of greedy seagulls, (well, two) while attempting to eat. Hair, never tasted so good.

        Liked by 3 people

      • Norah says:

        Great story, Ellen. I can just imagine how hungry you were and how annoying those seagulls would be wanting to share.

        Liked by 1 person

    • SueSpitulnik says:

      Hubby and I go out for a fish fry most every Friday night but it’s always haddock and so often the FF are not hot because they make too many at once and hold them under heat lamps. The Chippy cooked per order and you could travel home and still have HOT food.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Ann, your pub sounds great! And Norah and Sue, eating fish and chips with the wind in your hair is a rite of passage! And wouldn’t you know, something hubby and I are missing terribly right now thanks to national lockdown and not being able to get to the sea. We went without fish and chips for months in the first lockdown. And of course no pubs open for months so missing our Sunday roasts and yes, sticky toffee pudding with custard. Can make our own…but still. When we finally were able to get back to takeaway f&c we couldn’t wait. So, yes, every Friday night, there we are, at the chippy 🙂 Our one pleasure when so much else has gone…for now… And just to add, I have a dream of eating Lobster by the sea in Maine…someday 🙂

      Liked by 4 people

      • SueSpitulnik says:

        The fun part of our lobster happened when two small children, maybe 5 and 7, wandered over to our table to instruct us how to open the shells. Their parents scolded them for bothering us and we asked if they could stay. They had better tactics than we did.
        We all hope these lockdowns end very soon!

        Liked by 2 people

      • That’s great! Oh to be well versed in lobster cracking so young 🙂 Yes, here’s to that!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. ellenbest24 says:

    Scotts porridge oats cooked in a porringer and stirred with a beech wood spurtle with a thistle head top made of Antler. The rough oats soaked in 60%water 40% milk and salt before cooking cream added on the top after with a teaspoon of sugar. The men had a last minute scotch stirred through with the spurtle; to keep them warm in the highlands. Lunch of thick golden vegetable soup with hunks of milk or soda bread. Crumbly tablet, wrapped in grease-proof paper to give energy ( loved by every child) and consumed by those extreme survivalists today.
    Haggis and neeps a required taste that was/is made with left over innards and offal, herbed and spiced to make it palatable cooked in a bag made from an animals stomach. We have travelled most of the world but Scotland’s fare hung about for opposite reasons. Every day I eat porridge and love my spurtle, I can still see Grandma stirring in my minds eye. Spurtle in hand, best you watch your tongue unless you want it pinged on your knuckles. Tablet is and always will be the sweetest of sweatmeats ever to dissolve in my mouth. The rest … to this day, churns my stomach at the thought. All were necessary to deliver enough calories to sustain those living and working the Highlands.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Norah says:

      Wow, I’ve learned at least one new word (spurtle) and many other concepts. I had to read a couple of times to fit it into my existing knowledge. Thank you for the extension. 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

    • Jules says:

      Thanks, Ellen,
      I had to look up Spurtle also:
      ‘Old Scots spurtell is recorded from 1528. There was a Northern English dialect word spartle, for stirrer. The modern West Germanic and North Germanic languages, as well as Middle English, also have spurtle cognates which refer to a flat-bladed tool or utensil – so more akin to the couthie spurtle’

      I might have one and didn’t even know it!

      Liked by 2 people

    • magpie477 says:

      Ellen, is there any truth to the rumor that one must stir them (the porridge) clockwise?: I like the idea of adding whiskey…have made Crannachan but never added it to plain porridge!

      Liked by 1 person

      • ellenbest24 says:

        Hi but it is only a passed-down tale from Grandma’s knee. Always stir clockwise in your right hand so as not to invoke the devil. The salt stops lumps forming the spurtle moves the thickening mixture from the sides of the porringer (bain marie) point side down. The flat ended one was for turning the oatcakes and was called a couthie. Cranachan as you know it, is otherwise known as cream-crowdie. The oats are toasted then soaked in whiskey over night before mixing with whipped cream honey and raspberries, a Scottish Eton Mess.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Norah says:

    I enjoyed your food stories. So many meals I’ve never encountered. (I’ve lived a sheltered life.) My Chinese friend makes delicious authentic Chinese meals, though he now experiments with other Asian cuisines as well. I’m looking forward to the meal he will prepare on Friday night in celebration of Chinese New Year. Thai is probably my favourite Asian style of cooking when eating out.
    A very memorable meal was my first in Paris – prawns in saffron rice. I’d love to have it again but I’ve never seen anything similar anywhere.
    I was interested to read the contents of the MRE, particularly the entree. For us, an entree is a small dish like an appetiser, before the main dish. It seems like the MRE entree is the protein base for the meal.
    I was also interested in the flameless ration heater and wondered what it was and how it worked.
    There’s so much to learn and know. It’s interesting how different cuisines are around the world.

    Liked by 4 people

    • SueSpitulnik says:

      Yes, Norah, in the states the entree is the main course. I didn’t think about it before, but below is a link to a 3-minute video on how the MRE heater pack works. Thanks for the idea.

      I would enjoy sharing your meal Friday night. Chinese restaurants in the states have Americanized their menus.

      Liked by 3 people

      • My “American” family and I miss American Chinese food so much, Sue! Just not the same in England in plastic takeaway containers. And where are the fortune cookies? Funny, we were just lamenting all this very recently on our family call (due to lockdown).

        Liked by 2 people

      • Norah says:

        Thanks for sharing the video, Sue. It’s really interesting. But it raised even more questions for me so I consulted Wikipedia and found an explanation of the chemical process used. Fascinating. Thank you for extending my knowledge.
        The same has happened to many Chinese restaurants here, but some, especially where there is a large Chinese population, seem to cook authentic meals. I love the way the meals are usually share dishes so I can try a bit of each one.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Prawns in saffron rice sounds divine, Norah! And what could be better…in Paris!

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Jules says:

    Thanks Sue,

    I wasn’t a big adventurous eater when I was a child. I’ve gotten better though. You are correct that quite a bit of foreign food has been Americanized. Hubby was over in China for several weeks and knew that there was snake and cat on the menu… hmm… there could be snake on some mid-western menus too! I can only wonder how many out of country folks have eaten squirrel or opossum (I haven’t had either).

    I think the most exotic food I’ve eaten is goat. It was for a celebration meal for some folks who came here (for freedom) from another country… possibly Myanmar.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Oh Jules, no way could I ever eat snake…and as a cat lover, well, the less said… then again, not sure about squirrel or opossum either. No…definitely not!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Jules says:

        Back in the younger days of the States… and well who ever was living anywhere – they ate what protein was available. Buffalo is actually on the menu of some specialty restaurants. It has since closed up but I think one such place also served Elk and Emu!

        Liked by 3 people

      • I did once see Buffalo on the menu here, Jules, believe it or not, though as with there, a speciality. I’ve not tried it. The biggest surprise I got in recent years is seeing kangaroo meat in a freezer of one of our chain supermarkets…. I wouldn’t even know where to start!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. -Eugenia says:

    What a interesting and knowledgeable post! I’ve have a few exotic foods in my life – ostrich, alligator tail, quail and frog legs – all while living in the US. While in London, I had fish and chips and loved it.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Sue, I could talk all day to you about this! It is so true about the differences, even down to the dirt! Love the German sausage story. I can attest to the lack of American fast food places in England in the 70s. I still remember having goggle eyes when my American GI boyfriend took me to the commissary on base (USAF Woodbridge) back then…just wow! As for fish and chips, I have to say, there was no place I found in my 20 years in California that did them like we do. Not forgetting big fat pickled onions too. Anymore than we can get the great Mexican food here that we got over there! When I finally found a British tea shop about 30 minutes from home over, I couldn’t believe it. Yorkshire tea and Marmite! But mostly I relied on my mum to bring it over when she visited. As for Tabasco, my grown American children have it with everything 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • SueSpitulnik says:

      In my locale of New York state and in some close-by states we have a public grocery store called Wegman’s. It is becoming world-famous because it employes many people and carries foods from all over the world. One of my hubby’s and my first date was to go to Wegman’s. He took me through the Jewish section and I took him through the British section. We had clotted cream and jam on scones for our snack that evening. Ad I still get Walker’s Butter Biscuits for special company. Thanks for stirring up my memories.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Wegman’s sounds wonderful, Sue. What a great first date! On the flip side, when we first moved to California, my then in-laws took us to Canters, the famous Jewish deli in LA. My mother-in-law raved about it and I could see why. It was the first time I had ever had pastrami and sauerkraut (forgive bad spelling…!) on rye. The bread! The choices! Which reminds me, all the different ways for eggs. I had never heard “over-easy” or “sunny-side up” 🙂 I hope we get Wegman’s here. Likewise for the memories…

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Sue, when I was in England, stationed at RAF Lakenheath, we used the commissary, as well. I’ll never forget how good the British fish and chips were! My hubby spent most of his time in Southeast Asia. He hates Thai food, while I adore it. I think I missed out on not getting stationed in the “Orient” as we used to call it. We’ve lived all over the world and lived from one side of the U. S. to the other. I’ll never forget Rocky Mountain Oysters in Montana. Food triggers so many memories. Great piece! ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    • SueSpitulnik says:

      I’ve never been in the right place at the right time to try Rocky Mountain Oysters. Maybe one day.
      I have been to Montana a couple of times and Flathead Lake and Kalispell are locations I used in my drawer novel. That’s a place I’d like to vacation.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Colleen, I didn’t know you were stationed in England at RAF Lakenheath! Know it well, I grew up in Suffolk from age 10. My memoir is centered on my three years relationship with my American GI boyfriend/husband Jon.A tragic love story you could call it. He was stationed from California and had only been in the UK for 3 weeks when we met. I’m embroiled in edits, hence my online absence, but I had to chime in as I literally just edited a part about the first time he took me to a real life American diner on base (USAF Woodbridge). It was the late 70s, I had never tasted a real American burger before, believe it or not! I didn’t know how to eat it as we ate everytihng with a knife and fork! But oh, when I did (with my hands, a right mess lol) oh boy, I was sold! Life was very different then in the UK. A lot more American style fast food places now. So fish and chips (and Chinese) was about it. Jon loved them too 🙂 Good to know from the comments here that despite the terrible reputation British food had back then (and I hope it’s improved!) we had one stalwart that proved popular with our American friends 😉

      Liked by 2 people

      • SueSpitulnik says:

        My vison, the one Charli is always telling us to have, is Colleen, Sherri and myself at at CR retreat together. Charli might not get in a word edgewise with us reminisincing about life around Lakenheath. LOL

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh Sue, you have no idea how much I would love that LOL!! Just hanging out here with you all chatting like this has given me such a boost. And look, you’ve already got the name: Life Around Lakenheath…love it! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sherri, I loved England. It was 1980 when I arrived. I even had a daughter born in England in 1981. From what I can tell she is still considered a British citizen!! I was so young. England imprinted on me. I was raised to only eat with a knife and fork, so I had to learn to pick up food with my hands as well! I fit in well, in England. I still drink tea. LOL! Like me, some of those long ago memories aren’t the best with our ex’s. Good luck on your edits. Huge hugs to you! ❤️

        Liked by 2 people

      • Wow, I had no idea, Colleen! As I once commented on another of Sue’s posts, our paths might well have crossed and we never knew it! I met my GI in 1978 and moved to California with him in 1980, but returned in 1981. I remarried and stayed in the UK, having no idea that I would return to CA in 1986 and stay there almost 20 years and raise my family there! A mix of memories, for sure. Your daughter would still be a British citizen! She shares dual citizinship with my three! I wish we could we all meet up at the Ranch for tea and scones lol!! Great chatting with you, Colleen. Thanks so much, and same with your projects and great big hugs back to you! ❤

        Liked by 2 people

      • SueSpitulnik says:

        My daughter was born in the Lakenheath hospital, UK. We were told that by getting her US passport to come back to the states that was her declartion of claiming only US citizenship. We were advised that was the right thing to do because if she retained both and one country or another started a mandatory draft or military service she could be called to duty.
        These conversations do give me a boost too.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, good point. I remember having that conversation about mandatory draft etc. at the time. I do remember being told that if they had US citizenship, only that would be recognised by the US. It was always a risk. Because in our situation, American father and British mother, it was a bit more complicated. My two younger children were US citizens only until I found out I could claim British citizenship for them. This was because I was still a British citizen when they were born in the US. I hadn’t realised that until I needed to claim it for them (due to my marriage breakdown and returning to the UK). At least by having access to British citizinship they could live here no problem with immigration etc. But when they have travelled to the US in the past, they always go on their US passports, carrying their British ones so they come back in on those. We ran into some trouble some years back when the rules changed, but that’s another story – for our retreat LOL! I shudder at all the immigration dealings I’ve had over the years. I was always a Resident Alien in the US. I could do everything except vote or jury service. After living there so long, I found that frustrating. I knew way more about US politics than British at that point! But I was worried about giving up my British citizenship for American…and in my case, that turned out a smart move. And wouldn’t you know it, the only time I’ve ever been summoned to do jury service is in the US – several times! But I never could. Now I could, but I’ve never been called up. Typical! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Wow, that is amazing! My hubby (we’ll be married 36 years in April 😍) is from California and we were stationed at Edwards AFB, for 8 years. Yes, I would love to meet at Carrot Ranch! We should zoom talk one day. Stay safe, huge hugs, Sherri. ❤️

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ha…wow, what a small world. 36 years, congratulations, Colleen! My GI was from LA. He posted all Californian bases on his “dream sheet” when he signed up back in 1978 and got posted to USAF Woodbridge in England. He was 18! Go figure! Thanks, Colleen, and yes, we’ll have to work something out when it suits all our time zones lol. Same to you, stay safe ❤

        Liked by 2 people

  9. Yum. Food. But I keep staying put in my food memories, thinking on the fresh veggies and meat, wild game and fish and foraged nuts and berries that I grew up with. When Hub and I were in NZ I was struck by how the supermarkets carried same brands of many items but in all cases the product there was more robust; less bleached, less strained, more whole and wholesome. Catsup/ketchup was not ubiquitous and if it was there it was often a unique homemade concoction nothing like the bottles of red goo here. A hamburger was worth ordering often just to see all the variations on a theme, though each we tried tasted of mutton as much as anything. But hey, there’s no ham in a hamburger either so why should I have expected beef.Speaking of mutton, the Hub almost cleaned the country out of meatpies (pasties?) as I recall.

    Liked by 2 people

    • SueSpitulnik says:

      I do agree the US has the market on over-processed food. I much prefer the freshest I can get.
      My father served in WWII and one of his complaints was being fed mutton. He thought lamb to be wonderful, but an adult sheep (mutton) he thought was of poor flavor and chewier. I’m not sure I could tell the difference.
      I avoided the meat pies in England because they often had kidney in them, but we like to go to the local Jamaican restaurant to get their spicy meat pies. I don’t think I’ll ask what kind of meat is in them.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. magpie477 says:

    Apologies to friends in the UK, but I never could get used to baked beans and stewed tomatoes for breakfast! Often made do with tea and toast. One of my best memories is of sitting on the medieval wall of York, eating takeout chicken vindaloo and watching the sunset. And in Kirkwall, Orkney, there was a hotel that had the best pasta dish with mussels in a cream sauce. And the beer…ah, the beer!

    Liked by 2 people

    • SueSpitulnik says:

      When my ex got orders for England, in 1974, he complained that people drank their beer warm in the UK. Once we arrived he found out the kegs were usually kept in cellars and they weren’t refrigerator cold, but they certainly weren’t room temperature either. He consumed a lot of pints in three years.
      The meals you mention sound wonderful.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sue, that’s funny about the beer. In the late 70s when disco was all the rage, my friends and I spent every Saturday night at The Running Buck in Ipswich. A lot of American servicemen went there since it was the only place in town that offered nightlife after the pubs closed. We could always tell the new guys at the bar because they asked for “beer” when what they expected was “lager”. So they got real ale, just as you describe, not refrigerated. Took some getting used to but the ones we knew all loved it. As you say, a lot of pints consumed. As for me, I prefer ice cold “lager” 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • SueSpitulnik says:

        I’ve never been much of a beer drinker ut had my share of vodka with lime juice. We used to drive to Norwich to a club to dance, but I don’t remember the name. We would arrive in the daylight and leave in the daylight next morning. I wouldn’t mind having that kind of energy again!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I know what you mean, oh for that energy now! I never went to a club in Norwich but when I was school-age, we did go there from time to time with my family for day’s out. We took our annual holidays on the Norfolk Broads…and that’s a whole other set of memories! Love chatting with you, thanks again, Sue, for another great post. I have some catching up to do at the Ranch!

        Liked by 1 person

    • No apologies necessary, and I get it! No doubt about it, our breakfasts are different. I had an obsession about American pancakes with maple syrup growing up. I got my fix when I lived there. But then I missed our English ones, what you would call crepes, which we have with lemon juice and sugar. I was so excited the day I discovered I could get them at an IHOP. I think they were described as German? So I had the best of both worlds it seemed 🙂 Your food memories sound wonderful!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Ted Mottola says:

    Great take on food abroad and loved the focus on the MRE. Every war movie has a little scene of soldiers eating them Nd it make it all (too) real.

    Like

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