Any readers who may be browsing at National Bookstore should head over to the cookbook section and check out an interesting title: Pulutan: From the Soldiers’ Kitchen, by Elmer Cruz and Emerson Rosales.
This little book is a compilation of recipes gathered from the Magdalo, mutineers, who were arrested after the Oakwood Mutiny in 2007 against the Arroyo government. An interesting project, given that the recipes were collected after they were detained… I guess they had plenty of time while in detention.
In any event, the book got me to thinking about food and the rations given to soldiers. In the course of my work, I have become acquainted with numerous officers in the AFP and PNP, and we have chatted about their time in the military over a number of occasions, cold pilsen in hand. Often, the conversation goes quickly to food (after the normal talk about girls and so on… Soldiers and sailors, remember?).
Now, I can only use my own US Army experience to compare. In the mid-’80s, I was in when MREs (Meals, Ready to Eat) first came out. These were our field rations, though we always got served hot meals (“Hot A’s”) while on base (The base food was always good… seriously. Despite the jokes, the cooks really did a great job). At the time, they were technological miracles: A fraction of the weight of the old, canned rations, and they could be eaten without heating. Problem was, those early meals, though pretty much immune to spoiling and quite convenient, didn’t taste all that good. (In those days, we had the dreaded chicken loaf! Untradeable if you were unlucky enough to receive that one. Meatballs were easy to trade, as were hotdogs & beans. As soon as they were issued, people started trading to get the meals they liked.) The contents were normally: An entree, in a foil pouch; a package of crackers; a package of cheese whiz, peanut butter, or jam; a candy bar, or “cake”; instant coffee, creamer, cocoa powder, and lemonade powder; a piece of gum, and a wet wipe. I remember that the creamer was great as brass polish (I saved it for inspections), we made “mocha frosting” for the cake by combining the coffee, cocoa, creamer, and a tiny bit of water, and the lemonade powder was a good fire starter (Yes, they fed us flammable food). Many civilians like to buy MREs at surplus stores for use in camping, as they are really convenient. Each meal contains enough calories for a full day. Loaded with salt, fat, and sugar: Not bad if you are in training and need energy… Not so good if you are just messing around all day. It is my understanding that the taste and quality of the MRE has vastly improved since those days, with many different choices. The military always tries to give soldiers decent food… As Napoleon once said, “An army marches on its’ stomach!”
So, what does the AFP issue to its’ soldiers? An MRE that is pretty similar to that in the US Army. Typically, they include: A small can of sardines (or tuna), instant noodles, Sky Flakes, Nescafe, a small packet of peanuts, ginger tea, and a biscuit (cookie). Occasionally, a chocolate bar, manufactured for the heat, is included. The AFP also has a canned rice meal that is generally not very popular with the soldiers (Longganisa and rice). Why? Because rice gets sticky and lumpy when canned, and Filipinos tend to like fluffy rice. How is a soldier going to cook rice in the field? Well, the Rice Institute is continually developing new ways to package rice for the armed forces. Not haute cuisine, by any measure, but enough to keep a soldier fed.
It is interesting to note that, after Desert Storm, Hershey and other American food manufacturers that provided ingredients for the US Army MREs, tested their hot weather rations in the Philippines, the logic being that if items like chocolate could withstand the Filipino climate, then the Middle East would not present a problem.
As to the Navy, when talking about food, the Navy is a whole different matter entirely. Men cooped up together on a ship need diversion, and food is the best way to ensure good morale. Most naval ships have well-equipped galleys, and the Philippine Navy is no exception. One admiral I know once told me that his favorite missions were out in the Spratleys. Why? The fishing was excellent, and their cook was top-notch: Fresh seafood every day. Current Filipino warships are always staffed with good cooks who can prepare both Filipino and some western dishes. As the Admiral told me, the Navy does not skimp on feeding its’ men. He always took a personal interest in what his men were eating.
A friend of mine works in the offshore industry. He once told me that his company seeks out retired Philippine Navy cooks, because the largely Filipino crews really appreciate the cooking skills developed within the Navy here. On his ship (Crew of 20), the cook makes three entrees for each meal, along with several starches, vegetables, desserts, and at least one soup. Skills learned in the Philippine Navy. Yes, even in the civilian world, companies recognize how important it is to keep their vessel and rig crews well-fed and happy.
So, back to my original statement about the book. Why would anyone be interested in what a soldier would cook in the field? Simple. They are highly adept at making something tasty from the ingredients at hand. Soldiers are trained to live off the land, under difficult circumstances. Remember that much of the Philippines is wild and remote: Deployed soldiers cannot exactly eat on base or run to Jollibee. So, they cook what they can find in order to suplement their issued rations. Why pulutan? It is simply, usually high in calories, and tastes pretty good.
So, when the book was written, the recipes needed to be tested. Most contained high amounts of chili, and needed to be toned down for the general public (Hey, chili can mask everything from gamey taste to spoilage). The book includes recipes for spareribs, woodworm, calamari, shrimps, and other ingredients one would commonly find out in the field.
An interesting read, should you wish to check it out!
John Miele is a Citizen of the World, having spent time in many locations around the globe. Currently, he finds himself in Manila, but travels throughout the Philippines. John joined the Live in the Philippines Web Magazine in mid-2008.