Monday, 1 July 2019

Lithuanian MRE: Meal 10, Beef Stew with Vegetables

Let's have a look at another MRE, but this time a Lithuanian MRE, from Lithuania. Where is Lithuania? It's in Europe, tucked away in the bottom-right corner of the Baltic, with Latvia and Estonia sitting on top of it.

Technically Lithuanian MREs aren't MREs - they're Sausas Maisto Davinys, "dry food rations", but I'm going to call them MREs because I want to. There are ten separate menus and they're all meat stews. Lithuania does not have vegetarian MREs. I opted for variantas 10, beef stew with vegetables, or jautienos troškinys su daržovėmis.

As with all military rations, Lithuanian MREs aren't really practical as civilian food. They're too expensive to eat as a regular meal and too bulky for camping. Each MRE is a single meal with roughly 1,400 calories, but there's a lot of potential jetsam. If you ate lots of them you would quickly end up with superfluous fuel tablets and spoons. If you're preparing for the apocalypse, rice and dried meat keep longer. They are however fun novelties. Let's see what's in the packet.

My first impression was condoms. The interior of the packet smelled of condoms. Not the food, just the packaging. This meal has some SU-1 rusks, a packet of unsalted hazelnuts, a main meal in a plastic bag, plus an accessory packet with some honey, a bar of chocolate, an orange-flavoured drink, a packet of coffee, and some sugar. No milk, because Lithuanian army units take their livestock with them.

The internet is full of armchair generals who have batty theories about modern war. My theory is that farm animals are tragically underutilised on the front line. Obviously they're a ready supply of milk and eggs, but they can also be used to carry heavy loads, clear minefields, provide decoys for heat-seeking ground-attack missiles, and they also provide warmth and company. I will send a copy of this blog post to the Lithuanian foreign ministry, but you heard it here first.

If you read the ingredients often enough you too can learn basic Lithuanian. Druska is salt, vanduo is water, yes and no are taip and ne, beer is alaus, high-bypass jet turbine engine is aukštos aplinkkelio reaktyvinis variklis. Easy!

The MRE has two heaters. There's a US-style flameless ration heater activated with water, plus a hexy stove:

In this picture the Lithuanian spoon is shown next to a standard US MRE spoon. The US spoon is more substantial but in its favour the Lithuanian spoon has a sharper edge, so it cuts through food more easily.

And some matches, in a proper matchbox. I'll save the hexy stove for later. Why does the meal have two types of heater? I have no idea. My guess is that the Lithuanian armed forces have five million hexy stoves in a warehouse from the 1990s and by gum they're not going to waste them.

Let's heat up the main meal with the flameless ration heater. It's super effective! It immediately swelled up, releasing plumes of steam which are not captured in the following images, but they were there nonetheless:

The flameless ration heater's packaging has no less than three warnings that you shouldn't eat the heating element:

Lithuania reintroduced conscription in 2015, so perhaps the people who designed the FRHs were terrified that the first batch of conscripts would be malnourished knuckle-draggers from the Lithuanians sticks. Shoving an FRH down someone's throat strikes me as a fantastic method of torture - it would boil their stomach, perhaps causing permanent damage. You'd have to force it down with a broom handle and then clamp their mouth shut. They would thrash around in agony!

While the meal cooks, let's try the rusks and the honey:

I like to think that honey is evidence that God wanted us to be happy, but only if we braved swarms of bees and stole their food first. The rusks are made in Poland, and also appear in Polish rations. Steve1989 tried them out in a Polish ration back in 2016:

I learn that they're informally called "panzer crackers" because they're so tough. And they are! Even after dunking them in my coffee I still had to bite hard to break them into bits. They have a pleasant wheaty smell but a generally neutral, unsalted, unsugared taste. I'm not a honey connoisseur; the honey had a "fruity" taste, slightly acidic, and at first I wondered if it was actually marmalade. I think the rusks are included as general roughage and in the end I broke up the final one and mashed it into the main meal.

I mentioned coffee. You get coffee and sugar but no milk, although I added some milk to mine:

It's similar to US coffee, instant, type III, or whatever branded type of coffee is included in modern MREs. Hard rather than smooth, enough for a standard coffee cup. It gives me a mental image of the kind of working person's office where the walls are breezeblocks painted white and there's a noticeboard with an advert for a local band on it. Let's try the chocolate:

At first I thought it might be laced with amphetamines, like the chocolate that Germany had during the Second World War, Scho-Ka-Kola, but sadly it's just standard dark chocolate. It has a mild taste. After eating it I didn't feel an urge to try on all my old shirts and neither did my gums start sizzling. As a joke this paragraph was originally going to be a single unbroken 1,500-word sentence, as if I was under the influence of amphetamines, but after writing it the end result was indistinguishable from the rest of my blog so I included it out. When the amplitude of a signal falls below that of the cosmic background radiation the signal becomes indistinguishable from random noise, and at that point it is lost. It cannot be reconstituted. The same is true on a quantum level. All signals eventually become indistinguishable from quantum fluctuations. This is why immortality is impossible. It would require infinite energy, which would in the long run raise the cosmic background radiation to such a high level that atomic bonds would be impossible, at which point whatever coherence existed would again be lost. There is no escape. Let's try out the main meal:

It looks like cat food, but it smells nice. It's a meat-heavy, broth-light, vegetable-light stew, essentially a small can of cooked beef with some stewy bits. I keep using the word "mild", but it was indeed mild. US MREs include salt and hot sauce for seasoning; the Lithuanian meal would have benefited from a bit more spice, or any spice, but perhaps it's a regional thing.

The stew was slightly less greasy than I expected, but that doesn't change the fact that it feels strange to eat stew by itself - it's a shame they couldn't have included some potatoes. Ultimately it filled a hole and was tastier than it looked, but it wouldn't be very appetising cold, and if I was a Lithuanian conscript I would tolerate it but not look forward to it. It's not in the same league as the Polish MRE I will try later in the year.

Let's try out the orange-flavoured no-juice drink. US MRE drinks are better than they look - subtler and less chalky than you might expect - but the Lithuanian variety wasn't in the same league:

It looks as if it should be an effervescent sugar overload, but it tastes like a flat weak lemonade. As with US MRE drinks it exists purely to mask the taste of chemically-purified water, and on that level it works, but as a drink to enjoy it's no good.

Anything else? Oh yes, the hazelnuts:

They're unsalted and there's a surprisingly large amount of them. Eating them was a chore because they're very dry, but I suppose they're meant to boost your protein levels in a healthy way rather than entertain you.

About a year ago, and just for the heck of it, I tried out the hexy stove. One tab will heat up a can of beans so that it bubbles and would probably warm up two cans so that they were edible. I wouldn't rely on the tabs to cook raw meat, and of course I tried it out in a temperate climate; in freezing weather you might need more than one tab.

As mentioned in this series of posts US military meals tend to have a lot of salt, which makes sense if you do a lot of hard work in hot sun, but this Lithuanian MRE was generally salt-free and instead had more of an emphasis on fat. Perhaps they're more suitable for Lithuania's climate, which is apparently typical of the Baltic - nice but short summer, freezing cold and raining the rest of the year. Who knows, the end.