Sunday, 1 September 2019

Polish SR-1 MRE

A couple of months ago I had a look at a Lithuanian MRE. It was okay! This month I'm going to have a look at an MRE from Poland, a country that famously cannot into space.

A long time ago Poland and Lithuania were united as a dual monarchy/duchy, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, but in the 1700s the commonwealth was torn apart by internal political instability and eventually it was split into bits by Russia, Prussia, and Austria. Poland and Lithuania now exist as separate entities, but I believe it is only a matter of time before they unite again. There is ample evidence of this in the two countries' MREs. They both contain the same SU-1 rusks, and even the spoons are similar:

Polish on the right, Lithuanian on the left. They're not the exact same design, but the Polish spoon will stack over the Lithuanian spoon. What more proof do you need? When I was young I never dreamed that one day I would post pictures of plastic spoons on the internet, but here we are.

There's the small matter of Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave on the coast between Poland and Lithuania, but that's just a detail. Enough of politics, let's decant the contents of the MRE onto a table:

Sufficient! I'm trying not to copy Steve1989. He reviewed a Polish MRE back in 2016:

He had a look at meal number four. Mine's meal number one. They're very similar. The main meal in all of the Polish MREs is essentially beef / pork / chicken with beans / stew, and the other bits are more or less identical. Mine expired in December 2018, but it tasted fine, with one caveat.

One thing it doesn't have is coffee, or any kind of proper hot drink. Perhaps Polish soldiers are given a separate coffee ration. I don't know.

The main meal is Fasolą po bretońsku, or Fasolka po Bretonsku as the internet seems to call it. I'm not familiar with Polish accents. The meal consists of beans and kielbasa sausage plus bacon, boczek, with tomato sauce. It's really good but I'll get to that later.

The meal also has a small tin of honey, a 100g tin of luncheon meat, no less than two packets of SU-1 rusks - affectionately known as panzercrackers, because they're rock-hard - a fruit tea drink, some sweets, and a fruit bar.

The accessory packet has salt, pepper, gum, toilet paper, a refreshing towelette, and a plastic bag to hold it all in. The plastic bag was very smelly and some of its smell had transferred to the sweets, but after the first suck they were okay. Overall the MRE was surprisingly good. The Lithuanian MRE was okay but felt a bit half-hearted, and the main meal was dull. The Polish version is conceptually similar but much tastier. Let's try out the sweets:

The first is a coffee sweet. As mentioned in the last paragraph, some of the smell of the accessory packet's plastic bag had leeched onto the sweet, so for a moment it tasted awful, but after sucking it a couple of times the original flavour came through. It was nice good! The kind of artificial coffee flavour you get in Quality Street chocolates.

The other hard sweet had Vitamin C in it:

It was hard on the outside, soft on the inside. Let's try out the tea drink. Fresh from the packet it smelled pretty dire and looked like powdered sugar:

But it tasted okay. It's a lot like the mixer drinks from US MREs - it looks as if it should be sugary, chalky, and generally unpleasant, but it does eventually dissolve and it has a subtler taste than you might expect. I think you're supposed to drink it from the packet (the accessory packet also includes a plastic straw) but I'm sitting at home, so I used a glass.

This raises an issue. US MREs are designed so that you can heat them up and put them on a tray, but you can also rip open the packets and stuff the contents straight into your mouth, perhaps if you are on a long route march and you have to eat while on your feet. Furthermore the food is generally either gloop or at the very least easy to chew.

Polish and Lithuanian MREs on the other hand don't work like that - the main meal is messy and you'd have to eat the rusks and meat separately. They're more fiddly. I don't know how often Polish soldiers are expected to eat field rations. Poland participated in the 2003 invasion of Iraq but withdrew its troops in 2008. Conscription ended shortly afterwards, and although Poland has a relatively large military - on a par with Spain, smaller than Italy, bigger than most other Eastern European nations - it isn't deployed abroad very often. Perhaps that's why there are so many Polish MREs for sale on eBay. Let's try the crackers:

The crackers, technically SU-1 rusks, are a kind of hardtack. They have a distinctive aftertaste, almost minty, that apparently comes from having caraway seeds. It's not overpowering. The rusks are rock-hard. You have to break them up and chew them. I'm not going to try biting through them with my front teeth in case I snap my teeth.

To go with the rusks there's a tin of meat and a tin of honey. The Lithuanian honey had a fruity, almost marmalade-y taste but the Polish honey is much more honey-er. The canned meat looks horrible, but it tastes great. Much better than spam, better than a cheap tin of luncheon meat from a supermarket, and I'm now tempted to raid the local Polish shop for Polish munchies. There was a bit of gelatin around the top but otherwise it was meat all the way down. Let's try out the main meal.

The MRE comes with a flameless, water-activated ration heater. At first it didn't seem to work but after a bit of shaking it started fizzling nicely. Another thing that separates US MREs from the Polish variety is that the US food is in plastic pouches, so you can put it in a microwave if the FRH doesn't work. The Polish food is in a metal tray, so if the FRH doesn't work you have to heat it on a tank exhaust, or use a hexy stove, or something.

The Fasolka po Bretonsku looks pretty grotty:

With little globs of fat. However it tastes really good. Steve1989 is naturally positive, and I can never tell if he's genuinely impressed with the food or if he's pleasantly surprised that thirty-year-old food is still edible. I can confirm however that the Polish main meal is genuinely tasty. It's spicy enough without the salt and pepper. The sauce is mildly savoury, the bacon is subtle, the chunky beans have a nice mouthfeel and with a bit of stirring the sauce thickens up.

As with US MREs the only problem is that the main meal is monotonous. If I was eating this as an actual meal, instead of an internet novelty, I would add onions, perhaps mushrooms, perhaps gherkins, topped with parsley or something, but for what amounts to mass-produced reheated military food it's much better than it has any right to be.

Let's finish off with the fruit bar:

It's coated with edible paper. It's a clever idea. The bar isn't particularly crumbly, but the paper keeps it held together so that bits don't go everywhere. I imagine that Polish soldiers can draw secret maps on the paper, and if they're about to be captured by the Russians they can just eat the bar.

Imagine if the German navy had thrown away their Enigma machines and instead sent orders to their U-Boats written on edible paper instead. How far can pigeons fly? How far can pigeons fly if they're on amphetamines? The internet doesn't say, but I reckon it's pretty far.

Without intimate knowledge of U-Boat movements the UK would have had to resort to cannibalism in order to survive. First the dead, then the freshly-dead, then the soon-to-be-dead. But on the positive side without the government breathing down his neck Alan Turing would probably have lived to a ripe old age, so to paraphrase Lou Reed there is loss, but there's a little bit of magic to even things out.

Albeit that in the long run there is only loss. Ultimately the Polish MRE is a lot better than the Lithuanian variety, despite being conceptually similar. Taste-wise it's on a par with US MREs, albeit that it's more awkward to eat on the move and the range of meals is much simpler. Also, the idea of a military ration that consists of meat with beans plus meat feels a bit Second World War; it gets the job done but it's unsophisticated.

Would I eat it in real life? As with US MREs it doesn't make much sense for civilians. You can emulate most of the experience with a flapjack bar, some boiled sweets, a tin of spam and a tin of stew, or if space was an issue you could empty out several Pot Noodles into a plastic bag, or just take some Benylin cough syrup and a bottle of vodka and rely on mountain rescue to get you home. You pay taxes, you're essentially paying their wages, why should they complain?