Bagram Air Base scene, huge base, horrible mess halls

Bagram Air Base scene, huge base, horrible mess halls

I travel a lot here and have the dubious opportunity to sample the food at many different mess halls. My response to the question, “How is the food over there?,” is invariably as follows:

I could say it sucks because it does. It is horrible, I wouldn’t eat it at home and don’t want to eat it here. However, we are in a war zone and there is a lot of variety. And a lot of people actually like it, obviously they are the fast food types who wouldn’t know good food if it smacked them in the palate. Usually you can find something edible, even if it is tuna fish or fruit. Virtually everything is precooked, then heated, recooked and/or fried. One thing they can’t do anywhere I’ve been is fry properly, it is a rare occasion when you get a properly fried chicken finger, onion ring, or fry. They absolutely butcher frying Mexican food like quesadillas, burritos and the like. All meat is beyond well done. Army regulations prohibit any meat that is anything but well done and, while you can get a decent omelet, you cannot have eggs over easy, over medium or with anything other than a cooked to death yolk. The other thing you can’t avoid is the food is all salted way too much. It not only doesn’t help the taste when you go overboard,

Beautiful scenery at Gardez, too bad the mess hall is not very good

Beautiful scenery at Gardez, too bad the mess hall is not very good

it makes you extra thirsty when working in a hot climate and isn’t healthy. We need no extra incentive to drink a lot of water.

But this is a combat zone and all food is imported. I see herd after hear of sheep and goats and never have had lamb, goat or mutton here at a mess hall. There are all manner of fresh vegetables locally, but we don’t get them. Currently, the ripe Afghan mangoes are to die for, but do you see them at the mess hall? Of course not. All that said, for all the logistics, we get a good variety of food and, as I said, you can usually find some meat you don’t break your teeth on for toughness, chicken that has some residual moisture and a variety of salad choices and fresh fruit. The fresh pineapples are actually better than US grocery store pineapples. Grapefruits are good, too. But, no decent cheese is ever seen, only American so-called cheddar. I am sure Afghanistan has some wonderful cheese, hopefully I’ll get to try some. In Iraq, I saw no lettuce but iceberg, here, at least, they have romaine (and romaine only) and that is an improvement. Sometimes there are spring onions and a

Dust storm at Ghazni, mess hall here is pretty good

Dust storm at Ghazni, mess hall here is pretty good

couple types of olives. Deserts aren’t very good, pre-made pies and the like, but they do have good ice cream. Lots of canned veggies, but at least they are veggies, I had canned peas today, reminded me of English mash peas. I really miss early peas. Bottom line is twofold.

1. You won’t go hungry and you will sometimes actually enjoy a meal, especially when starving. Really, sometimes they actually make a decent dish.

2. Foodies here go out of their way to figure out how to cook their own food when they can, from ingredients mailed from the states, stuff smuggled out of the mess halls, especially if fresh veggies like peppers show up, in addition to packets of condiments like soy sauce, mustard, Parmesan cheese, ketchup, etc. I am in the process of assembling my own cooking stuff and ingredients to make things like olive oil based pasta sauces. I was at a tiny firebase a few days ago and the cook gave me a real garlic bulb. I thought I won the lottery.

People getting deployed to Afghanistan always want to know what they are in store for. It all depends on your

The author on an Observation Post near Giro

The author on an Observation Post near Giro

 location. Bagram Air Base may be the biggest (not sure, Kandahar may be) and with the most amenities, but I would find another job if they tried to make me live there. It is a pit. Some of the best places are small and have fewer things, like no PX. Plus, it is always what you make of it. Smaller places give you more chance to share food with the Afghan National Police that are usually collocated. They know how to cook!

Of the places I’ve been, here is my rating of the mess halls. None get more than Three Maudies (except one) and that is generous. There is a restaurant at my hub FOB (Forward Operating Base) Ghazni that I will review at some point. It is run by an Indian and mainly serves Indian food and a few other things. The food is quite good. All the mess halls reviewed are in RC-East, near the Pakistan border. Most mess halls (they like to call them DFACs (Dining Facilities), but that term makes an old soldier like me gag, just like hearing Hooah makes me gag. These are mess or chow halls. These ratings are not only subjective, as

Sunset at Giro

Sunset at Giro

all ratings are, but also limited to a point in time, especially for the places without a contracted mess hall (Fluor Company runs them), but which is so small the company mess section actually does all the cooking. These ratings should not be taken as normal ratings, if they were restaurants, all would be One Maudie. I have taken the context into consideration to try and distinguish between them.

One Maudie – run away

Bagram Air Force Base Main Mess Hall (off Disney near PX)
Bagram Air Force Base AMC Compound Mess Hall

The above mess halls are consistently bad, both are large mess halls on a huge base and they probably have access to more than anyone else, but they do a terrible job.

Two Maudies – don’t bother

Bagram Air Force Base Warrior Mess Hall

The Bagram Warrior Mess Hall is a cut above the other two and people travel from the other side of the base to eat there. They also have a “barbeque” area separate from the main mess hall area. But, don’t get your hopes up if you know what barbeque really is. I tried it once and had the driest chicken ever. It was so dry it was inedible unless you like chicken jerky with no flavor.

FB (Firebase) Giro

This mess hall is a company mess section from the Polish Army. I had really high hopes that I would get some Polish food. Wrong. It turns out that they are supplied by Fluor, so get the same food the US mess halls get. I wonder if the French military or Italians have to put up with the Fluor provided food at their bases? One would think the French, at least, would riot. This mess hall is a mixed bag. I never eat breakfast as they have stuff like those preformed and precooked hamburger patties (I can eat one for lunch, but not breakfast), chicken fingers and other strange things that will simply not do for breakfast and will barely do for any other meal. Other meals are feast or famine. The first couple of times I went to Giro, I ate a lot of tuna I mixed with some mayo. But, once in a while they whip up something really good, such as a Polish goulash that I would eat anywhere. They also make excellent soups, especially tomato based. So, this mess hall could be three Maudies if they were consistent.

FOB Four Corners

This is another small base (US) where the mess section handles all food preparation. They, of course, get the same supplies as everyone else. I’ve been here twice. The first time, I said it was the worst Army mess section I had ever seen, to include sanitary issues. I was only there a couple of days and the food was simply not edible. For example, pasta that looked like and had the consistency of mashed potatoes. The meaning of al dente was a complete unknown. The second time I went there, a couple of weeks ago, it was like light and day. Maybe the mess section personnel had changed, I don’t know. But, they were doing a great job with what they had, including omelets and hard fried eggs if you wanted for breakfast. If it weren’t for that first visit, this one would be three Maudies. At least, it is for now.

FOB Gardez

This is a Fluor run mess hall that is very mediocre. I was there enough days to get a good sample of the food. They can’t fry, meat is tougher than at most places and overall not a good mess hall experience.

FOB Sharana Main Mess Hall (by PX)

This is a Fluor run mess hall that is very mediocre. I was there enough days to get a good sample of the food. This one is close to the same experience as at Gardez.

FOB Warrior has an old mud fort

FOB Warrior has an old mud fort

FOB Warrior

This is a Fluor run mess hall that is also very mediocre. It is slightly better than FOB Gardez, but not enough to push it to Three Maudies.

Three Maudies – not bad

FOB Ghazni
FOB Salerno

Ghazni and Salerno mess halls are pretty comparable. They are the best mess halls I’ve been to. Both are Fluor operations that actually get frying right once in a while. Still, they can’t fry anything associated with Mexican food.

FOB Sharana “New” Mess Hall

This mess hall just opened and the folks at Sharana said it was far better than the main mess hall. I tried it and will say it is a lot better, more on par with Ghazni and Salerno. Civilians can also take to-go plates out of this one (a big no-no in Army mess halls, gotta love the Army motto, “one team, one fight”). This policy falls under the “stupid pet tricks” category. I am sure some high paid officer will stop this, but at least civilians can enjoy it while they can. Don’t get me started on my civilians as second class citizens bandwagon. I was a soldier in Iraq, I know the deal.

Four Maudies – recommended

COP (Combat Outpost) Terezayi
This mess hall is run by a 1st Infantry Division company mess section and is the best company mess I’ve ever seen, here, in the states or anywhere else. They get the same supplies as everyone else. but the cooks make every possible effort to make it as tasty as possible and they are usually pretty darn successful.

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11 Comments on Mess Halls in Afghanistan Ratings

  1. […] the rest here: Mess Halls in Afghanistan Ratings – Cooking with Little Buddy Categories : Uncategorized Tags: afghan, afghan-national, ghazni, indian, operating, […]

  2. Emma says:

    Thanks for the article, I am actually in KAF right now, there are actually about 6-8 different chow halls here that I know of, on this FOB alone. each one caters to different regoins, such as the Far East chow hall, has primarily Asian foods. But I can see that it is a trend for none of them to be that good. I am waiting on GOOD food to come from home so I can actually enjoy a meal!
    Thank you.

  3. S McHardy says:

    I would nominate the main DFAC at Sharana as gotta be a contender for the worst run DFAC in any theatre.

    Lots of folks standing around, but none of them are capable of actually doing anything.

    Afghanis wiping the tables. I can’t fault them – they have no education, no work ethic, and they look silly with their hairnets under their beards. But has anyone trained them as to what the purpose of cleaning the table it, and how to do it right? I would guess either they have not been trained, or the trainers haven’t a clue either.

    It was only after I suggested that the get some kind of spray bottles to moisten the brown hand towels they were spread grease with that they implemented bottles with something in them.

    Now I have dared to ask (had to have three different managers, all American, come to me to find out what my problem was) why the tables are still greasy. “Well, they have a disinfectant spray.” Doh!

    How about some grease-cutting formulation there, dip-shift? What do you get from these bottom-dollar idiots? Excuses. Get this one. “We are not allowed to use a detergent or grease cutter on the tables as that would be unsanitary.”

    Where KBR had a portion of Americans cooking and serving, we then moved to Balkan employees (usually fantastic, though their smoking habits cut into work productivity in some cases) and the prime contractor presumably made more money, right? Now, we have S. Asians for even less, and half the work force is Afghanis at $7/day. (Do Afghani workers get health checks? I don’t know, but when Fluor could not figure out how to get someone to turn on air conditioners in Bagram early this Spring when it was above 85 degrees in the DFAC and I watched the sweat dripping off the head of the guy serving my ice cream into my bowl, I threw it away.)

    So, with all the cost cutting on workers (and don’t even tell me that whoever is mixing and putting food together back there knows the first thing about cooking!) the food should improve right?

    Surely ye jest. We are getting the same tired meals, the same Grade F steaks (fit only for institutional use, says the boxes, meaning penitentiary food), and the same excuses why they can’t use real butter for anything.

    We get smaller, less meaty yard bird, but called something fancy like “Cornish Hen.” We get chicken and beef “riblets” which are worth nothing as far as eating, but are just a palette for slopping sauces on for you to suck off. Enjoy the sauce, boys.

    In Iraq at least you got, very, very often, mixed veggies – corn, peas, carrots and green beans. Works well, with onion added, in lots of things like their (ha) version of pot pie, stir fry, or plain. Be nice with butter. Go Fish! I have not yet seen the old tired and true useful and semi-nourishing mixed veggies here. Too expensive?

    Probably. What we see the most of is that yecchy mix of carrots and cauliflower, oh, and those stupid little things that look like ears of corn.

    Too much salt? Well, they sure changed that! They put salt in nothing now, so besides being over-cooked, and then sitting on warming tables so long they soak up more water, it is worse than British food. Mushy peas? We get mushy everything.

    Spaghetti sauce? Ok, I gave it a try again today after a year of giving it a pass. I don’t think it was the brown sauce they sometimes use and call it spaghetti, and I think it had tomato in it. But, no salt. No pepper. No basil, garlic, or oregano. Nope, straight sauce. Yuck.

    Marinara sauce for the occasional chicken breast, veal or overcooked pasta? Whaddya mean it should have seasoning in it?
    Straight tomato puree, if you ask me. Nope, not even sufficient salt.

    The bread is frozen, thawed, frozen, thawed, repeat enough times so that when you pick it up, if it is not dried hard from being there so long (hate to have all those people standing around doing nothing – especially the blonde with makeup halfway from her eyes to her ears who never does anything – refill things every little while when it is easier to put it out to harden for 2.5 hours) it crumbles en route to your tray.

    Oh, guess there is both a labor and water shortage, right? We have no trays, as in the plastic, Melmac or whatever that you put your recycled cardboard blotter on, and can also put a drink, an apple, a salad bowl, your salad dressing or condiment packets on as you make your way to find a seat.

    So, the grease goes through the try onto the tables. The plates require both hands. And then you set it down, and go back for whatever you could not carry or stuff in your pockets.

    The semi-tepid food off the insufficiently monitored steam tables is cool, if it was hot. The hush puppies I got tonite were cold, so they must have been cool while on the steam table, huh?

    Nice cost cutting measure though, fail to provide trays so people won’t get the value for what the company raked in when their ID card was scanned.

    If that’s allowed. Sharana DFAC has a paranoia that everyone is stealing, and of course with the Army, that automatically means contractors. So we have to scan our LOA every time, slowing down the line coming in while we drag it out and unfold it….

    This DFAC cannot figure out how to have ketchup on hand when they serve fries, burgers or dogs. Too complicated, too much of a challenge.

    This DFAC cannot put out cherry and apple pies at the same time. We have had nothing but cherry for a week. Then, we will get apple for 3-4 days. Both at the same time, in some attempt to appeal to the masses? Are you kidding?

    This DFAC cannot figure out how to put the slotted spoon in with the canned slice peaches (remember, cardboard trays – not good to have a lot of fluid sloshing around) and the solid spoon in with that which would be appropriate.

    I had fancy thinly sliced potatoes the other night dished up. I was disappointed by the time I got to sit down that the oil they were supposedly fried or baked in had only slid off into the well of the plate in volume such that they were not completely immersed. Almost.

    You are right about fried foods. When the rare occasions we get shrimp (a mainstay in Iraq – same dollar value per meal, right, but we only get decent stuff on occasion?) is is over-fried so by the time one has sat down to enjoy the now tepid item, it is as hard as a hockey puck.

    Chicken tenders? Same.

    Fried chicken – same.

    Rotisserie chicken? Count on it every Sunday. No different than the baked chicken during the week. Both are so dry I have actually had to extract it from my throat when even water could not dislodge it. That is standard – the moist chicken here is THE exception.

    Go to FOB Orgun and you will get piping hot food. The place has tables stacked with cans of Cup of Fruit, 2-3 varieties. Famous Amos cookies. Otis Spunkmeyer muffins. Single servings of applesauce. Sharana? Ha. Don’t make me laugh. Never seen anything but the muffins.

    Orgun-E serves up all 6 flavors (never has chanced, not since 2006) of ice cream. Sharana. When they have it, they might have 3. Usually only one or two. And only in limited quantities. They don’t plan to have enough on hand for the late eaters. If you want it here, come early. They can’t plan.

    Like a root beer float? Sure, with Cookies and Cream ice cream? That is it. Like I said, masters of planning.

    How about peach cobbler or warmed cherry pie a la mode? Mmmm, once again, with Cookies and Cream. Should we even guess at FLUOR’s manager’s IQ? Or would that be a hate crime?

    Wanna leave a comment? Hmmm, they have comment cards sometimes. Not often. Yeah, I am the guy who makes sure to thank you for another disgusting meal via napkin. From the results, I would bet only 1 out of 3 Fluor managers can read.

    Yep, getting back to traditions here in Sharana. The only thing palatable 3 out of the last 5 nights was PB&J. I would have had it a 4th night, but the bread was rock hard. Tonite I ate half of it with a spoon. Remember the crumbliness factor I mentioned?

    After reading on Ms Sparky’s website, and after having DECA commissary managers explain “the system” to me for years as to why 80-90% of their Kraft food products were out-of-date the day they came off the truck (fact!) or explaining to kids that the cereal box offer expired the year previous, I have no doubt that what the DFACs here serve and call cheese is fake, or so far beyond out-of-date…..

    Anyone ever found out how much hamburger there really is in a DFAC hamburger? I am kind of scared to know, but have been trying to find out.

    And why do they soak them in water before cooking them? So they will look bigger? Neat trick. Makes em taste like you know what too.

    So, these are some of the reasons I vote for Sharana Main as the worst DFAC ever. My credentials? Over 64 months deployed, life on 10 FOBs, plus passing through places like Orgun, Victory/Liberty/Speicher.

    No, the heat-n-serve principles have not changed, and the Army is right up there at fault with their staid, cheap, poor quality choices, and their stupid rule about butter. (It only comes, so they say, served on little cardboard squares, and with all the people that reach for them, well, that is just unsanitary. Funny, I have seen butter in lots of places in foil wrap…. The Army is just stupid, passing corn oil off and thinking it is healthier?)

    But we got decorations. I don’t know what they are, but we have Thanksgiving decorations in the DFAC 8 days before Thanksgiving. Means fewer tables to sit at, and of course, good way to cut costs and put more money in Corp pockets as there was not a single dessert item out tonite. Nope, all of that furniture was removed to make room for the deocrations. I think one of them was a giraffe.

    When Fluor does not put out food at all stations, do we or the gov’t get a rebate on the value the company gets per plate? Ha ha. Dreaming. No, they get away with it, and oh, so much more.

    Sharana has great weather. Quiet. Nanny state CSMs with nothing better to do than enforce the poor soldiers wearing reflector belts during the day. Right, day time. But those clowns and goats change from time-to-time. The safety nazi is part of the problem, but he has no brains either. But that’s another story.

    Welcome to Sharana. Easy to lose weight here, if you didn’t have to eat Pop Tarts or something just to fuel up.

  4. Virgil says:

    McHardy, your response is one of the best I’ve ever seen, you had me rolling on the floor laughing. Yet, everything, and I mean everything, you say is true of every single Fluor mess hall. Think I’ll work up a new post based on your response. By the way, I’m in Iraq now and the al Basrah mess hall really sucks, but Umm Qasr is pretty decent. Stay safe.
    Thanks again,

  5. GW says:

    Your comments on Terezayi are completely off base. Not even a mention of the inundation of FLIES that prohibit a person from “enjoying” the terrible meals they serve up. Orgun E and Van Allst are two of my personal favorites along with the NATO chow hall on KAIA being very nice as well.

  6. Virgil says:

    I will give you the flies, Terezayi had the worst fly problem I saw in Afghanistan. It may be that the unit there now is different than when I was there (1-26 company, 1st Inf Div, if I remember correctly) and it is a company mess, so I looked at it under the limitations they had to live under and it is still the best company mess I saw. I have heard from others that Orgun E is good, never went there. Note, I never had any good food at any mess hall in Afghanistan or Iraq, my ratings were based on what was the best of the worst.

  7. ryan says:

    I just love how today’s soldier complains constantly about the food. I have to state the simple facts; I am sure, those whom served in Vietnam did not have steak and lobster every friday. I am sure as well, those soldiers did not have baskin robbins ice cream everyday at lunch. So to today’s soldier, try chewing on lizzards, snails, then you can let me know just really how bad the food is.

  8. jarhead says:

    fob warrior is nasty. best dfac is at fob fenty in jbad.

  9. 92G20 says:

    @Ryan: I too have had to listen to ungrateful soldiers complain since we set boots on ground over here(afghanistan) as if they’re going out daily, weekly kicking doors searching for taliban. Most of these soldiers over here other than COOKS don’t really have a mission but to sleep all day, play video games, skype oh yeah and sleep some more while complaining with 1 mission a month!!! I can tell you this that they (INFANTRY UNIT @ FT. STEWART) treat their cooks horrible and wonder why they get the standard of food service and not beyond the call duty!

  10. bhavesh patel says:

    Can the dfac start vegan option for the vegans, or is it asking for too much ?.
    I have been trying to convince the dfac manager to include vegan. food since last 4 months.

  11. John M says:

    Been to about every DFAC at BAF and most in the Kabul cluster and near Kabul.

    Best on BAF was Vance. Best open to most was DFIP. Best open to all was Aviation with North being a not as crowded option.

    Best I had in country for a Large Facility was the French DFAC at FOB Warehouse. Best freaking lunches and dinners. I mean the food was an event and I saw grown men get emotional as the ate the pastry. Breakfast was just ok though.

    Best DFAC with trailer kitchen and B Hut dining was FOB Bala Hissar. Those Two SGTs did an amazing job transforming the issued grup into delicious with their own mix of spices.

    Worst in country wasFOB KIAI British DFAC with Indian cooks… I lost a lot of weight by not going to eat very often. I can not express how not eating there raised my moral. I kid you not even an egg could be and most often was F’d up.

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