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,
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.