SAF Combat Rations Review

When the ration trucks don’t come, the only thing keeping us NSMen alive (and constipated) is the Singapore Armed Forces combat rations pack. Now available in 13 different menus (Vegetarian menus reviews not included because I have no access to them) and ALL halal compliant.

I completed my ATEC year 1 (Army Training Evaluation Center) last year (2013) and survived on a mix of fresh rations and the SAF field ration pack; I was fortunate to have fresh rations for all meals during the previous 5 years of military reservist training. I came from the days where there were just 3 variants of each of the (or was it 5?) non-muslim, muslim and vegetarian menu packs and was “blessed” to have had the opportunity to field test the first pasta menu SAF ration packs back in 2002.

This post was inspired by the combat ration review post of Gordon Ho (with contributions from MAJ Mok Chew Kai), my fellow reservists from 822 Singapore Infantry Regiment. Their original reviews are in a private forum but Ho and Mok has kindly granted permission to me to publish their findings here. I will be quoting their reviews and photos (when available) as they were originally posted. Due to the number of menus, and the fact that I do not have physical access to all the rations, this post will be a constant “work in progress” and updated whenever I get access to a ration pack I have not reviewed before.

I will be eating “direct from the pack” cold; while the food can be served warm (typically by either burning smelly hexamine solid fuel tablets, stuffing the ration packs on top of an A/B vehicle engine top or for the more adventurous/rich, using flameless ration heater), I am taking into consideration the fact that most NS Men would probably just skip the trouble. Do note that my views are my own; your mileage may vary. I will take into consideration 5 parameters, namely Taste, Texture, Smell, Presentation and Enjoyability.

Do note that this entire post is only going to review the Entrees and Dessert main packs only; the accessory packs are made up of easily purchasable items in any well-stocked supermarket. As you may notice, the menus are all halal compliant these days. If anyone can get me a scanned copy of the Vegetarian menu, please drop me a note at the comments below.

Let the reviews begin!

Do note that this review will NOT be complete simply because we do not have access to all the ration packs to try out; me and my intrepid fellow reservists will just be able to rate and review what we ate personally.

SAF Field Rations Menu 1 to 6 non spicy (as at 2013)

Menu 1

Roasted Chestnut Noodle (Chicken Sausage)

2014-06-26 01.12.59I love chestnuts. To me, they add a wonderful flavor and texture like no other nut in dishes. But the idea of having chestnuts with noodles and chicken sausage is… odd, to say the least. Upon opening the packet, a strong chili smell emanates from within. This is strange because this ration pack is supposed to be non-spicy. The taste is rather good, giving me the impression of something like Thai Tom Yum flavoring (sweet sour) without the “hot” spicy taste. The noodles are slightly tougher than the other noodle ration packets I reviewed previously. As with the other packs that had chicken sausage, it was rather good. The whole chestnuts were full flavored and tasted great, although I would like to have them to be half the size and twice the quantity (there were like 3 chestnuts only within the entire pack).

The condiments within the packet are a relatively uniform mix of noodles and a number of mid sized whole roasted chestnuts.. Chicken sausage were balanced in volume against the noodles.

Overall the experience can be described as “not bad at all” when you are being issued your ration pack.

Taste The “tom yum” noodle flavor was good, chicken sausage and chestnuts added to the flavor. 4/5
Texture Noodle consistency was slightly tough, chicken sausage great, chestnuts were soft. 4/5
Smell The pre-eating smell was normal. 3/5
Presentation Looks normal 3/5
Enjoyability Overall, a relatively good ration pack. 4/5

Reviewed by Nicholas Chan (26 June 2014)

OK

Reviewed by Gordon Ho

Pasta in Tomato Parsley Sauce (Chicken)

2014-06-30 00.34.04There’s something about tomatoes to me. I love them in pizza, pasta and as snacks in the form of cherry tomatoes and sea salt. At first glance, this ration pack’s name gave me the impression that they are trying to make a variation of pasta bolognese. Upon opening the packet, I was greeted by a nice italian spice smell, with a nice touch of light tomato oil on the condiments. The contents had a weird texture which can be described as minced meat and pasta shells in a pack.
There is a relatively light spice taste, with the mince meat actually being a rather convincing replacement of minced pork. The texture of the pasta was soft, big and hearty although due to the mince meat being  almost exclusively on the top and pasta at the bottom, quite a bit of mixing had to be done to make the entire dish more palatable. The mince was slightly dry, no doubt due to the fact that is chicken. The rare and few tomato bits were sparse and I personally would have preferred more. Moving down the pack, I was pleasantly surprised to find that at the lower 1/3 part of the pack, there were actually corn and pea bits!

The overall experience can be described as good.

Taste The “italian” spice flavor was good, chicken mince and tomatos added to the flavor. 4/5
Texture Pasta consistency was firm, chicken mince so-so, tomatos were few. 3/5
Smell The pre-eating smell was good. 4/5
Presentation Looks normal 3/5
Enjoyability Overall, a relatively good ration pack. 4/5

Reviewed by Nicholas Chan (30 June 2014)

OK

Reviewed by Gordon Ho

Red Bean Nata De Coco Dessert

Not yet reviewed by anyone (Pending)

Menu 2

Tomato Lentil Rice (Chicken Sausage)

2014-06-25 01.53.17Honestly I have no idea what to expect with a packet named after what I would assume to be a soup dish. Upon opening the packet, a pleasant tomato smell emanates from within. The unique thing about this pack is that the tomato sauce portion appears clearly separated from the seemingly uncooked rice grains at the lower half of the packet, resulting in me manually mixing using the spoon I have. There was a faint lentil aftertaste within a bean-like paste base flavor delivered in a rather sticky consistency, making it a challenge to actually evenly mix the entire mess. The taste is actually rather good, with the rice in the upper portion being well seasoned with the tomato sauce AND fully cooked however the rice become too “pastey”. The chicken sausage mixed within was rather good, and in my personal opinion a far superior protein replacement for the notorioius chicken cubes seen in other ration packs. My worse fears on the rice came true later down the packet when I discovered the harder “half cooked” rice bits came at the bottom half of the pack.

The condiments within the packet are not at all uniform; a “ying yang” clear separation of condiments and rice was observed. Chicken sausage were balanced in volume against the rice and sauce. An increasing accumulative salty taste was observe, along with a post-meal very slight aftertaste of preservatives.

Overall the experience can be described as “eat to survive” when you are being issued your ration pack.

Taste The rice was well seasoned, chicken sausage is welcome alternative to tough chicken cubes 4/5
Texture Rice consistency was bad, chicken sausage wins the day. 2/5
Smell The pre-eating smell was normal. 3/5
Presentation Looks weird, with clear separation of condiments and rice. 1/5
Enjoyability Overall, a below average ration pack. 2/5

Reviewed by Nicholas Chan (25 June 2014)

Bad

Reviewed by Gordon Ho

Mashed Potato with Bean (Chicken Sausage)

Not yet reviewed by anyone (Pending)

Soya Dessert with Chestnut

Not yet reviewed by anyone (Pending)

Menu 3

Chicken Borobudur Rice

2014-06-23 01.47.25Upon opening the packet, a faint tomato smell emanates from within the squashed rice with what appears as (again) chunks of chicken mixed into glutinous rice. The taste was reasonably good, with kidney beans adding a very welcome texture and taste to the rice. The rice is soft, with almost no “hard uncooked” parts and well seasoned. The chicken cubes are a little tough (as with almost all other reviews I did), similar in texture to what one might expect in slightly overcooked dehydrated roasted chicken.

The condiments within the packet are rather uniform; minimal settling was observed. Chicken cubes were balanced in volume against the rice and kidney beans. However due to the chicken cubes being a little tough, the overall experience was not as good as I had hoped. One great point is that the aftertaste of the cubes was significantly lower (approximately 10%) than the cubes in Peranakan Styled Dumpling (Menu 8).

Overall the experience can be described as “whatever” when you are being issued your ration pack.

Taste The rice was well seasoned, ample beans, chicken cubes were normal tasting. 3/5
Texture The rice consistency was great, the chicken cubes were tough, nice touch of vegetable “mash via kidney beans. 3/5
Smell The pre-eating smell was normal. 3/5
Presentation Looks normal. 3/5
Enjoyability Overall, a nominal ration pack. 3/5

Reviewed by Nicholas Chan (23 June 2014)

Pesto Pasta (Chicken)

2014-06-22 01.15.21 Upon opening the packet, the contents looks relatively good; moist pasta with bits of chicken and some corn and carrot bits (at the bottom of the pack). The taste was surprisingly good, with a slight sweetness mingled with an undertone of italian herbs. The chicken cubes are a little tough, similar in texture to what one might expect in slightly overcooked dehydrated roasted chicken. The corn and carrot bits were extremely sparse and felt more like a garnishing than a proper side serving of vegetables.

The condiments within the packet are rather uniform; minimal settling was observed. Chicken cubes were balanced in volume against the pasta. However due to the chicken cubes being a little tough, the overall experience was not as good as I had hoped. One great point is that the aftertaste of the cubes was significantly lower (approximately 10%) than the cubes in Peranakan Styled Dumpling (Menu 8).

Overall the experience can be described as “good to grab” when you are being issued your ration pack.

Taste The pasta was great, good spices, ample vegetables, however the chicken cubes were normal tasting. 4/5
Texture The pasta consistency was great, the chicken cubes were tough, nice touch of vegetable “crunch” via carrots and corn. 4/5
Smell The pre-eating smell was great, the aftertaste carried well. 5/5
Presentation Looks appetizing, with sufficient moisture to allow for easy mixing within packet. 5/5
Enjoyability Overall, a great ration pack to have. 5/5

Reviewed by Nicholas Chan (21 June 2014)

OK

Reviewed by Gordon Ho

Green Bean Barley Dessert

Not yet reviewed by anyone (Pending)

Menu 4

Chicken & Cashews with Rice

Not yet reviewed by anyone

Teriyaki Chicken Pasta

Not yet reviewed by anyone

Red Bean Milk with Yam Dessert

Not yet reviewed by anyone

Menu 5

Glutinous Rice with Chestnut (Chicken)

Not yet reviewed by anyone

Chicken Porridge with Groundnut

Not yet reviewed by anyone

Mixed Bean Longan Dessert

Not yet reviewed by anyone

Menu 6

Lor Mee (Chicken)

Not yet reviewed by anyone

Pasta with Chicken Frank in Gourmet Sauce

Not yet reviewed by anyone

Peanut with Lotus Root

Not yet reviewed by anyone Scan-140622-0002

Menu 7

Thai Red Curry Pasta (Chicken)

2014-06-24 02.30.43I love thai food, sans their chili. Never having actually heard or tried thai red curry in my life, this ration pack was an enigma to me. Upon opening the packet, what confronted me looked like a messy mix of pasta, peas, corn and otak mixed together. A whiff of curry (or is it otak?) and the familiar oil sheen permeated the contents. Not very inviting visually but when the first portion went into my mouth, it surprised me on both the taste and texture, both being a pleasant surprise. The curry was mild, not unlike curry fish head while the pasta was just about right. The taste quickly devolved into being excessively salty, but still flavorsome as a curry nonetheless. The crunch from the corn and peas were delectable in every bite and added a new dimension in an otherwise plain pasta ration pack. The chicken shreds (half the size of the chunky chicken cubes in other ration packs) were surprisingly tender and edible as compared to the tough chewy cubes in many other ration packs.

Unlike the other pasta-based rations, the condiments within the packet are not too uniform; going down to the last 1/4 of the pack, it appears that the chunkier chicken cubes settled to the bottom, leaving the tender and smaller shredded pieces for the start. Chicken cubes were balanced in volume against the pasta, and the corn and peas were sufficient. As the chicken bits (shreds and cubes) were not tough as compared to other pasta packs (maybe the curry helped in tenderizing?), the overall experience was improved, yet diminished by the excessive saltiness (maybe the salt tenderized the chicken?).

Overall the experience can be described as “not bad at all” when you are being issued your ration pack.

Taste The pasta was great, mild spiciness, excessive saltiness, decent amount of peas and corn, better tasting chicken bits. 3/5
Texture The pasta consistency was great, the chicken bits were good, nice touch of vegetable “crunch” via corn and peas. 4/5
Smell The pre-eating smell was odd, but the the aftertaste carried well. 3/5
Presentation Looks like a mess. 3/5
Enjoyability Overall, a good ration pack to have, just hydrate more to get rid of the sodium. 4/5

Reviewed by Nicholas Chan (24 June 2014)

Chicken Goulash Noodle

2014-06-22 21.50.11 With a name like Goulash, the first memories from the back of my head of a pork and beef stew simmering over a stove somewhere in Central Europe comes to mind. Upon opening the packet, the contents looks and smells relatively good with a reddish sheen of what I assumed was chili oil but it wasn’t, it was actually a tomato based sauce; moist spaghetti-like  pasta with chicken cubes. The taste was really good, not at all spicy with a slight sweetness brought forth by real tomato bits and sauce. The chicken cubes are a little tough, similar in texture to what one might expect in slightly overcooked dehydrated roasted chicken.

As with the other pasta-based rations, the condiments within the packet are rather uniform; minimal settling was observed. Chicken cubes were balanced in volume against the pasta. As compared with the other pasta packs, the noodles within this pack were significantly softer (I would guess 2x). However (same with other pasta packs) due to the chicken cubes being a little tough, the overall experience was not as good as I had hoped. One great point of this pack also is that the aftertaste of the cubes was significantly lower (approximately 10%) than the cubes in Peranakan Styled Dumpling (Menu 8).

Overall the experience can be described as “good to grab” when you are being issued your ration pack.

Taste The noodle pasta was great, good spices, just enough tomato, normal tasting chicken cubes. 5/5
Texture The pasta consistency was great, the chicken cubes were tough, nice touch of vegetable “crunch” via carrots and corn. 4/5
Smell The pre-eating smell was great, the aftertaste carried well. 5/5
Presentation Looks appetizing, with sufficient moisture to allow for easy mixing within packet. 5/5
Enjoyability Overall, a great ration pack to have. 5/5

Reviewed by Nicholas Chan (22 June 2014)

Honey Barley Dessert

Not yet reviewed by anyone (Pending)

Menu 8

Peranakan Style Dumpling (Chicken)

2014-06-14 14.39.55Upon opening the packet, the contents looks like flattened “bak chang”. Despite its classification as spicy, the dumpling was how you would expect a Nonya dumping to taste like, namely a slightly sweet taste, with bits of chicken (in place of pork) in the same stringy texture one would expect. The glutinous rice was reasonably sticky in texture, although the grains have a very slight hardness to it, much like the texture of rice cooked with insufficient water.

The top half of the packet was rather low with meat content. In comparison with a typical Nonya dumpling, I estimate that the meat content was reduced by nearly half. What’s more, while the stringy textured chicken bits were mixed into the dumpling on the top half, one begins to discover cubes of chicken in the bottom half. These chicken cubes were tough and chewy, jarring the overall experience I had so far while significantly increasing in quantity as I went further downwards, giving the impression that settling occurred during the packing stage. The cubes have a strange aftertaste (preservatives?) which can be likened to food which was left out in the open overnight.

After finishing the packet, I felt queasy in the stomach for about 4 hours after; I attribute it to the supposed weird aftertaste of preservatives. Overall the experience can be described as “eat to survive”, but you would probably be partly incapacitated and your fighting ability would be seriously affected.

Taste The rice was acceptable, the chicken cubes were bad. 2/5
Texture The rice consistency was average as there were portions that felt uncooked, the chicken cubes were tough, almost like beef jerky. 2/5
Smell The pre-eating smell was fine, the aftertaste had a strange “slightly spoilt meat” tinge mixed with an undertone of preservatives. 1/5
Presentation Looks and feels like what one would expect of a nonya dumpling tossed into a plastic bag. 3/5
Enjoyability Overall, a below average experience. 2/5

Reviewed by Nicholas Chan (14 June 2014)

Spicy Indian Pasta (Chicken)

2014-06-29 02.13.15I am not much of a “hot spicy” food fan. To me, too many people focus on how “hot” the spice is rather than the flavor. I approached the Spicy Indian Pasta pack with a certain amount of caution, but buoyed by the fact that my fellow reviewer Gordon has rated it good. Upon opening the packet, a strong curry oil smell emanates from within. And a pleasant surprise awaits, this is the only ration pack I have had that utilizes macaroni pasta! The taste is VERY good, giving me the impression of something like Old Chang Kee’s curry puff undertone (without the potato and crust) with a pleasant spicy undertone. The macaroni shells are are perfect in texture AND another surprise, the chicken bits are actually tender! This is the ONLY ration pack where the chicken bits are actually pleasant to eat.

The condiments within the packet are a relatively uniform mix of macaroni and chicken bits. My only peeve is that due to the curry oil, it can (and has) made a minor mess during eating.

Overall the experience can be described as “you must have it” when you are being issued your ration pack.

Taste The macaroni pasta was good, chicken bits are flavorsome and edible, perfect blend of spices. 5/5
Texture Macaroni consistency was perfect, chicken bits great! 5/5
Smell The pre-eating smell was normal. 4/5
Presentation Due to curry oil, can be messy 4/5
Enjoyability GRAB this ration pack! 5/5

Reviewed by Nicholas Chan (29 June 2014)

Good

Reviewed by Gordon Ho

Sweet Potato in Red Bean Soup

Not yet reviewed by anyone (Pending)

Menu 9

St. Louis Bean Stew (Chicken Frank)

Not yet reviewed by anyone

Thai Fried Noodles and Surimi Crabstick

Mok Thai Fried Noodles The name sounded exotic enough. As you tear open the package, the initial smell will put off most people. It smells as exotic as the name, not in the most favorable manner. Visually, the combination looks interesting, suggesting the different texture of the noodles, the sausage and the crab surimi stick. The taste is disappointing. The only thing nice about this package is the name of the food. Obviously, they did a good job at naming it. Unfortunately, nothing else.

Reviewed by Mok Chew Kai

Menu 10

BBQ Baked Beans with Corn (Chicken Sausage)

Mok BBQ Baked BeansAs you open the package, a nice gentle smell, reminiscent of Heinz BBQ sauce takes over the senses. Quite a promising start. But as you pour out the content, the gooey nature (alot of fluids) can make this meal an untidy one if you do not have a spoon. You would not squeeze this out like a toothpaste and eat it conveniently like the rest of rice or noodles. The taste is SURPRISINGLY good. There is almost a hint of quality and there is a chance that you may have flashbacks of memories of nice food at Astons, Outback, Tony Roma’s. Good package. I would go for this if the beans would not produce excessive gas and the additional fibre would not increase the urge to use the field latrines (but then again, how can anyone not use the field latrine for 5D4N in tekong?)

Reviewed by Mok Chew Kai

Vietnamese Chicken Curry Pasta

Mok Vietnamese Chicken Curry PastaAgain, the name outshone the taste of the food. The fusilli were way way overcooked and bordering on being squishy. The curry component was quite generous. It reminded me more of a curry powder with fusilli rather than the chicken curry that we are more familiar with. Out of the 3, I would rate this the last to touch.

Reviewed by Mok Chew Kai

In Summary

[WORK IN PROGRESS]

My personal wishlist for better food in the field

  1. Availability of Non-halal menu choices for the non muslims within the Singapore Armed Forces. Having carbonara and bacon pasta would be a real morale booster out in the field; Lor Mee and dumplings should have pork, not chicken. In the meantime, shrink wrapped bak kwa and canned spam (key opener type) is a good stopgap measure.
  2. Freeze-dried menu. When you are lugging in excess of (at least) 20 kilograms of laden weight on your body, every gram counts. As the best practices of the Singapore Armed Forces already ensures ample access to drinkable water for hydration to each and every soldier, it might be a good time to explore deploying such an option. The downside is the time needed to hydrate each meal, but I guess with sufficient time planning and scheduled downtime for each individual soldier, this wouldn’t be much of a problem.
  3. Flameless ration heater for the ordinary Singapore soldier. The Singapore Commandos already have it with their issued US rations, it would be good if the rest of us have the option to (at least) buy it.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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2 thoughts on “SAF Combat Rations Review

    • Hi Stephen,

      The SAF Combat Rations cannot be bought, but Black Tactical at Funan Centre does carry some other flavours from the same manufacturer (Singapore Food Industries) which are approved for public consumption and sale.