I did my national service 16 years ago and haven’t eaten cookhouse food since then. In the past, I had always hated the food. I remember NOT eating for some meals for breakfast and lunch during my BMT training partly because I was depressed and partly because the food was sandpaper. As Daren Shiau puts it mildly in Heartland, a book selected for “O” Levels literature text, “The [army] food is quite fucked up.” The most delicious cookhouse meal I had was after I starved for four days during my field camp. (The rations were disgusting; I ate only the biscuits.)
This time, going back to reservist, I got to taste the food again. And to my surprise, the food is palatable, delicious even. And this opinion comes after years of writing and thinking about food. The years have made me pickier with food and yet I’m giving the cookhouse food a thumbs up.
Sambal egg, fried chicken, achar, chicken in a daal-like curry. Peanut soup.
The fried chicken is super tasty. It tastes almost like my favorite Arnold’s chicken, but the chicken isn’t of good quality. The chilli is not very spicy so people who can’t take heat like me can still eat it easily. On the whole, it is an appetising meal.
But I was having stomach problems. So that much spice isn’t great and I had a belly ache by evening and had to skip dinner.
Braised chicken wings, tao gay, stewed peanuts, braised cashew chicken, omelette. Carrot radish soup.
It doesn’t look very appealing with variations of brown colors but it tastes good. The wings are so tender that you can put the whole piece in your mouth and they come out clean. Also: the braised cashew chicken is a mix from the stir-fry cashew chicken and sesame chicken with mushroom. Quite innovative. First time eating a dish like this and it sorta works.
But the meal requires some variety. They have two braised chicken dishes and two types of nuts. The day before, there were peanuts which also appear today. Also some people are allergic to nuts.
Mutton curry, curry veg, corn soup (chinese style), thai green curry chicken.
WOW. Dinner is fantastic. They nail the Thai green curry, which is even better than most Thai restaurants. Really appreciate the mutton after days of chicken.
Salmon patty, chicken, butter rice, mashed potatoes, ice cream, cream soup.
I remember in the army we used to look forward to Western Food Day. But this one is terrible, the worst of all meals I have. The salmon patty is processed and dry and tastes like cardboard. There are so much carbs that I didn’t take the mash. I can’t even tell what the cream soup is: is it corn? But the chicken is delicious, with a gooey, slightly spicy and sweet sauce. The butter rice is also good.
This meal is unhealthy and not tasty.
It is Indian food day: vegetables in a daal curry, curry chicken, curry chicken, briyani rice, and, strangely, a creamed soup more Western and quite impossible to identify. This meal is meh. On the whole, still better than the Western Food Day, but the food doesn’t have the richness of Indian spices.
Last day and there was catered food. I WANT TO KNOW WHO THE CATERER IS because the food is AMAZING. The best catered food I had. It consists of kuning rice mixed with brown rice (giving it a nice crunch and making it healthy), assam fish, rosemary chicken, halal pai gu wang (using chicken), kueh pie tee, fruit jelly, and assorted Peranakan kuehs. EVERYTHING IS SO DELICIOUS. I had THREE rounds. And after the meal, there is beer.
After a week of eating cookhouse food, I have to say, I’m very impressed. The food is super delicious and the experience has been very good. But these are some recommendations for them to improve more.
1. Get rid of the sugared sodas, which are super unhealthy, and use the budget to improve the quality of the meats. Currently, the quality of meats is quite bad. Getting better quality meats provide better nutrients for soldiers.
2. Sliced fruits: are only available to people of certain ranks. Other low ranking soldiers get oranges, or bananas, or apples. Really? What sort of era do we live in? Equality for all, please. Either sliced fruits for all, or get rid of the sliced fruits. People work better when they know they are treated as equals.
3. More fibre: When you see the vegetables, they are all white/pale vegetables like cabbages. Where are all the green vegetables? After eating lunch, I often have to eat vegetarian for dinner, ordering at least 2 green vegetables and one non-green one.
4. Cut down on carbs: On the Western Food Day, they gave mash AND butter rice. Goodness. I wish they could give lesser carbs and give more proteins, give 3 pieces of chicken, instead of the current 2 pieces.
5. Creamed soups: Get rid of them. High calories and they taste disgusting of thickened flour. Many people, I notice, don’t drink soups. So maybe just serve soups 3 times a week, and then use the budget to put into quality meats.
6. More variety: Many days, the food always has curry or some form of spiciness in them. I wish there are more varieties. Curry is delicious but often the food is swimming in so much gravy, which is unhealthy.
7. More Ways of Cooking Chicken: Chicken, chicken, everyday, I’m so bored of it. I understand that even for Chinese food, they don’t want pork so as not to contaminate the halal section. I respect it. But there are more ways to cook chicken. My suggestion is to use classic pork dishes but replace the pork with chicken. For example, they can replace sweet-and-sour pork with chicken, so that our tongues are tricking us into thinking we are eating pork, but actually we are eating chicken.
Ending off with a positive note… I have been dreading reservist since I haven’t been back for so long and my army experience was horrifying. But this reservist has really been fun. I met some really nice people like Dean who is an amazing leader, SGT Heng who is super responsible and dedicated, Ong an officer who volunteers to do MORE years of reservist. I went to the gym everyday, and chatted with another reservist guy about heavy metal music and his antiestablishment stance. All in all, a positive experience.
You may be interested in…
–How Hospital Food in Singapore Is Prepared
–A Week Without Sugar aka HELL WEEK
–The $5 Challenge: How I Lived on $5 a Day for a Week and Failed Spectacularly
–Food at Google Singapore Canteen
Written by Dr. A. Nathanael Ho.