Food history: what did the Czechoslovak Legion eat during WWI? Part two
The soldiers' diaries and postcards are mainly about food...
In the previous article (who has not read it - go for it!) I mentioned some Russian dishes that were provided to the soldiers. However, soldiers often had to find food on their own.
So what did they do?
Naturally, soldiers were not just sitting in the Russian camps and eating their military cuisine. They frequently marched from one place to another, passing only small villages. Getting food was hard, especially when they were in (today's) Mongolia, which is one of the least populated countries in the world. But somehow they managed to get food.
In villages they were able to buy food from locals. So then they could have milk, eggs, flour, and, if lucky, even meat or some vegetables. Sometimes, a big group of soldiers put together their saved up money and bought good, tasty meat or spices. Let's not forget that back in the olden days, spices were expensive (or even luxury in the Middle Ages). There was also a good chance that locals would invite the soldiers to stay as their guests.
Here's an excerpt from the diary of a soldier about making an exclusive food for his mates: "I had marinated some of the meat. I obtained spices, vegetables, cream, and started cooking. The boys were enjoying the meat with cream sauce and bread dumplings in the evening very much. I was so glad that they liked it. We had also invited our hosts to the table and I think they have never eaten such delicious food in their lives. I had baked the rest of the meat with garlic and it was very good with potatoes."
The dish he described is called sirloin and is still a typical dish in the Czech Republic
Things get worse
As I mentioned, sometimes supplies were no good. Soldiers had to go hunting or picking mushrooms. For the Czechs mushroom picking is a common activity and most people can identify the species. So it was not a dangerous activity for the soldiers and would not lead to poisonings.
Well, it could get worse than that. Occasionally they ate dogs. Begged locals to give them food. Stole food. Got just a slice of bread or a potato for lunch. Made soups from fish viscera. Life could have been tough.
They also visited cities all over Asia, like Harbin (China), Vladivostok (Russia), and many more. There they were obviously able to buy normal food and eat properly.
Here's an excerpt from a soldier's diary, who was staying in the city of Novorossiysk (Russia): "I tried the coffee and immediately recognized the difference between the coffee I used to drink in Brno and Warsaw, and this drink I tasted in a Greek cafe... On the market there were whole piles of beautiful grapes, apples, pears and other fruits. Who could resist? I was eating fruits everyday, sitting on the sea shore."
Novorossiysk in 1910's
I hope you enjoyed this two-article insight into the life of WWI soldiers. Let me know in the comments if you want more articles about food history.