January 23, 2013:
The Chinese Navy has faced a serious problem with feeding its crews on long voyages. This is because traditional Chinese food is time consuming to prepare and uses more water than Western chow. You can cut corners and provide simple (and unappetizing) meals on short training voyages and get away with it. That does not require much manpower or lots of water but does little for morale. The officers usually get fed better but the sailors expect that.
On longer voyages quality food is an important element in maintaining morale for the entire crew. This was discovered over the last four years as China sent 13 Task Forces (3-4 ships each) over 4,000 kilometers to Somalia for anti-piracy duty. These ships were away for six months or more and the navy was forced to innovate to keep the food appealing. The solution turned out to be more Western style food. This worked mainly because most of the sailors were young and keen to try Western food. This stuff is still relatively expensive (but very popular) in China, if only because a lot of it relies a lot on meat (burgers and chicken). Chinese officers had studied food service in Western navies and noted that the Western navies were able to use more equipment and automation as well as pre-packaged items to greatly reduce the manpower (and fresh water) needed to prepare attractive and nutritious meals.
All this was seen on the new Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning, which has a crew of 2,500 and is expected to go on training cruises lasting a week or more. Operating a carrier, especially one conducting a lot of takeoffs and landings, is very stressful for the crew. So burgers, fried chicken, and reheated frozen Chinese dishes are served. This is expensive but it maintains morale and the ability to keep the busy schedule going. The Chinese Army has also been forced to use pre-packaged foods (like Western MREs) for combat operations where time consuming food preparation was not practical. Of course the Chinese have long (for thousands of years) used rice balls for emergency rations. The new prosperity in China has led to entrepreneurs developing traditional Chinese dishes in storable form. This has provided the armed forces with a constant supply of new ideas on how to keep the troops supplied with satisfactory food while on the move.