AN ARMY marches on its stomach, said Napoleon Bonaparte, one of the greatest generals to find himself on the losing side of battle. But have you seen a Gurkha march? You are likely to catch the stocky, sure-footed soldiers from Nepal, with their solid legs and knees going up and down hills with the energy many of us would only devote to a 10-metre dash for the bus. So what does a Gurkha eat? In a word, baht, or rice. Tonnes of it, apparently about twice as much as your average hardworking Chinese labourer. If he has to, he's quite happy eating it with nothing at all, but if there is some, he relishes a mild curry. This curry is tasty but has none of the searing afterburn of a southern Indian curry. Its dominant flavour is provided by a mixture of herbs and spices called garam masala, a blend of cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, cloves, coriander, turmeric and black peppercorns. It is so essential that the flavour is preserved that a new blend must be made daily. So every morning, squatting on the floor of the spacious modern cookhouse of the Gun Club Barracks in Kowloon is a soldier pounding away with a large mortar and pestle of dressed granite. He is preparing the day's spices for the men of the Queen's Own Gurkha Transport Regiment. 'They are obedient, loyal and they like to please,' says regimental master chef, Warrant Officer Brian 'Geordie' Lindsay, 'but I can sense that they're not quite in this century. They do things differently.' WO Lindsay came to Hong Kong two years ago after 20 years in regular army catering, but first came across the Gurkhas in the Falklands, which is about as far away as you can get from Nepal without falling off the planet. He wears chef's gear of white tunic and blue check pants, but apart from heavily tattooed arms and a precise short-back-and-sides haircut, the only thing that gives him away as a military man is a pair of enormous black brogues that have been spit-and-polished to a parade ground shine. 'In a normal British kitchen, you'd have some small pots and pans for the small items. Here anything from a single boiled egg to a heap of pig meat goes into an enormous iron wok,' he says. He so enjoyed his seven months working with the Gurkhas and cooking their unusual food in the Falklands that the army, as the army tends to do, posted him to a parachute regiment where it was back to meat and two veg. 'Everyday cooking can be very boring.I was enjoying the new style of food and trying to understand the boys who cooked and ate it.' Then he got his chance. When he was posted to Hong Kong to head a department of 24 Gurkha and five Chinese cooks, he found himself to be the only Brit. His time is divided between five kitchens, two officers' messes, two senior ranks' messes and the soldiers' mess. He is looking to feed nearly 300 men, three meals a day. 'I've worked in kitchens feeding thousands, but actually the numbers don't matter: the same team of cooks can cook for 50 or 500, as long as they have the skill, knowledge and background experience. Without it, it can be chaos.' Steady nerves are also important. 'The army is famous for its 'fast-balls' and you have to know how to react,' he says. 'The telephone can ring and you're told that they need a top-table lunch in the officers' mess in half an hour, as the brigadier is coming. So you've got to think double-quick of what you've got to hand. And then you find that someone's forgotten to tell you he's a vegetarian.' But back to the men. WO Lindsay brings out 'the bible' - the 143-recipe Queen's regulations on the cooking of curry for Gurkha soldiers. 'In the old days, only 20 years ago, you'd be disciplined and they'd dock your pay with the cost of the rations if youdid not follow a recipe to the letter,' he says. 'Now it's only for guidance.' A Gurkha soldier is fed for the tidy sum of $20.57 a day. He's rather more economical to run than a British soldier, at $26.53, or a Chinese, at $24.67. The food value is considered to be the same; it's just that the Gurkha is happy with less fancy ingredients. 'It's amazing how I survive, when you see how much they pile on to their plates,' says WO Lindsay, looking at a young soldier returning to the serving counter for more. 'As long as they do not waste anything, they can eat as much as they like. That one's probably playing basketball this afternoon - they are very good at knowing how much energy they are going to need and how much to serve themselves.' Curry or no, the British army believes that the best breakfast for a fighting man is the British breakfast: eggs, bacon, sausages, tomatoes, the works. That's how the day begins for the soldiers at the Gun Club Barracks. Before breakfast is finished and the boys in green set off into deepest Kowloon to try to find a concrete hill to run up and down, the men in white are busy preparing the day's menu. On hand in the kitchens is WO Lindsay's right-hand man on matters Gurkha, Staff Sergeant Balkrishna Gurung, 15 years in the army and eight in catering. He acts as adviser and cultural quality-control supervisor, checking things out from the Gurhka tastepoint. 'Back home everybody knows how baht is made,' he says. 'But the boys here are lucky. In their mountain villages they'd eat maybe only once a week, here they eat three times a day.' A good Gurkha meal consists of rice, plus dahl (a puree of one of a variety of pulses), subji (mixed vegetable) curry, aludam (potatoes) and two curries, one of which must be pork. Beef is taboo, and most highly prized is goat. There was a time when WO Lindsay and Staff Sergeant Gurung disagreed over the preparation not only of curry but also of rice itself, which the British like to boil so that the grains separate. But 'steaming makes the rice stickier, much easier to eat withchopsticks or fingers', says WO Lindsay. 'As for curry, the British way was to make it as if it was a kind of stew; in other words, we sautee the meat and vegetables together to seal the meat juices, then add the curry powder, seasoning, flour and stock, before cooking,' he says. 'That's wrong,' says Staff Sergeant Gurung, insisting that a key element of a baht curry is what he calls 'gravy sauce'. 'First the oil goes in the pan, then pastes of pounded ginger and garlic and onions are fried until golden brown. Add garam masala, turmeric, tomato paste, chillies and stock: that's what makes gravy sauce. The meat, which has been marinated in salt and liquid ginger and garlic is then cooked in this. That's how we get the flavour we like.' WO Lindsay replies: 'There was a time when I would have disagreed, but now I have to admit, they're right.'