Wartime Stoves above Quarry Bay | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Wartime Stoves above Quarry Bay

Earlier I wrote about the wartime shelter area in the valley above the old Taikoo dockyard and sugar refinery. At least one of the cooking areas is still standing - the one I saw had 10 cooking platforms, and each cooking platform had spaces for cooking with 8 woks. At the time I thought cooking with 80 woks would have supported a lot of people, but there were more ... a lot more.

Recently I've been looking at an aerial photo of the valley taken in 1949. It shows there were nine cooking areas, each with ten cooking platforms. So room for cooking with 720 woks! There may have been even more - there are cooking areas up to the southern edge of the photo, so there may have been more further south / higher up the valley.

Here's roughly where the cooking areas were, according to the photo:

What is there to see today?

There must have been a lot of work needed to get these shelter areas ready. Not just building the cooking areas - think of the amounts of food and firewood needed to keep these kitchens running. There must have been large stores of both in this area.

I'd also like to know what preparations they made to get enough cooks into the area to man these stoves. You might think: "everyone knows how to cook in a wok", but these large woks are quite different.

Dennis Bray wrote about facing this problem when arranging meals for people made homeless by the Shek Kip Mei fire in 1953:

"Cooking rice in a small pot is a skill that everyone had mastered. [...] Trying to do the same thing in woks, some four feet across, using shovels for wooden spoons was a highly skilled job requiring considerable experience,"

He wasn't directly involved in that relief operation, but was later required to:

"organise the cooking and food distribution after a severe typhoon called Wanda, in 1962. So many people had been made homeless that we had to produce seventy-five thousand meals a day. We built makeshift kitchens on wasteland and looked for anyone who had experience in this kind of work. In the normal way, we never had to advertise for labour, but on this occasion we could not find enough men who had the required expertise, so we did advertise."

If this was their experience in peacetime, it's not hard to imagine the problems they'd have running these shelter areas in wartime.

Comments

Hi there,

Just a piece of note.  One of my great aunts used to work in the kitchen of a elderly nursary.  She once mentioned their rice was steamed in BIG woks instead being prepared in electrical rice cooker as there was no rice cookers that could cater for the volume.  Rice is rinsed, then soaked in water in a big container for a few hours, then they would be put into the wok with boiling water.  The rice container is then stacked up above the water before the lid is covered.  If more things were to be steamed at the same time, they might use those stackers made of bamboo material.

So I guess if rice is concerned, I tend to believe they were also being steamed if rice was concerned.  I think big restaurants and even chains still steam their rice.

Best Regards,

T

It looks like I over-estimated the number of woks that could be cooking at the same time, assuming that each cooking platform had 8 stoves. That was after seeing the platforms still standing at area E on the map above:

Wartime stoves

You can see four larger stoves on the corners, and another four smaller stoves between them.

Here's the view of this area on the 1949 aerial photo. The ten cooking platforms are clear to see.

Wartime Cooking Area E

There were also long counters (for food preparation or serving?) along each side of the area. Only one remains today:

Wartime stoves

Another point to note on the 1949 photo is the dark line pointing towards 9 o'clock on each platform. I've been told there was a chimney in the centre of each platform, so those dark lines are likely the shadow cast by each chimney.

Switching to Area H, the concrete floor is still there but only one cooking platform remains:

Wartime stoves

For some reason, these only had two, smaller stoves per platform. From the aerial photo, it looks as though all the platforms in areas on the east of the valley, ie I, H, and G, were this two-stove design. Here's the 1949 view of area H:

Wartime Cooking Area H

So that leaves three areas with ten 2-stove platforms, and six areas with ten 8-stove platforms. In total that's 3 x 10 x 2 + 6 x 10 x 8 = 540 stoves. A smaller number, but still a lot of woks!

An extra piece of the puzzle, the official name of this area was the 'Taikoo Braemar Dispersal Area for Refugees':

Lee sent an amazing document, the post-war report of Charles Mycock (headmaster of the Ellie Kadoorie School – see November). Mycock was headquartered at Woodside while Commandant of the Taikoo Braemar Dispersal Area for Refugees (which included the famous concrete rice kitchens which are still there). Now finally I know what happened there, and on the road from Quarry Gap to Quarry Bay. A real find. Interestingly, Mycock wrote it in 1945 while recuperating at Lower Hutt. The Hutt Valley was the first part of New Zealand I ever visited.

From Tony Banham (see his diary for 10 Dec 2009)