Those who patronised the latter did not have to
queue for rations. Even then, no one was assured of
getting anything unless they were near the head of
Hence, there was an incentive to get up in the wee
hours of the morning to be in front of everyone else.
Rumours of new supplies in the shops usually
brought out the queues very quickly. Even if you had
no use for whatever was available, you bought it
anyway so you could barter it for something else
Sometimes though, the quality of the food people
had waited so long to buy did not come up to
expectations. Bread and noodles were hard or rubbery.
Rice had weevils or stones. Sugar was damp or
Meanwhile, the flavour of so many dishes was so
bad that some people preferred to do without or
learnt to make what they needed. Home-grown,
home-made items were common. There were far fewer
ingredients to play around with, and recipes were
simple and uncomplicated. In the absence of imported
ingredients, local food and flavourings were
The common coconut made many dishes far more
palatable. No one had heard of saturated fat in the
oil, and even if they did, all that mattered was
making the kangkong or ubi kayu taste better.
Soya sauces, taucheo, dried shrimps, belacan and
chillies were basic to many dishes. The "ang
moh" prisoners of war in the camps came to
appreciate the fiery chilli too for the boost it gave
to an otherwise dull diet.
On the rare occasion, extra rations would be
released to celebrate a special festival, like the
birthday of the Japanese Emperor.