Barrels of rice | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Barrels of rice

Barrels of rice

Detail cropped from photo:

Date picture taken (may be approximate): 
Sunday, January 1, 1950


Thailand white rice - HK$0.75/catty, $9.90 for 8 kgs

2022 price - HK$100 ∓ 20 for an 8kg bag, and a lot more for eight 1kg bags.

Hi There,

From what I saw in similar establishments in the late 1970s, those wooden barrels are not filled.  The barrels are partitioned, only the upper 1/5 are filled with rice.  Back in those days, shop keepers usually only put a small volume of each product on display.

There was a common practice to allow the rice in storage to absorb a bit more moisture so they weigh a bit more when being sold.  They usually keep a kettle of boiling water somewhere inside the warehouse providing steam for such purpose.

On the same manner, some beef retailers would inject water into their beef before putting them up for sale.  What we called [吹水牛肉].  That is the original of the commend slang  'Blowing Water' these days.


I think it would be risky to humidify rice in storage as >15% moisture or so would lead to mold formation, especially in HK's humidity where a cookie would pick up water and go soggy in a day if not kept airtight in a tin.

In Canada, with processed meat such as ham, which is routinely injected with a seasoning fluid, the % protein content has to be listed on the label. The lower the protein %tage, the more the water content. Fresh seafood is often soaked in a triphosphate fluid to puff it up.


Hi There,

Those were common bad practice of rice retailers at the back of their stores way back, pre-WWII, I think.  Not in centralized rice storage by the local government post WWII.  Anyway, since the 1980s local supermarkets started selling vacuum packages of rice in 10 catties (later 5 kg\8 kg\15 kg packages) thus literally put this out altogether.


Back in the 70s during my childhood, not everyone had a refrigerator and we bought groceries daily. It wasn't surprising to buy only 1 or 2 catty at a time