Friday, November 23, 2012

Jungle Cooking, British Army, WW2

      The British Army in World War 2 quickly learned that jungle warfare often entailed the disruption of normal supply. Soldiers were instructed in techniques of individual cooking to supplement to what rations were available. A basic ration of salt, tea, sugar and rice could be supplemented with wild vegetables, fruits, birds, mammals, and fish. Many improvised cooking implements could be fashioned from bamboo. An extremely versatile material, bamboo was commonly found throughout the jungles of Asia. Fortunately for me, it's also easily found in my private "jungle". 

Illustration from the Manual of Army Catering Services, Part II - Recipes,1945

Lunch is served. The "dinnerware" is constructed from bamboo, per illustrations in British Army manuals. Heating the outside of the green bamboo with a propane torch will help to preserve it. If the heating is carried a step further, the bamboo can be given a permanent dark brown color.
Without further ado, let's proceed to the "jungle" and perform a basic technique of British Army jungle cooking.

     British Army manuals described how to cook rice in bamboo, for "consumption on the march". The technique can be adapted to many types of recipes where boiling is the method of cooking. The tutorial below demonstrates this method of cooking rice in a section of bamboo.

Cut a piece of bamboo to size. It's best to use thin-walled, green bamboo to help minimize scorching. Make sure that you cut on either side of a joint, as there is a membrane at the joint which will hold your ingredients inside. Here I have cut a piece large enough to cook rice for one person.
Drill or punch a hole through the membrane on one end only. Shake out or rinse out any pieces that may have fallen inside.
We need to measure the capacity of our newly-created cooking vessel. To do this, pour water into the section of bamboo until it is nearly full.
Then drain the water out into an empty container and measure the amount. Calculate the amount of rice and water needed to  fill the  bamboo container, leaving a little space.
A funnel makes filling easier.

Add the rice,
and then the water.  Of course, in a jungle it would not be likely to find a measuring cup and funnel. However, one could improvise with a canteen cup to estimate the volume, and use a rolled-up leaf for a funnel. 

Plugging the end loosely with a rolled up piece of banana leaf helps to slow heat loss and evaporation during cooking. The same technique of cutting the bamboo and plugging with banana leaf is used to create a water carrier.
 Insert a forked stick of green wood into the ground. Place one end of the filled container in the notch of the stick. Build a small fire under the bamboo. Dried bamboo burns extremely well and makes an excellent fuel. Bring the rice to a boil and then lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. Carefully (it can get very hot!) rotate the container once or twice while cooking to prevent scorching.

The bamboo cooker is then split open to remove the rice. Alternately, it could be left intact to be used as a carrying container if the rice needed to be transported. This would be for short distances only, especially in a tropical climate, as warm moist rice is an ideal breeding ground for bacteria.
The cooked rice.
As an added bonus, here is how to construct another type of bamboo cooker. I'm not sure when it first appeared in print in the US Army's Survival manual, but it appeared in many editions over the years.

To make this bamboo cooker, cut a larger diameter piece of bamboo. Cut a section so that you have two joints, but leave a longer amount of material on the ends, as shown below.

Make two angled cuts (approximately 45 degrees) just inside of the joints. The cuts will be made towards the center, as in the photo above. Cut to a depth of about one-third the diameter of the bamboo.

Carefully insert the blade of a heavy knife or machete and pry upwards. 
This will split the bamboo between the cuts and make an opening for the food to be cooked. 
Turn the bamboo over. Next we will make a cut on the outside of the joint, on both ends of the bamboo. 
Cut to a depth of about one-third the diameter of the bamboo.

Once you have made the cuts on the ends, carefully split the bamboo down to the cuts.
Remove the material from the cut area on the ends.
Place two short pieces of bamboo (of smaller diameter than the cooker) into the ground as supports. Place the ends of the cooker over the supports and build a fire underneath. 


  1. Totally love this. I'm trying it out tomorrow. :)

  2. Hello, this is a BRILLIANT site! It is just the sort of thing we do in our Living History Association all the time. Here is an event we did for the Royal Canadian Air Force in Burma in 1945:

    Your bamboo cooking would have been great there! I am going to make use of your recipes when we do the Canadian Army in Korea, 1951, this May.

    May I post over a few of our recipes for you to peruse, sir?

    Simon Sobolewski

  3. Hi Simon,
    Thank you for the kind words. Comments like yours help me to keep the blog interesting and relevant, as it gives me a better idea of what readers want to see.
    You can email me at

  4. we were taught this procedure in survival school, before going to Vietnam, I have used it several times, adding some wild lemon grass while boiling improves the flavor of the rice, green bamboo can be tapped for drinkable water, the lower sections having water in them, ive seen water vine cut and water extracted, this was used by both sides in Vietnam, bamboo shoots are also edible