Cooking in Chinatown
Above the dim sum cafes and tourist shops about 10,000 residents call Chinatown, San Francisco their home. Thousands of recent immigrants and long-term residents alike, live in tiny rooms some as small as 100 square feet. Sometimes three generations, grandparents, parents, and children would stay in a single room less than 350 square feet. Children would sleep on the top bunk, parents on the lower bunk. Single Resident Occupancy (SRO) rooms, do not have a private bathroom or their own kitchen. They share a kitchen with 10 or more other families on the same floor.

To avoid lunch and dinner traffic in the shared kitchens, residents cook at all hours of the day. The kitchens are equipped with the bare essentials, a stove and a sink. Since there are no place in the shared kitchens to store pots and pans, the residents must bring their woks, a caddy with the core cooking ingredients (soy sauce, MSG, garlic, XO sauce, salt, and oil), a butcher knife and dishes.

The kitchen is where most people get to know their neighbors and where most of the drama occurs. People fight about fair kitchen use but also share recipes and cooking tips. In these spaces, people are forced to be creative cooks and aggressive defenders of their right to make a meal for their families.

Cooking Chinese food in a shared SRO kitchen


Mrs. Lin's home
Many residents also set up a make-shift kitchen in their small rooms. They have a rice cooker and a small kerosene stove. Mrs. Lin avoids the kitchen all together because it is always crowded. She makes meals for three people in her room.



This is an on-going story that will be published as part of a multimedia package on Chinese food.
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