10 Cookwares You Need to Build a Kitchen in Asia

Posted by on March 26, 2014 | 11 comments

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10 Cookwares You Need to Build a Kitchen in Asia | Omnivore's Cookbook

This post was inspired by my friend Chris. He just moved to Singapore and need to build his kitchen from scratch. It reminds me the good old days in Japan, when I moved into this cozy little studio and gradually build it into a sweet home in the coming months.

I still remember the first few things I bought the first day I arrived – salt, a dozen of eggs, some bread, vegetable oil and a non-sticky skillet. I was very proud of myself that only the second day in Japan, I already could enjoy some real breakfast with toasted bread and a nice sunny side up fried egg at home! Yes, I was picky at breakfast, and I still am. But admit it, a good breakfast with nice cup of coffee will make the rest of day better, isn’t it?

Those memories just flew by and I could feel the urge to write those down. So I thought a good idea. I decided to summarize those most important and basic cookwares in an Asian kitchen, so that if you will move to an Asian country one day, the list could help you to build a minimum shopping list to get you through the beginning days, or even months. Believe me, you can cook so many nice and healthy dishes with those basic cookware, even you never learned to cook Asian food before.

The other reason I want to write this post is, Asian kitchen is usually very small, even tiny, comparing to those ones in the US. So the first thing you need to consider is, do not stock too many stuff you rarely use and learn to use space in a smart way. I found the best way to achieve this is, get all the basic things at first, like those I listed here, then buy a few things at a time, to avoid over purchase.

The 3rd reason I made this list is because, I want to show you that you can use those very basic cookwares to make delicious Asian food. We all love prime rib and very cheesy pizza, but the things is, most of Asian kitchen doesn’t have an oven, and buying cheese and a nice cut of meat could be expensive. On the other hand, there’s hundreds of new and very delicious food wait you to discover. If you could learn to cook a few Asian dishes, it will make your grocery shopping much easier and cheaper.

10 Cookwares You Need to Build a Kitchen in Asia | Omnivore's Cookbook

You could look at the photo above. It’s my kitchen after I arrived in Japan for 2 weeks. Back then, I barely know how to cook at all, but those minimum equipments and ingredients got me through the first 4 months in Japan.

Now, let get back to the topic and have a look at the list below:

10 Cookwares You Need to Build a Kitchen in Asia

(1) Wok / Non-sticky skillet

I consider this THE MOST IMPORTANT cookware no matter where I live. This one is mainly for cooking stir-fried food. Stir-fried dishes, no mater it’s meat, poultry, rice or noodles, are the most fast and convenient things to cook on a daily basis. I put “or” here, because you could just choose one if you have limited space. A wok is versatile, that you could use it for stir-fry, deep fry and braise. However, it’ll be a bit of learning curve if you never cooked with a wok before. There’s some tips for using wok in this post. Although some stir-fried dishes require a wok for the best result, a good quality non-sticky skillet could do a good job in most of cases. It’s much easier to control, requires less oil and very easy to learn, like this cauliflower dish.

(2) Spatula

This one goes with the wok / non-sticky skillet of course. But I do forgot to buy it when I just arrived in Japan… I used chopsticks to flip the fried egg for my first breakfast… If you use wok, you should by a spatula made from metal, which is easy for flipping and scoop ingredients from the round bottom of wok. If you use a non-sticky skillet, use a wooden, plastic or silicon spatula instead, since metal one will ruin the the surface of the skillet.

(3) Medium Size Soup Pot

The pot is for blanch vegetables, boil dumplings, soup or noodles. One of my favorite lazy way to cook a quick dinner is, boil frozen wonton from supermarket with several types of fresh vegetables, and using chicken broth with spicy oil for soup base. It’s soothing, delicious, healthy and filling for a quick dinner. You’ll find so many brands and flavors of frozen dumplings and wontons in an Asian supermarket and lots of them taste better than those sold in non-Asian market. I highly recommend you to save a few bags in the freezer in case you want a quick and delicious dinner for week days.

(4) Soup Ladle

If you forgot this one, you’ll have some major troubles when you boil a big pot of noodle soup.

(5) Sharp Knife

A sharp medium size knife could help with chop, peel and cut. You don’t even need a scissor. If you decided to cook more often, I recommend you to invest in a high quality knife. Because an Asian kitchen requires more chop, slice and mince, for smaller ingredients like ginger and garlic. Also, vegetables and meat need to be cut into smaller and even size for a good stir-fry. A sharp knife will save a lot of your time and energy in the kitchen.

(6) Cutting board

I always prefer a wooden or bamboo cutting board over a plastic one, especially when it comes to cut bigger chunk of meat.

(7) Colander

This is very useful in Asian kitchen, since you can easily get green vegetables in the market and they’ll need some careful washing before use. It’s also a must have for drain noodles, pasta, or boiled dumplings.

(8) Rice cooker

Every Asian kitchen should have one. Because you could throw in rice and water and leave it there for cooking steam rice, then go prepare other dishes at the same time. Steam rice is healthy, filling and goes well with stir fried or braised dishes. Rice is a great replacement for bread in Asia, because it’s cheaper and easier to get. Moreover, you could use the leftover rice for fried rice, pack it for lunch box, breakfast or make congee. You can also use rice cooker to make single dish meal with vegetables and meat. Some people even use it to make sponge cake.

(9) Coffee maker / tea kettle

In my world, there’re only 2 types of people, coffee person or tea person. For me, a coffee maker turns my everyday life into a better one from the beginning. I’m not a morning person, but I grind coffee beans to make fresh cup of coffee every day. But if you’re a tea person, get the kettle instead, and I won’t judge you.

(10) Oven toaster / Microwave

Again, if you can choose one in order to save space, you might need to choose from those 2. Personally, I will choose oven toaster over microwave. Because you can heat anything on stove, with skillet or pot, even it’s a bit slower than heat up in microwave. However, I do need nicely baked pizza, roast beef, or any dish with cheese on top once in a while. Also, it might be expensive or difficult to get nice western food, depends on where you live. Therefore, an oven toaster is a good choice, if you have some urges for home food. If you live in Japan, you might found most of gas stoves comes with a tiny grilling space in the middle, like a small drawer. It’s so convenient to grill fresh fish or half pizza. A great substitute for oven toaster.

Above are the most important and basic 10 cookwares you need to build a kitchen in Asia. If you also want to look at the basic ingredients for cooking Asian food, you could check my pantry section.

What do you think about this list? Leave a comment to let me know if this list is helpful or there’s something missing.

In the end, hope all of you who are living in Asia could have wonderful experience and enjoy a lot of amazing local food! :)

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11 Comments

  1. Thank you for your kind visit Maggie! Your list gives very valuable advice and we do admire our Asian friends minimalist kitchen. In Europe less but here in the US we tend to be prepared for all occasions and end up with way too many items in the kitchen cabinets and pantry. Love your pink refrigerator :)
    J+C

    • Maggie

      Hi Judit and Corina, thanks for commenting and I’m so glad you found this list helpful. :)
      It’s true that lots of Asian or European families has smaller kitchen, so using space in an economic way is very important for us. On the other hand, I LOVE big kitchen. Always imagine how I’ll decorate mine if I’ll ever have one. Will definitely stuff it with too many items ;)

  2. Hey Maggie, thanks for keeping me focused. I think my minimalist approach will include all your items since I can only give up so much of my Americans ways. I have a frying pan but the wok sounds like I can get some of that grill feeling I miss, and it’s quick as you say. No smoke detector so that won’t bother during cooking like all my US apartments that require them. Singapore puts bomb shelters in apartments so I have that as a pantry to stuff a few more things. Interesting I’m prepared for an air attack here but not a simple house fire. Glad chicken and pork are cheap at least.

    • Maggie

      Hi Chris, thanks for stopping by and commenting! First time to hear bomb shelter in an apartment, but it sounds like a good storage room for me!
      So far, I didn’t find smoke detector Chinese apartment, but I remember Japanese apartments have them. It makes me wonder, maybe it’s because Chinese cooking (or wok cooking) is too common in those places, and the smoke it generates will set off the alarm several times a day.

  3. Great post! About the coffee person/tea person debate, I’d say the kettle is a good way to go if you like coffee and tea, since you can use it with a french press or Japanese drip bag coffee. It’s also handy for quickly heating water for soup. noodles, or dumplings.

    • Maggie

      Very smart debate!:) Have to admit I have them both at home and a kettle is handy for quick heating up water. Japanese drip bag coffee is the most convenient way to have fresh coffee during a trip, especially in China, that most domestic 5 stars hotels will only offer instant coffee!

  4. I’m happy to report that I have all of these items in my kitchen all the way at the bottom of the world :)

  5. Hey Maggie,

    I’m currently in china and really missing my oven. I was wondering if an oven/toaster will allow me to bake things like muffins, and cakes, or roasting veggies? Back home I had a toaster oven but I never used it for an oven before so I’m not sure if it will be any good.

    • Maggie

      Hi Leyla, I used to use my toaster oven for baking gratin, pizza and roasting fish, and it worked out fine. It really depends on the equipment you have, and a decent size oven always work better than toaster.

      The electronic oven I’m using now, is one of the biggest one I can find in China so far. It has no problem for baking veggies, meat, muffins and cakes, but have a bit trouble baking Italian style pizza and making certain types of bread, since it only goes up to 220 degrees C (430 F).

      A smaller and cheaper toaster oven could do almost the same things, but its temperature is a bit difficult to control and it doesn’t hold up heat very well. For example, it will easily result in over cooked surface with the inside of meat is still raw. If you’ll stay in China for quite a long time and need to bake a lot, I’d suggest you to invest a bit more on electronic oven. On the opposite, a cheaper one with decent size will work well enough.

  6. Hi Maggie. Thanks for dropping by yesterday, and I’m so glad you did because your blog looks great! I’m excited to explore more Asian inspired recipes. We actually live pretty close to China town in NYC, so it should be relatively easy to find many of the ingredients. However, the only item from the list we don’t have is a rice cooker. Is there anything I should consider when buying one?…as far as functionality.

    • Maggie

      Hi Christine, I’d say a rice cooker is the most important piece in a Chinese kitchen. It’ll be very convenient to have one if you cook Asian food once in a while.
      My list here is a minimal list. There’s several utensils/tools that are usually used in Asian kitchen, like cleaver (easy for chopping chicken/pork with bones, smashing est.), clay pot (soup and stew), bamboo steamers (for making dim sum), electric hot pot (great for dinner party), tongs (transfer food from deep-frying or noodles), rolling pins (making dumpling/wonton wrap). I could name a lot, but it really depend on what kind of food you’d like to cook.
      Hope this is helpful :)

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