In the cities these days Thai cooking, kitchens and utensils tend to reflect various levels of the impact of Western technology. Among the less affluent, especially in the many rural villages? The traditional Thai kitchen still operates as it has for hundreds of years. Here, we will talk about the Thai cooking, kitchens and cooking utensils as they still exist for millions of Thai people.
Thai Cooking – Kitchens
The kitchen in Thailand is a very simple affair. It is generally built away from the main house. It is a plain room, with a cement or dirt floor, with unglazed windows which might boast the luxury of screens to keep out the mosquitoes. Many do not even have a door, let alone window screens. In the central region, Thai homes are set on teak poles. This due to annual flooding during the late rainy season from September till end October, and for cooling.
The central feature of the Thai kitchen is the stove. This generally built-in, and constructed of cement or brick. It has a large aperture below to insert and remove the charcoal pot. The pot is a funnel shaped vessel of kiln-baked earthenware or a cement-lined metal pail that holds the burning charcoal. When the charcoal pot is in place, it fits directly below a circular opening in the top of the stove. This hole has flanges which hold a ‘wok’ (the traditional round-bottomed Asian frying pan) firmly in place above the charcoal fire. Extra charcoal is kept in a box or a sack beside the stove. In poorer households, they will simply use the charcoal pot, made with flanges on the top, as the stove.
Because there are no oven arrangements, there is no baking in the home. In the entire range of Thai food recipes and cuisine there are almost no baked dishes to be found.
The next most important thing in the kitchen will be a freestanding storage cupboard. This resembles an old-fashioned Western meat safe, made from either wood or aluminum. The back, sides and doors are all covered with wire-mesh screens to keep the flies out and allow air circulation. The legs stand in saucers of water to discourage ants and other insects. This cupboard usually houses nothing more than some stored garlic bulbs, the ubiquitous fish sauce “nam pla” (Thai sauce recipes), some dried fish, dried chilies and perhaps some precooked cold rice.
Due to the hot climate and the fact that a Thai kitchen in the countryside seldom has a refrigerator; shopping is done daily at the local market, and leftovers are uncommon.
If the kitchen is blessed with running water, there will be a sink. In any case, there will be large, clay water-storage jars nearby. These are filled with city or well water, and in which rain water is collected. There will be a few wooden shelves on the wall for extra storage. Nails in the wall provide hangers for various cooking utensils and implements.
Electricity is spreading through even smallest countryside villages. The first status symbol to arrive in the kitchens has been the electric rice-cooker. This relieves the housewife of the daily chore of preparing the rice. No small thing in a country where each person consumes approximately one pound of rice per day.
Cooking Tools & Utensils
Outlined below are the tools and utensils which have been used in Thai cooking kitchens for years. These items were originally brought by Thai ancestors who migrated from China to the northern part of Thailand. If you walked into a traditional Thai kitchen, here is what you would be likely to find:
- Stove: This is the crude charcoal burner, built of either clay or metal, on which sits a wok, large pot or steamer.
- Tongs: These are used chiefly for handling the charcoal.
- Fan: This is used to get the fire started in the stove by fanning the coals.
- Bamboo Tube: This has the same function as the fan, to keep the charcoal glowing. In this case, the air is blown onto the fire through the tube.
- Grill: Placed on top of the stove to cook meat or fish.
- Skewer: This utensil, like the grill, is laid across the stove. One end of the skewer is sharp and pointed. Meat and vegetables can be speared on it and cooked in shish-kebab style.
- Wok: This is easier to clean and distributes heat more evenly than a conventional frying pan. It is also less likely to be damaged. Used for conventional frying, stir-frying and deep-fat frying.
- Spatula: Made of wood, or metal with a wooden handle, used for stir-frying in the wok.
- Rice Pot: A clay pot with a lid and no handles. This pot is used almost exclusively for rice.
- Coconut Shell Spoon: A simple spoon with a wooden handle, which comes in many sizes. There are also similar utensils made with halves of coconut shells, used as ladles.
- Curry Pot: This clay pot has large handles on the sides that curve up above the level of the lid. This makes it easy to carry. As the name implies, it is used for the large variety of curries which the Thai people enjoy.
- Steamer: This is made of clay or aluminum, and fits atop the mouth of the charcoal burner. Since the Thai eat rice with every meal, a steamer an essential part of every kitchen. (In Thai, the verb “to eat” is “kin khao” which literally means “to eat rice”)
- Bamboo Strainer: This is handy for straining many foods, especially rice.
- Coconut Grater: Since coconut is used so extensively in Thai cooking, this utensil is almost a necessity and used by every housewife.
- Chopping Block: This block, unlike its Western counterpart, is usually round instead of square or rectangular in shape.
- Rice Grinder (Mill): To make rice flower, the cook puts rice into the top opening and turns the crank. The pressure inside the mill reduces the rice to powder.
- Cleaver: This large knife is used to chop, slice and dice the meats and the vast array of vegetables and herbs in Thai cooking.
- Glutinous Rice Basket: This tightly woven basket keeps sticky rice warm and moist. It also preserves it for a surprisingly long time without refrigeration.
- Mortar and Pestle: the mortar is made of crude earthenware, stone or hardwood, and is deep with a. weighted base. The pestle is chunky. They are especially designed to cope with the moist curry pastes and for bruising lemon grass, citrus rind, garlic and coriander roots.
- Cupboard: Formerly always made of wood, but now often seen in lightweight aluminum. Used for storing dried condiments, bottled sauces, dinnerware, eating utensils and drinking vessels, etc.
Three other widely used cooking aids deserving of mention are:
- Bamboo Handled Frying Basket:: This is a large but shallow metal-mesh basket with a bamboo handle. It is used to lower all manner of foods into boiling oil for deep-frying.
- Noodle or Vegetable Cooking Basket: Another wire-mesh basket attached to a long bamboo handle. This one is flower pot shaped, deep and about 5 centimeters in diameter. Used for blanching vegetables or for plunging noodles into boiling water.
- Banana Leaf: The all purpose banana leaf, serves as kitchen foil, waxed paper and plastic wrap, all rolled into one. Steamed foods are wrapped in it and serving containers are shaped from it. It is also used in numerous ways in making or being part of offerings taken to the temple on Buddhist holy days.