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Basic Cooking Tools for Southeast Asian Cuisine


There are many specialized cooking tools, some which are specific for unique Southeast Asian recipes. For this site, I try to keep to basic and essential recipes, which helps ensure that the tools required for cooking them are ones that are easily available almost anywhere in the world.

Here is a glimpse into my kitchen and some of the cooking equipment that I use on a regular basis. While some of my cooking utensils are fairly new, others are decades old, like my wok, which works better and better as it becomes more seasoned.

1. Blender and Pestle & Mortar

Blender and Pestle & Mortar
© Dennis K H Sim, licensed to About.com

The Old vs. the New! I use both for blending but find the blender easier to use, especially when making a big batch of marinade using herbs like lemon grass and galangal.

2. Colander

© Dennis K H Sim, licensed to About.com

I prefer the ones made from stainless steel – they last longer. Beware of poor quality imitations made of chrome – they tend to rust in humid weather.

3. Knives and Chopping Boards

Knives and Chopping Board
© Dennis K H Sim, licensed to About.com

At some stage you may need to get a chopper, but you can make do with the knives that you have got for now.

4. Pots and Pans

Pots and Pans
© Dennis K H Sim, licensed to About.com

The pot in the top right hand corner of the photo is a double boiler. It is made up of two pots – the lower section is for water only, and the top section is for the soup. With the double boiler, the soup pot is never in contact with the flame but rather is heated by the boiling water. This gentle and slow way of cooking produces nutritious and delicious soups.

5. Rice Cooker

Rice Cooker
© Dennis K H Sim, licensed to About.com

This is an indispensable item in every Asian household. Since rice, as a staple food for Southeast Asians, is eaten at almost every meal, it is not uncommon to find a rice cooker in all Southeast Asian homes. It doesn’t take much effort to cook rice in an electric rice cooker and newer models can also be used to cook congee and bake cakes.

6. Steamer

Bamboo Steamer
© Dennis K H Sim, licensed to About.com

There are many types of steamers, including metal layers that fit one on top of another and heat up over a flame and electric ones, but I much prefer using these old-fashioned bamboo steamers.

7. Gas Stove on Low Table

Gas Stove
© Dennis K H Sim, licensed to About.com

My preference has always been to use gas cooking for stir-fries. This is essential to obtain a big enough flame for the intense ‘fire’ flavor or ‘wok hei’ (in the Cantonese dialect), which the Chinese attribute to the ‘omph’ in a dish. For ergonomic reasons, I chose a low table so that the handle of the wok is comfortably at my waist level.

8. Wok

© Dennis K H Sim, licensed to About.com

My wok has been with me for many years. It is well seasoned and has never given up on me. When you buy a new wok, season it well at the start of its life, and it will take care of you.

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