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Thai Cuisine – Kitchenware Guide

Glutinous Rice Steamer Basket (“ri ku phi miphi” หวดไม้ไผ่):

These traditional glutinous rice steamers were essential tools in Thai kitchens (especially in north and north-east Thailand) for steaming glutinous rice (known as “khawniao” ข้าวเหนียว in Thai) which were consumed almost daily. The steamed glutinous rice would be formed into chunks using hands which would be dipped in curries and sauces and eaten. This traditional utensil tends to be more common in rural Thailand as city kitchens opt for modern equipment which are generally easier to maintain. However, for those seeking the most authentic Thai glutinous rice flavor, this eco-friendly, 100% natural bamboo steamer is probably a better option.
Pre-soaked glutinous rice would be placed in the basket and then the rice would be covered with 100% cotton cheesecloth. Next, the basket would be set over a pot of water (ensuring the basket does not touch the water) which is brought to a boil. As the water boils, the steam rises, which in turn steams the rice encased within the bamboo basket.
These traditional glutinous rice steamer baskets are made of 100% natural, environmentally-friendly bamboo reeds painstakingly woven by hand by skilled Thai artisans who are mostly located in rural areas in Thailand.

Clay Pot:

Thai dishes such as “jim jum” จิ้มจุ่ม traditionally cooked in clay pots over a charcoal fire, and this combination of clay and charcoal adds a flavor and aroma that metal vessels and electric cookers or gas stoves cannot replicate.
Although glazed clay pots are available, Thai clay pots were traditionally unglazed. These unglazed clay pots are 100% natural and therefore healthy and environmentally friendly. Clay pot production is a cottage industry and pots are works of art painstakingly crafted by skilled artisans in Thailand. Although modern Thai kitchens feature cooking vessels of materials such as aluminum and stainless steel, it is generally accepted that clay pots produce considerably more flavorful and nutritious food than these modern cooking utensils.
Clay pots are first seasoned before use by soaking the pot in water for a few hours.

Skillet (“khrathah leklohg” กระทะเหล็กหล่อ):

Although it is available in a wide variety of materials nowadays such as aluminum, stainless steel and the increasingly popular carbon steel, traditionally, Thai cooks used cast-iron woks or skillets.

Coconut Shell Spoon:

For generations, coconut played a vital role in Thai cuisine (particularly in south Thailand) and empty coconut shells were also put to good use for instance by crafting coconut shell spoons. These come in a variety of sizes, are made with 100% natural materials and are thereby healthy to use and eco-friendly.

Tamarind Wood Chopping Board (“khien mai makham” เขียงไม้มะขาม):

Chopping boards (“khien mai” เขียงไม้) in Thailand were traditionally made of tamarind wood (“makham” มะขาม means “tamarind” in Thai). These eco-friendly tamarind wood chopping boards are still used today.

Mortar and Pestle (“khruk sak” ครก สาก):

A traditional Thai kitchen tool, the mortar (known as “khruk” ครก in Thai) and pestle (known as “sak” สาก), has been used for generations in Thailand and even today, it is an essential tool for authentic Thai cuisine.
They come in a variety of sizes, shapes and materials which serve different purposes. For instance, natural clay (terracotta), wood or granite are the three main types of materials used to make pestle and mortars in Thailand and depending on the material, the pestle and mortar is used for different purposes; pestle and mortars made with wood (where both the pestle and mortar are crafted with wood) and clay (where the mortar is clay but the pestle is usually wood, not clay) are used for light kitchen work (such as in the preparation of salads such as Thai green papaya salad, known as “som tam” ส้มตำ) while the granite pestle and mortar is reserved for heavy duty kitchen work such as for the preparation of spice and curry pastes which require heavy pounding.
These specifically allocated functions to different types of Thai pestle and mortars are still followed upon, so for instance, curry pastes which are supposed to be prepared in a granite pestle and mortar would not be prepared in the terracotta version. Conversely, in the preparation of a Thai salad where the ingredients need to be lightly mashed, using the granite pestle and mortar to pound the ingredients would be considered inappropriate.
Although modern day food processors could be used in place of the time-consuming pestle and mortar, Thai cuisine connoisseurs generally agree that the food processor is no match to the traditional “khruk sak” in bringing out the food’s flavor while retaining its nutrition.

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The Importance Of A Quality Wok For Authentic Chinese Cuisine

The wok, known as “chao guo” 炒锅 in Mandarin, is a true time-tested kitchen tool, having held an important position in Chinese kitchens for over a thousand years and continues to do so today.

For centuries, Chinese families used cast-iron woks which were sometimes passed down over several generations. Uncoated carbon steel, a relative newcomer is gaining popularity, however they tend to warp relatively easily compared to cast-iron.

One of the reasons for carbon steel’s popularity is due to it offering the same advantages as cast-iron, without the heavy weight of a cast-iron wok. However, this advantage is largely applicable against Western-made cast-iron woks which are usually thick and bulky. In contrast, traditional Chinese-made cast-iron woks are considerably thinner and therefore lighter. As a result, the traditional cast-iron wok is still a popular choice among Chinese families and, due to their durability, the cast-iron woks currently used by some families are inheritances from previous generations. My grandmother’s Chinese-made cast-iron wok is made entirely of cast-iron including the handles. After several decades of use, her cast-iron wok is still of great service to the family, well-seasoned and perfectly functional, occupying a central position in the kitchen and used almost every day by her children and grandchildren.

For authentic Chinese cuisine, a good-quality wok is essential for several reasons.

Ability to withstand very high temperatures

A signature technique in Chinese cooking is fast cooking and extremely high temperatures to produce vibrant, crunchy vegetables and firm meat. Extremely high temperatures, ensures that the food does not “sweat”, slow-cook, boil or steam. Achieving “wok hei”, demands extremely high temperatures.

Woks, particularly the classic, traditional cast-iron woks are well suited to withstand the high heat that Chinese cooking demands which other cooking utensils such as modern non-stick skillets are unable to tolerate.

Ability to retain heat

Certain dishes in Chinese cooking call for fast cooking. Towards this end, the cookware should be able to retain heat because if it loses heat midway, say after the addition of some ingredients, then the food ends up slow cooking instead since the cookware would take time to recover the heat it lost. This results in dull, soggy vegetables and meat which are undesirable in Chinese cooking.

For instance, leafy greens cooked typically Chinese style, such as with oyster sauce and garlic oil calls for leaves that are blanched in boiling water – quickly – and then immediately taken out and dunked in cold water to stop cooking (click here for Culinary Connoisseur’s “Chinese style Asian greens with oyster sauce and garlic oil” recipe). This quick cooking process ensures that the leaves retain their vibrant green color and natural crunch. If the temperature of the water drops immediately as the leaves are added (which is a standard characteristic of inferior-quality woks), this results in a slower than acceptable rate of cooking. As a result, the cooked greens lose their color, texture and is no longer “authentic” Chinese cooking.

Even heating

If the wok is of poor craftsmanship, heat will be unevenly distributed, which in turn results in unevenly cooked food – needless to say, this is undesirable in Chinese cuisine or any cuisine for that matter.

Naturally non-stick

Most modern-day non-stick cooking utensils lose their outer non-stick chemical coatings with time. Cast-iron woks on the other hand (which are crafted with natural materials) retain their non-stick properties for generations (with proper maintenance). Being naturally non-stick and not requiring any artificial coatings, also offers other advantages; it is believed that with no flavor adulterations from artificial coatings, the original flavor of the food being cooked is retained, and additionally, being free of artificial coatings makes the wok a healthier cooking tool too.

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Sri Lankan Cuisine – Kitchenware Guide

Clay pot (“hattiya” හට්ටිය):

Sri Lankan cookery uses a number of un-glazed, environmentally friendly clay cooking pots all of them collectively referred to as “hatti-mutti” හට්ටි මුට්ටි in Sinhalese (“hattiya” හට්ටිය  is the singular term referring to just one clay pot). These 100% natural, organic, un-glazed, environmentally friendly clay pots are must-have cooking vessels for authentic Sri Lankan (Sinhalese) cuisine. These earthen pots are believed to contribute a distinctively appetizing flavor and aroma to the food that is cooked in it and modern-day cooking utensils such as stainless steel pots and non-stick pans would simply not produce the same outcome. It is also believed among traditional Sri Lankans that these earthen pots help absorb unwholesome elements in the food.

Prior to usage, the earthen pots are first seasoned by boiling water and grated coconut refuse over a medium flame.

Coconut shell spoon ("Pol Katu Handa" පොල් කටු හැන්ද):

Coconut trees are a ubiquitous sight in Sri Lanka, and since ancient times, every part of the tree from the trunk, to the leaves, the white coconut flesh, the coconut shells and coconut flowers were all put to good use. Playing such an integral role in daily life of an average Sri Lankan, the venerable coconut tree earned the moniker “kapruka” කප් රුක which is meant to reflect the tree's timeless value. Among the many ways coconut shells were used in Sri Lanka, one was to craft spoons, usually by hand, with which they would be used as an accessory for cooking. The empty coconut shells would be cleaned and attached to sticks, forming a rudimentary yet highly functional spoon known as a “pol katu handa” පොල් කටු හැන්ද  in Sinhalese (“pol” පොල් = “coconut”, “katu” කටු = “shell”, “handa” හැන්ද = “spoon”).

These are 100% natural, organic, un-glazed and environmentally friendly.

A traditional Sri Lankan coconut shell spoon. Crafted with 100% natural materials, this environmentally-friendly kitchen utensil has been used for generations in Sri Lanka.
Click here to view a larger image of a traditional Sri Lankan coconut shell spoon. 

Firewood stove ("Dhara Lipa" දර ලිප):

Known as the "dhara lipa" in Sinhalese ("dhara" = "wood" and "lipa" = "stove"), a wood-fired stove coupled with a traditional Sri Lankan unglazed clay pot yields the best of flavors and aromas that Sri Lankan (particularly Sinhalese) cuisine has to offer. Smoking wood and a seasoned, organic clay pot produces an unparalleled and appetizingly earthy aroma and flavor that modern-day gas-fired / electric stoves and metal-based cooking vessels simply cannot match.

Coconut Grater ("Hiramanaya" හිරමනය):

Coconut is one of the most important ingredients in Sri Lankan cuisine and they would traditionally be grated using a kitchen tool known as a “hiramanaya” හිරමනය. Coupled with lots of elbow grease, an experienced set of hands could grate a single coconut in about a few minutes.

Grinding Stone ("Miris Gala" මිරිස් ගල):

The "miris gala" මිරිස් ගල (which literally means "chili stone", "miris" මිරිස් = "chili, "gala" ගල = "stone") was an important kitchen tool in ancient Sri Lanka and remains so today in rural villages and towns. Similar to the “sil-batta” in India and the “batu-giling” in Malaysia, the Sri Lankan "miris gala" is comprised of two units; a rectangular slab of granite (a little more than a foot in length, about 1 foot in width and about 3-4 inches in height) and a cylindrical granite "roller" about the same width as the rectangle granite slab.

The "roller" sits over the rectangular slab and using hands, substantial muscle, elbow grease, time, and patience, this roller is rolled back and forth over the ingredients which have been placed on the rectangular slab.

Often used to grind spices and chili pastes, the "miris gala" is generally believed to yield better results nutrition-wise and taste-wise compared to modern-day food processors and grinding equipment which destroy delicate nutrients and flavors in the food as a result of the heat and sheer speed at which the food is processed.

Pestle And Mortar ("Vangediya" And "Mole-Gaha"):

The "vangediya" and "mole-gaha" which is basically a super-sized pestle and mortar, was an essential tool in the ancient kitchens of Sri Lanka. The "vangediya" is the mortar, ranging from about 1-2 feet in height and about 1 foot in diameter, while the "mole-gaha" is the pestle, about 4-5 feet in height and 3-4 inches in diameter. The "vangediya" is usually carved out of wood from trees with a hard core, such as Jack tree, Teak or Nadun. The "mole-gaha" or the pestle, is also made out of wood, though it does not have be to be as hard as that used for the "vangediya". Wood from the ubiquitous coconut tree or kithul tree, which are generally not hard enough to make a "vangediya", are common choices to make the "mole-gaha".

These super-sized pestle and mortars were used by the Sri Lankan ladies for a variety of purposes such as to pulverize rice into rice flour for whipping up local treats such as “konda kevum” and “aggala”. The vangediay and mole gaha is also used to pound rice and greens such as gorukola to prepare one of Sri Lanka’s most popular breakfast congees - “kola kenda” (which means “green porridge” in Sinhalese, “kola” = “green”, “kenda” = “porridge”).

 

Finger Millet Quern ("Kurakkan Gala" කුරක්කන් ගල):

This is a traditional quern for grinding finger millet grains (“kurakkan”) into kurakkan flour which would be used to prepare a variety of traditional delicacies such as kurakkan porridge, kurakkan roti, halapa etc.

 

Earthen water pitcher (“gurulethuwa” ගුරුලෙතුව):

The “gurulethuwa” ගුරුලෙතුව as it is known in Sinhalese, is a traditional Sri Lankan water cooler. Crafted out of clay, these natural water jugs are porous allowing the heat to escape while allowing the external air to cool the water contained within the container. It is also believed that any traces of unwholesome elements in the water are absorbed by the clay, rendering a purer, healthier and more refreshing water.

Similar to the earthen clay pots used in daily cooking, the “gurulethuwa” is usually seasoned first prior to using.

A traditional Sri Lanka water pitcher for sale at a farmers' market in Sri Lanka.
A traditional Sri Lankan clay/earthen water pitcher, pictured here for sale at a farmers' market in Sri Lanka, has been used for generations to keep water naturally cooled and refreshing.