Christmas Gifts for Asian Home Cooks – A Guide to Asian Kitchen Essentials
Christmas gifts for Asian home cooks include Asian kitchen essentials like a rustic mortar and pestle and quality rice cooker, a sturdy cleaver and a set of bamboo rice baskets – none of which need be expensive. Here’s our guide to the kitchen essentials for home cooks who love cooking Asian food.
If you have family and friends who love cooking Asian food at home, then they need to have some Asian kitchen essentials and the right equipment to make their time in the kitchen more productive. The Asian kitchen is not about gadgets, it’s about having the right tools for the recipe – recipes that often require a lot of hands-on preparation and kitchen equipment that can be quite rustic, like a traditional mortar and pestle.
Whatever kind of Asian cuisine your loved-ones like to cook, they’ll need each of these Asian cooking tools in their home, so I suggest you take a peek in their cupboards and drawers before doing your Christmas shopping. Here’s our guide to the perfect Christmas gifts for Asian home cooks, no matter what kind of Asian food they’re obsessed with making, whether it’s Thai food, Vietnamese cuisine, Cambodian dishes, or Indonesian specialties.
This is the first of a series of posts on Christmas gift ideas. Click through for our guides to Classic Cookbooks for Serious Cooks for Christmas, Christmas Gifts for Travel Photographers and Travellers Who Love Photography and Christmas Gifts for Picnic Lovers.
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Christmas Gifts for Asian Home Cooks
A Rice Cooker
A rice cooker tops my list of Asian kitchen essentials. It’s a must-have in the Asian home kitchen (even though I said this guide is not about gadgets) and is one of the best Christmas gifts for Asian home cooks. With all the mis en place preparation that takes place in Asian cooking – particularly if you’re making a family style feast to be shared – the last thing you need to worry about is burnt or soggy rice. Look for a rice cooker with a steaming option, but shy away from those multi-function ones that do several things averagely – they’re gadgets. I’m asking Santa for this state-of-the-art rice cooker by Cuckoo. For additional Christmas cheer, Lara suggests hiding an assortment of furikake Japanese seasonings inside.
Mortar and Pestle
While mortar and pestles are used in Asian kitchens across the region, if you’re cooking Thai or Cambodian food this item is absolutely essential for pounding your own curry pastes. But don’t just buy any mortar and pestle. Get an unpolished granite mortar and pestle as they are more effective for grinding. You want a mortar and pestle that is at least 6 inches in diameter so you can make a couple of cups of curry paste in one bashing. Note that if your Asian food obsessed friend loves making Cambodian and Thai salads like som tam, they’ll need a wooden mortar and pestle. Home made curry pastes also make fantastic Christmas gifts.
I remember when we first started Grantourismo with our one-year round-the-world trip back in 2010, chef Gary Robinson told me that the best knife to travel the world with was a cleaver. I took my favourite fancy Global Japanese chef’s knife instead and soon regretted it. With my mini-cleaver (often called a utility knife in Asia), I have the best of both worlds. Its blade is just fine enough to julienne with, I can bash a garlic clove with it, and I can use the side of the blade to transfer chopped ingredients to my mortar and pestle. Add a small paring knife and the Asian home cook in your life will have most situations covered.
Cast Iron Wok
Along with the rice cooker the wok tops any list of Asian kitchen essentials. I can’t think of a culinary culture in Southeast Asia that doesn’t use the ubiquitous wok. There are some rules for purchasing a wok for the home to make authentic Asian dishes. The wok needs to be cast iron, which needs a little more maintenance than a non-stick wok but the flavours that end up embedded in the coating is what we’re after. I like a wok to be at least 14 inches and I like a long handle to keep my hands away from a blazing burner. Those line cooks in a Chinese restaurant grew up wrapping a side towel over those tiny handles. I don’t have to and the Asian food lover that you’re buying for won’t either.
A clay pot and clay brazier are the oldest cooking vessels used in Asia and very little has changed in their design since ancient times (as Lara loves to point out on her Cambodia culinary tours). Made of clay and sand, the bowls are perfect for small soups, curries and braises. Once a dish has come together in a wok or a pot I like to transfer the food to the clay pot to keep it warm over low heat until serving. Your clay pot and brazier set can be very simple, like the one above or it can be quite stylish. I like to serve curries in the clay pot as they retain heat well and often have a vented lid.
Whether you’re tackling the holy grail of bao buns or delicious dumplings, steaming baskets are a must-have in the Asian kitchen. Even if you have a rice cooker, there’s generally not enough room for more than half a dozen dumplings at once. Wooden or metal steamers, you ask? Well there is something romantic about the wooden steamer baskets with the medicinal properties of the cryptomeria fortunei wood used in these bamboo steamers. For an added Christmas treat, you could hide some additional gifts inside, such as packets of your Asian food lover’s favourite spices or small bottles of chilli oils and spicy sauces.
This is one of the most affordable Christmas gifts for Asian home cooks. Whether you’re making deep-fried shallots, blanching noodles or dunking deep fried chicken, you need quality draining spoons for Asian cooking. Often called a spider, this is a million miles removed from your silicon multi-purpose slotted spoon or that stainless steel scooper that you never use. The rustic construction of this Asian draining spoon, including that bamboo handle, signifies that your friend is a serious, no-nonsense Asian cook as much as a lover of old-school artisanal kitchenware still made by hand.
I know I said there’d be no gadgets, and there are very few in my Cambodian kitchen, but I will use a food processor when I’m in a hurry and have a lot of ingredients that need to be broken down quickly for a curry paste. The huge capacity is also great for soups for a family feast, as well as for European cooking, of course, such as sauces for dishes such as ragu bolognese. You’ll often see the Cuisinart model in professional kitchens as they’re built like a truck and you can buy spares for them, unlike a lot of the cheaper, plasticky ones. While some people use this food processor to make curry pastes, that shortcut is better served by a blender.
We hope you’ve liked our ideas for Christmas gifts for Asian home cooks. We’d love to hear what you’re buying for loved-ones who enjoy cooking Asian food.