These Asian kitchen essentials are the best kitchen tools and utensils for cooking Asian food – a solid mortar and pestle or two, a quality rice cooker, a sturdy cleaver, and a set of bamboo rice baskets are just some of the kitchen tools we recommend if you’re a home cook who loves cooking Asian cuisines.
Whether you’re a devotee of cooking Cambodian cuisine, Thai food, Vietnamese dishes, or any one of the myriad cuisines of China that come under the umbrella of ‘Chinese food’, these are the Asian kitchen essentials that we recommend – the kitchen equipment, tools, utensils, and cookware that we can’t do without, and we cook Asian cuisines more than any other cuisine.
These Asian kitchen essentials need not be expensive either – aside from a food processor for those of you who don’t have time to pound herb and spice pastes from scratch in a mortar and pestle, things like bamboo rice baskets and a draining spoon are cheap as chips. Sure, I’m dreaming of the day I find a Cuisinart food processor under the Christmas tree, but there are more affordable brands.
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, such as a traditional mortar and pestle and simple bamboo steaming baskets. If you’re buying gifts for loved-ones who enjoy cooking Asian cuisines, they’ll definitely need each of these Asian cooking tools in their kitchen, but take a peek in their cupboards and drawers before doing any birthday or Christmas shopping.
Here’s our guide to the must-have Asian kitchen essentials, whether you’re buying gifts for lovers of cooking Asian cuisines or you’re starting to learn to cook Asian food yourself and setting up your Asian kitchen for the first time. But first we have a favour to ask. Grantourismo is reader-supported, which means we rely on income generated from readers to create guides such as these, as well as recipes and food stories. If you find this helpful and have cooked our recipes, please consider supporting Grantourismo.
There are myriad ways you can support Grantourismo, such as clicking through to links to buy travel insurance, rent cars, hire campervans, book accommodation, or purchase books, kitchen utensils or ingredients. You can also buy something from our online store (we’ve got everything from gifts for foodies to food-themed face masks created from Terence’s images) or you can made a donation to our Cambodian culinary history and cookbook on Patreon.
Asian Kitchen Essentials – Best Kitchen Tools and Utensils for Cooking Asian Food
Here’s our guide to the must-buy Asian kitchen essentials for home cooks who love cooking Asian cuisines. Click on the product images to go to the products on Amazon. Note: if you purchase anything we earn a small commission but you won’t pay any extra than if you’d gone to the site yourself.
Must-Have Asian Kitchen Essentials
A Rice Cooker
A rice cooker tops my list of Asian kitchen essentials. It’s a must-have in any Asian home kitchen and should be in your kitchen too if you love cooking Asian food. With all the mis-en-place preparation that takes place in Asian cooking – particularly if you’re making a traditional Southeast Asian 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 basket so you can also use it to steam vegetables, but shy away from multi-function rice cookers that do several things averagely. I’ve got this state-of-the-art rice cooker by Cuckoo on my wish list. If you’re buying a rice cooker as a gift, Lara suggests popping a container of homemade furikake Japanese seasoning inside.
Mortar and Pestle
A mortar and pestle is another must-have kitchen tool on my list of Asian kitchen essentials. Used in home kitchens across Asia, it’s an absolute necessity if you’re cooking Thai or Cambodian food if you want to get serious and start pounding your own curry pastes. But don’t just buy any mortar and pestle. Get an unpolished granite mortar and pestle for pounding spice pastes from scratch as they are more effective for grinding. You want a mortar and pestle that is at least 15 centimetres (6 inches) in diameter so you can make a couple of cups of curry paste in one bashing. If you love making pounded Cambodian and Thai papaya salads, you’ll need an extra-large wooden mortar and pestle.
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 while I am pleased I still have it now, I regret not taking a cleaver. With my mini-cleaver – also called a utility knife in Asia – I have the best of both worlds. A cleaver 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. I would also add a small paring knife to your list of Asian kitchen essentials. With those knives, you will have most situations covered. Giving a mini-cleaver as a gift and want to go all out? Add a knife sharpener or beautiful wooden chopping board.
Cast Iron Wok
Along with the rice cooker the wok should top any list of Asian kitchen essentials. I can’t think of a culinary culture in Southeast Asia that doesn’t use the ubiquitous wok. You’ll use your wok for cooking everything from stir-fries and curries to deep-frying spring rolls and frying up leftover dumplings. There are some rules for purchasing a wok for the home to make authentic Asian dishes. Firstly, 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 you’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 woks with tiny handles.
The clay pot and clay brazier are two more Asian kitchen essentials and are the oldest cooking vessels used in Asia. Very little has changed in their design since ancient times, as Lara used to love to point out on her Cambodia culinary tours. Made of clay and sand, the bowls that sit on top of the brazier are perfect for cooking soups, stews, 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 and rustic, like the set 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 homemade dumplings or wontons, steaming baskets are must-have Asian kitchen essentials. Even if you have a rice cooker with a steaming basket, there’s generally not enough room for steaming 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. We also love our large metal steamer for bigger batches of dumplings and chive cakes. If you’re buying a set of steaming baskets as a gift, Lara recommends hiding additional treats inside, such as packets of your Asian food lover’s favourite spices or a jar of homemade chilli oil.
Draining spoons are incredibly versatile and can be used for making deep-fried shallots, blanching cooked noodles or dunking deep -chicken in a wok of hot oil, making them another one of our top Asian kitchen essentials. 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 that you never use. The rustic construction of the Asian draining spoon, including a long bamboo handle, signifies that you’re a serious, no-nonsense cook of Asian cuisines, as much as a lover of old-school artisanal kitchenware still made by hand. This is also one of the most affordable gifts you can buy for Asian home cooks.
I’m not a fan of kitchen gadgets and there are very few in our Cambodian kitchen – we don’t even own a Thermomix or air fryer – but I will use a food processor if I’m in a hurry and have a lot of ingredients that need to be broken down quickly for a spice paste. The huge capacity is also great for cooking Asian soups, stews and curries 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 spare parts for them, unlike a lot of the cheaper, plasticky food processors. While some people use this food processor to make curry pastes, that shortcut is better served by a blender.
That’s our list of the top Asian kitchen essentials for home cooks who love cooking Asian food. We’d love to hear what your must-have tools and utensils are for cooking Asian cuisines.