Asian Kitchen Essentials – Best Kitchen Tools and Utensils for Cooking Asian Food. Copyright © 2022 Terence Carter / Grantourismo. All Rights Reserved.

Asian Kitchen Essentials – Must-Haves and Best Gifts for Asian Food Lovers

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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 Asian kitchen tools we recommend if you’re a home cook who loves cooking Asian cuisines. And they all make brilliant gifts for Asian food lovers.

Whether you’re a devotee of cooking Cambodian cuisine, Thai street food, Vietnamese fare, 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 here in Southeast Asian more than any other cuisine.

These Asian kitchen essentials need not be expensive – 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 on the kitchen counter, 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 going 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. If you’ve cooked our recipes and enjoyed them, please consider supporting Grantourismo by supporting our epic Cambodian cuisine history and cookbook on Patreon, which you can do for as little as the price of a coffee.

Or you could buy us a coffee and we’ll use our coffee money to buy cooking ingredients for recipe testing; buy a handcrafted KROK, the best mortar and pestle ever; or buy something from our Grantourismo store such as gifts for food lovers designed with Terence’s images.

Other options include using links on our site to purchase travel insurancerent a car, book accommodation, book a tour on Get Your Guide or buy something on Amazon, such as these cookbooks for culinary travellersclassic cookbooks for serious cookstravel books to inspire wanderlust, or gifts for Asian food lovers and picnic lovers. We may earn a small commission but you won’t pay any extra.

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 our 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. Read this little post on why you should buy a rice cooker that we wrote years ago.

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.

Mini Cleaver

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 should 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.

Clay Pots

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.

Steaming Baskets

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

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. This is also one of the most affordable gifts you can buy Asian home cooks.

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.

Food Processor

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. Also see these gift ideas for home cooks from pro chefs. We’d love to hear what your must-have tools and utensils are for cooking Asian cuisines.


Lara Dunston Patreon


Photo of author
Terence Carter is an editorial food and travel photographer and infrequent travel writer with a love of photographing people, places and plates of food. After living in the Middle East for a dozen years, he settled in South-East Asia a dozen years ago with his wife, travel and food writer and sometime magazine editor Lara Dunston.

4 thoughts on “Asian Kitchen Essentials – Must-Haves and Best Gifts for Asian Food Lovers”

  1. Guys, this is a great list. Great to see the draining spoon there. Bought one in Chinatown in Bangkok a few years ago and my girlfriends kept commenting on it. Found them in Sydney’s Chinatown and bought a heap as stocking stuffers last Chrissy. They loved them! Sydney Chinatown is the best. Sad to see it so empty these days. Love your site. Always look forward to checking in Sundays. Thank you!

  2. Greetings Justine,
    We used to go to Chinatown every Saturday or Sunday. Miss it a lot and it’s such a shame to hear about how empty it is these days.

    An item that did not make the list was Thai Chinese Asian Stainless Steel Rice Soup Spoons which you can see on Amazon. First used them when I worked in an small Italian restaurant in Sydney. Perfect for serving up short pasta like penne etc.


  3. Hello Terrence and Lara, daughter-in-law gave me a white marble pestle and morter which I used to make your Cambodian spice paste (bloody good stuff!) but being completely ignorant of which one to use for what I went and stained it! She was not happy. Cleaned her up though wasn’t easy and went and bought myself a big bloody granite thing. God it’s heavy. So what do I do with this white marble one? Any insights appreciated. Don’t want to insult the girl. As Justine said, love your work!

  4. Hi Helen,

    White marble should be non-porous, however, they say it’s best to wash the mortar and pestle in hot soapy water immediately after using it to minimise staining. And then rinse thoroughly to ensure there’s no soapy residue. Vinegar or lemon juice should remove stains from spices, though I know turmeric can be hard to budge, as can chillies, so I’d suggest using your granite mortar and pestle for spices (they are heavy, aren’t they?!) and using the white marble mortar and pestle for herb pastes — but perhaps not the Cambodian pastes with turmeric!

    Italians use the white marble mortar and pestles for their Genoese basil pesto. I have a recipe for one with a Southeast Asian twist:

    You could also use it to grind flavoured salts, crush nuts, smash garlic, and make your own guacamole:

    Thanks for the kind words!

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