Thai Cooking Utensils Guide
Thai cooking utensils and equipment are very similar to cooking utensils found in the United States, as well as other western countries, especially in larger cities and more affluent cities such as Bangkok where there are many very wealthy people. Bangkok is very similar to New York. As with New York, Bangkok has a variety of single-family homes as well as condominiums and apartments. Here, as well in the less affluent and rural areas, you will find every sort of home at various price points, but all share a common element, which is a smaller kitchen.
The typical Thai home is small by western standards so the kitchen is both small, as well as pretty basic, even in the more expensive homes and condominiums. These smaller kitchens often have no more than 5 feet of free counter space for food prep, so everything is more compact. One of the driving factors in these small kitchens is the fact that most Thai people tend to get most of their food off of the street vendors because it is so inexpensive. Many Thai people do not cook everyday so the “designer or chef kitchens” found in the United States typically do not exist. The limited market for “designer or chef kitchens” in Thailand is typically expats from other countries. There are a number of appliances found in both Thai kitchens, as well as many western kitchens including cook tops, microwaves and refrigerators.
In many houses and some older condominiums one will find outdoor kitchens, which are typically larger and under the roof line or balcony of the home. In many areas in rural Thailand you may find many homes close to each other that share a common kitchen. Often the owners of these homes are related to each other and share a single kitchen, where they prepare food together and eat together. Many condominium buyers prefer outdoor kitchens re preferred as it frees up space inside of the home and the balcony where the kitchen is located becomes a gathering point.
The cook top or “hob” is the basic cooking appliance in every Thai kitchen. It is either a surface unit that can be stored when not in use or it mounted into the countertop. The two- burner version is the most popular, while you will find four-burner cook tops as well. These appliances are usually electric, but you will find propane gas fired units in single-family homes where it is possible to store the tanks. Gas fired hobs are now being used in the most rural parts of Thailand replacing a fire as the primary means to cook food. Range hoods are usually only found in kitchens with a countertop mounted cook top or “hob”. These units are not typically direct vent, but have a filter.
A microwave is also found in just about every Thai home and is used primarily to reheat food brought in from outside of the home. Typically microwaves are small tabletop units, which are either placed on the kitchen counter or installed on a shelf, usually above the refrigerator. Most microwaves in Thailand are relatively simple and do not incorporate all of the features found in microwaves in the United States and other western countries.
Refrigerators are very small by western standards with most being no more than seven cubic feet of space. Obviously freezer space is small as well, but it does not matter as they are mainly used to make and keep ice. It is very rare to find the monster side-by-side refrigerators found in the typical American “McMansion” with the “Chef kitchen”! As most Thai people visit a market several times per week, there is no need to store food like we have in the west. One of the interesting things about refrigerators in Thailand is the variety of bright color available including red, purple and blue. No boring black or stainless steel here in Thailand!
Many westerners that move to Thailand are surprised to find that Thai kitchens usually do not have dishwashers, ovens or hot water. Dishwashing is usually done by hand or by utilizing a portable tabletop dishwashing unit. Ovens are very, very rare and baking is not a cooking method used to prepare Thai food. In my travels in Thailand I have never seen a oven in a Thai owned home or condominium unless it is being rented to foreigners, who have negotiated with the owner to have these items installed in order to sign a lease of the home.
The typical Thai home does not utilize a western style water heater but instead uses small wall mounted water heaters near each sink. These units are not placed in kitchens, so hot water is typically not available in the traditional sense. Hot water is provided by a portable hot water kettle, which is placed upon the countertop and can boil approximately a liter of water in ten minutes. Although not useful to wash dishes, the kettle will provide water for coffee and tea as well baby formula and instant soups., which are popular “snacks” for Thai people.
The preparation of the raw ingredients of Thai food tends to be very involved. As a result, a solid chopping block and a great knife are vital. It seems like everything is chopped into small pieces, so these items will make the cook’s life easier.
Rice is a vital part of all Thai people and a Thai kitchen would not be complete without a rice cooker. All are placed on the counter top and are used daily and in some cases multiple times to provide the Thai family with this food staple. Many of the rice cookers will allow you to cook up to 8 cups of rice, which is a lot of rice!
The most popular item used in Thai cooking is a wide and deep pot similar to a wok and is called a “karat”. It is used to prepare just about every Thai dish. Large, deep pots are also used to prepare soups on a regular basis. Traditional frying pans are also used from time to time as well and may or may not have a non stick surface.
Another popular cooking utensil is the “crock” and “sak” used to prepare a papaya salad or “som tom”, which is a very popular Thai dish especially with the people of Northern Thailand or “Issan”. The ingredients of the som tom are placed in crock, which is a deep wood bowl. The ingredients are then mashed utilizing the “sak”, which is a wooden rod. Want to try a very authentic Thai dish that is really spicy? Try some som tom! Sometimes you will see Thai people that have difficulty eating it, but cannot put it down. Just be sure to get a mint of two for later, especially if you have a significant other.
In the actual cooking of food, items such as spatulas are used to turn food as it is cooking as well as to serve food on to plates. Thais also will use “chopsticks” are a primary tool when cooking port or other meats. Large spoons are used to stir food as necessary and to place the cooked food in bowls or plates.
As far as plates are concerned, most Thai people tend to prefer bowls and not plates. The reason being that most Thai food involves rice or noodles or soup and the bowl makes it easier to eat and contain the food. Glasses are the same as those found in the west, with plastic being the preferred over glass due to durability.
As far other kitchen equipment and utensils, you will find items such as toasters, coffee makers, grills and a number of other items in some Thai kitchens, but usually due to a westerner living in the home with their Thai partner. These items are typically used to prepare western food and not Thai food.
Hand utensils including knives, forks and spoons are used the same as they are in the west. However the spoon seems to be the most popular eating instrument utilized by Thai people with knives and forks rarely being used.
There are very few cooking tools or cooking utensils specific to Thailand. Most Thai food is already cut up pretty well in the preparation phase, so knives are not usually necessary to eat Thai food.
In conclusion, there are very few cooking examples of cooking equipment and utensils that are unique to Thailand. In fact, those found in the west and in Thailand are very similar, with the largest difference being that the typical Thai kitchen has fewer tools and utensils as the kitchens are smaller in size and Thai food is relatively easy to prepare and does not require many kitchen gadgets. In fact, most Thai people prefer a simple and straightforward kitchen and could care less who the manufacturer of their frying pan is. The gadgets just get in the way and do not make the cook a better cook!