In the cities these days, the Thai kitchens tend to reflect various levels of the impact of Western technology. However among the less affluent, and specifically in the many rural villages, the Thai kitchen still operates as it has for hundreds of years. In this issue, we will talk about the Thai kitchens and cooking utensils as they still exist for millions of Thai people.
The kitchen in Thailand is a very simple affair, which is generally built away from the main house. It is a plain room, with a cement or dirt floor, with unglazed windows which might boast the luxury of screens to keep out the mosquitoes, although many do not even have a door, let alone window screens. In the central region, Thai homes are set on teak poles due to annual flooding during the late rainy season from September till end October.
The central feature of the kitchen is the stove, which is generally built-in, and constructed of cement or brick. It has a large aperture below to insert and remove the charcoal pot, a funnel shaped vessel of kiln-baked earthenware or a cement-lined metal pail that holds the burning charcoal. When the charcoal pot is in place, it fits directly below a circular opening in the top of the stove. This hole has flanges which hold a ‘wok’ (the traditional round-bottomed Asian frying pan) firmly in place above the charcoal fire. Extra charcoal is kept in a box or a sack beside the stove. In poorer households, they will simply use the charcoal pot, made with flanges on the top, as the stove.
Because there are no oven arrangements, there is no baking in the home, and in the entire range of Thai cuisine there are almost no baked dishes to be found.
The next most important thing in the kitchen will be a freestanding storage cupboard resembling an old-fashioned Western meat safe, made from either wood or aluminum. The back, sides and doors are all covered with wire-mesh screens to keep the flies out and allow air circulation. The legs stand in saucers of water to discourage ants and other insects. This cupboard usually houses nothing more than some stored garlic bulbs, the ubiquitous fish sauce (nam pla), some dried fish, dried chillies and perhaps some precooked cold rice.
Due to the hot climate and the fact that a Thai kitchen in the countryside seldom has a refrigerator, shopping is done daily at the local market, and leftovers are uncommon.
If the kitchen is blessed with running water, there will be a sink. In any case, there will be large, clay water-storage jars nearby which are filled with city or well water, and in which rain water is collected. There will be a few wooden shelves on the wall for extra storage, and nails in the wall on which to hang various cooking utensils and implements.
With the availability of electricity spreading through even small countryside villages, the first status symbol to arrive in the kitchens has been the electric rice-cooker. This relieves the housewife of the daily chore of preparing the rice – no small thing in a country where each person consumes approximately one pound of rice per day.
Pictured below are the tools and utensils which have been used in Thai kitchens for years. These items were originally brought by Thai ancestors who migrated from China to the northern part of Thailand. If you walked into a traditional Thai kitchen, here is what you would be likely to find:
Three other widely used cooking aids deserving of mention are:
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