I always thought a kitchen was a place

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I always thought a kitchen was a place

Postby Terry » Mon Feb 13, 2012 7:18 pm

I used to cook a lot. That was before I came to Thailand. The first few years here I lived in a standard room in Bangkok. I rigged up a kitchen on the balcony, which means I had a hotplate, a toaster and an electric kettle. Why bother cooking when the soi you live on is crowded with food stalls night and day?

Later, after Pim came on the scene, we moved to an actual house off Pahonyothin Road out Rangsit way. Thai houses don’t have what I would call a kitchen. At most there is a room where a kitchen might go, but the general philosophy seems to be: if you want a kitchen, do it yourself. So I did. Starting with a roof over the three square meters of space behind the house and the neighbors back wall. Not a bad roof if I say so myself and it didn’t even leak. I rigged up some shelves, bought a refrigerator, gas cooker and voila - a kitchen.

The only problem with my new kitchen was I couldn’t get near it. Pim had just graduated from her dressmaking course and was showing signs of early entrepreneurism. This took the form of hiring several of her mates from the village to come and help her on the production side. Of course they lived with us because we had lots of room but it meant that I could never get near the kitchen. Either there was always ample food on hand or someone was in there cooking. Any attempts at participation were politely rebuffed. Who wants a clumsy farang underfoot when you’re mashing crabs into the som tam? My culinary tendencies had to remain on hold.

A couple of years later we moved again, further out towards the university where I was working. Pim still had her dressmaking shop but the volume production venture hadn’t worked out so the mates had all packed off home to the village. I thought, “Now, at last, I can cook!” This house had an actual room for a kitchen so at least I didn’t have to start with building a roof. This is when I first noticed that the kitchen would not stay in one place. I would come home for work and the refrigerator and the gas cooker would have switched places. I would put them back but within days I could see them creeping to new location. Utensils were even harder to pin down. Not that I did much cooking here either. Pim would either have something prepared or we would pick something up on the way home or just eat out.

Finally we started building our house in the village. I wasn’t making a lot of money so we did this Issan style. Issan house building goes in stages. A stage is defined as, “how much money can I afford to spend on my house right now”. Our stages moved along fairly well but the closer the house got to completion the slower the progress, or so it seemed. I was getting a bit frustrated so at one point I just threw the contents of our room in the parent’s house into the back and of the truck and moved into this nearly finished house. Typical farang “let’s get this done” kind of thinking. Ten years later and I’m still thinking we might finish this house one day, but that’s another story. Once moved in, I set to making a kitchen. Again.

I had this Home & Garden picture in my head that was a long way from the reality. Still is. Mind you, we now have what most farang would call a proper kitchen. Marvel of the village it is. The big problem, especially in the early days, is finding things. It can still take me three trips around the house to find the things I needed to make breakfast. Frying pan - hanging on the fence by the back gate. Spatula - in the flower pot; last used for repotting. Kitchen knife: on the bench by the front door where Khun Ma was splitting bamboo for weaving a mat.

At first I thought this ‘wandering minstrel’ kitchen phenomena was because we didn’t have a ‘proper’ kitchen. No proper shelves and cupboards, no counter-top cutting board, no running water. Simple things like that. But as our kitchen evolved in the general direction of my Home & Garden image, I noticed that this aspect wasn’t changing along with it. I still find the frying pan hanging on the fence and still look for my kitchen utensils in the garden or the tool shed. I long ago gave up buying anything expensive. That 600 baht German steel kitchen knife doesn’t hold much of an edge after a couple of days on garden duty. And don’t get me started on Teflon frying pans.

The root of the problem came to me one day when we had some relatives visiting and we were all out by the fish pond and someone decided it was time to eat. Kids were dispatched to fetch washbasins and pots and knives. A couple of uncles jumped in the pond and started throwing fish up on the bank. Pim was striding around pulling up roots and leaves off branches, some uncle was up a tree shaking eggs out of a red ants nest and the aunties were tending a small fire and hunching over a pot like the witches in Macbeth. In less than forty minutes we had our appetizers on the mat. I’ve waited longer than that in some of Bangkok’s finer restaurants. Damned good bush tucker it was too. And that’s when it hit me.

For me, a kitchen has always been a place; the place where you keep food, prepare food, do the washing up; the place where you listen to the BBC and drink coffee while you make lasagna; the place everyone crowds into at good parties. For Pim and her family members, a kitchen isn’t so much a place as it is a function. You get up early, throw a knife and a pot and a basket of sticky rice in the cart and go out to your fields. You set up your kitchen in the far corner for breakfast. Come lunch time you’re over by the fish pond so you go back and fetch whatever you need if you don’t already have it and make a meal by the pond. Time to go home you retrace your steps and pick up stuff on the way. If it’s not there maybe it will be there tomorrow when you come back. There’s always a pot and knife around somewhere anyway.

Understanding this fundamental difference in world views on kitchens helps, but I’m still aiming for that Home & Garden image. Slowly but surely I can feel my image of the ideal country kitchen increasing its gravitational pull on things and people. My pot rack was a big hit. Most of the time most of the pots I’m looking for can be found hanging there and believe me that is a breakthrough in kitchen technology. The big steel cupboard for the pantry seems to be having the desired effect on containing the general spread of bulk items like floor cleaner, toilet tissue and cooking oil. And I have finally managed to educate everyone on the care and handling of Teflon pots. We actually have two now that have lasted longer than six months.
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Re: I always thought a kitchen was a place

Postby elgato » Mon Feb 13, 2012 8:31 pm

Thank you Terry for a great read! I too enjoy cooking and really enjoy finding things where I left them, especially kitchen utensils.
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Re: I always thought a kitchen was a place

Postby geordie » Tue Feb 14, 2012 12:20 am

elgato wrote:Thank you Terry for a great read! I too enjoy cooking and really enjoy finding things where I left them, especially kitchen utensils.


I have to agree with elgato a good read amusing but true i have after 11 years got her to stop scraping the non stick out of the pans and she will not touch MY knives or i refuse to sharpen hers :mrgreen:
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Re: I always thought a kitchen was a place

Postby payebacs » Tue Feb 14, 2012 7:40 am

Terry wrote:For me, a kitchen has always been a place...

For me too. A place though where, over the years, many a master has kept servants... out of sight and out of mind and so perhaps to a certain extent born from out of a segregation of people rather than tools one's modern day western kitchen. A fascinating account. Thanks! :D
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Re: I always thought a kitchen was a place

Postby BKKBILL » Tue Feb 14, 2012 8:53 am

Most enjoyable story Terry. Thanks for posting.
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Re: I always thought a kitchen was a place

Postby Roger Ramjet » Tue Feb 14, 2012 9:06 am

Terry,
Terry wrote:And don’t get me started on Teflon frying pans.

I wonder how the warranty applies to a Teflon frying pan once a Thai gets hold of it for a day or two? Perhaps a film should be included in the show "Destroyed in seconds" featuring a Thai lady washing up. When I threw out a few Teflon coated frying pans after the maid got into them, she retrieved them from the rubbish bin and took them to a her local "nosh" shop where she works. She couldn't understand what she'd done wrong and she was offended when she got banned from touching the new ones.
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Re: I always thought a kitchen was a place

Postby Ians » Tue Feb 14, 2012 9:47 pm

Good story and spot-on. Having seen the treatment of frying pans in Thailand - when last home I spent up BIG and bought a couple of hard anodize frying pans - virtually indestructable but only released to the "cook" with very clear instructions -" look after them or else - you know how much we spent buying them" - so far so good looks like they will survive for years.
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Re: I always thought a kitchen was a place

Postby payebacs » Fri Feb 17, 2012 5:38 am

Terry wrote:Understanding this fundamental difference in world views on kitchens

I'm still struggling with this. I understand the part about a thai kitchen being more about function than place, but if it does, during a build for example, become restricted to one place, then what is the fundamental difference between a thai kitchen and a western one? Are there simply just more woks?? and fewer waffle irons. or no toaster? I mean if you're cooking thai food and juggling fish sauce bottles behind your back doesn't your kitchen suddenly look like a thai one? Some threads make mention of a thai kitchen built. Some outdoors, some indoors, with even a photo to back this up ie. thai kitchen over there, cost of the flooring, etc. etc. But no close up shots from what I've seen yet. So is there really this thing called a thai kitchen that one can include within four walls of one's house, Or does the term thai kitchen (as a place) more acurately refer to a farang kitchen turned thai friendly..
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Re: I always thought a kitchen was a place

Postby Ians » Fri Feb 17, 2012 6:51 am

What constitutes a Thai kitchen is a place where all the oils from frying and cooking chilli are free to escape into the outside atmosphere rather than end up in the house itself, therefore a Thai kitchen is usually located "outside the confines of the house, whereas most western kitchens are located within the house itself.
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Re: I always thought a kitchen was a place

Postby payebacs » Fri Feb 17, 2012 2:25 pm

Okay but check out Small Thai Family House in Phayao by Dr Dave, he says "This means a semi-western style house (western-style bathroom, and an inside Thai kitchen with refrigerator, sink and built-in cooktop"
So, i can see that the airing of oils may be a strong reason for having a thai kitchen outside, which I didn't realise so thanks for that but, it still leaves me guessing as to what this thai kitchen is to begin with.
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Re: I always thought a kitchen was a place

Postby Makmak456 » Fri Jun 01, 2012 3:12 pm

Terry,
Great story. I think you got it right.
I have a regular electric hot plate, and induction hot plate, slow cooker, multi use electric "grill" , microwave, kettle and a blender. The only reason I don't have a oven is not enough room. Along with asst frying pans, 1,2,4,qt soup pots etc..................

She would have, if permited a single gas burner that attaches to a small gas bottle.(condo rules)and a wok.

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Re: I always thought a kitchen was a place

Postby payebacs » Sat Sep 22, 2012 5:28 am

When I look at the thai word for kitchen - kruua, and for family krawp-kruua, and household kruua-ruuan, I wonder what exatly kruua means and where it comes from. Just like in english all of the other house rooms seem to have easy to understand purpose based names - nawn, nang, naam. and then you get kitchen which even in english i don't know what it means so it seems to be quite a diverse room.
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Re: I always thought a kitchen was a place

Postby kalasin.dk » Sat Sep 22, 2012 3:28 pm

Thanks for the posts.

This upcoming Christmas I will cook Christmas dinner in Danish style: Roasted pork with glaced potatoes, red cabbage and gravy. I just need to buy an electric cooker/oven.

Does anyone know where to buy? Big cities around is Roi Et and Kalasin.

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Re: I always thought a kitchen was a place

Postby Roger Ramjet » Sat Sep 22, 2012 3:34 pm

kalasin,
If you go to Big C, Lotus or most major stores and look in their electrical section you can buy a cheap (2-4,000 baht) electric oven with rotisserie that would do the job nicely. I have an Otto that I use to make Welsh Rarebit (cheese on toast).
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Re: I always thought a kitchen was a place

Postby MGV12 » Sat Sep 22, 2012 3:54 pm

Roger Ramjet wrote: I have an Otto that I use to make Welsh Rarebit (cheese on toast).


What a good idea .. I am on my own, having a hands-on day, and just fancied a quick snack ... I have some [decent] bread ... have the mature cheddar ... have the Lea & Perrins.

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