Congratulations on your new place in Beijing! As you look around your apartment though, you might feel a bit overwhelmed, especially when it comes to the kitchen. You may have noticed that your Chinese kitchen has one or two burners, a small refrigerator (if it has one at all), no oven and very little storage space compared to what you're used to. Don't worry; this is normal, and you’ll be able to make it workable very soon. Here are some things to help you make the most of your Chinese kitchen.
1) Your caffeine fix
Let's begin with the first thing many of us start with in the morning anyway: coffee. For coffee-addicts like me, you'll want at least one way to get that caffeine fix right away. Standard coffee makers are available at electronics stores like Dazhong starting at around 200 RMB, and you can find French press coffee makers for around 50 RMB at a variety of stores these days. IKEA has recently started selling Moka coffee makers, small metal pots that allow you to make stove-top espresso. These will set you back 149 RMB for a small or 199 RMB for a large.
2) Food storage options
Food storage sounds like something too obvious to mention, but the truth is that most Chinese kitchens are going to have very limited storage space. Other than just getting a couple of extra shelving units, you will want to consider buying some large containers, glass or plastic for easy recognition of the contents. If you haven't already noticed it, lots of food products are sold in bags here, making it necessary to repackage everything you have with something that has a better seal for freshness. Storage containers can be found all over, including at IKEA and Hola, so it becomes mostly a matter of quality, price and style. I personally use the IKEA glass containers with metal clamps.
3) Pots and pans
Even before you can equip your kitchen with a bunch of small appliances to make your life easier, you will want to grab several good-quality pots and pans for use with the only guaranteed thing in your Chinese kitchen: a stove-top. Pots and pans are available at local markets, larger grocery stores, and home stores like Carrefour or IKEA. Prices will vary greatly depending on where you buy them and the quality of the product.
You'll want at least one large frying pan, one large pot, and a smaller sauce pan. I would also highly recommend buying a grill pan since you probably didn't bring your personal grill from home (because you knew you wouldn't really have a place to use it anyway—good call). Cooking meat and vegetables is easy with a grill pan, and it's quite impressive to present a piece of chicken with grill marks on it. IKEA has a couple to choose from, the cheaper one being 179 RMB, but they are also available at various other stores.
Toaster ovens are your best friend in lieu of a Western-sized oven. Make sure you find a model that is large enough to fit a large cake pan. That size model will also usually allow you to choose your temperature and heating settings, making it possible to slow-roast a whole chicken or broil that chicken breast to perfection. Cakes, pies, bread and other baked goodies become amazingly possible when you equip your kitchen with a toaster oven. Prices for these units cover a large range, but you may want to invest a good 600-1500 RMB (or more) to get an oven that will allow you to do most of the baking you're used to and last a good long time.
5) Slow cookers
Though not an essential, a slow-cooker is a fantastic addition to your Chinese kitchen because it makes this crazy expat life a bit simpler. Available at electronics stores or large stores such as Metro or Hola, slow-cookers allow you to throw together ingredients and to get stuff done while your dinner cooks itself. Plus, you don't need tons of counter space or different pots and pans. Depending on the size you buy, slow-cookers start at around 200RMB.
6) Cooking utensils
Smaller things can sometimes make a bigger difference in your kitchen than you'd think. For me, having a garlic press means not having garlic-smelling hands after chopping those small cloves into even smaller bits, and that delights me. Salad spinners also save a lot of time when I feel ambitious enough to make a healthy salad for a meal. My favorite kitchen tool, though, is the pair of graters you can buy at IKEA that have bowls that fit right under the grater. These are perfect just not for grating cheese but carrots, apples, and tomatoes (cut along the equator of the tomato, grate and watch salsa take shape). You can obviously do with another grater, but at 30 RMB, it's worth getting just to try out.
7) Baking equipment/accessories
For those fond of baking, China may seem like a baron wasteland for buying the relevant electronic appliances and utensils needed for cake-making, but that’s only an illusion. Taobao.com sells electronic mixers for as little as 30 RMB, as well as blenders, baking trays and moulds, rubber spatulas and kitchen scales. If you can read Chinese or have a Chinese friend who can help you navigate the site, then this is the cheapest option for you.
8) Kitchen accessories
One last thing I’d highly recommend is buying some accessories that add colour and a personal touch to your kitchen. Pot holders and an apron in your favourite, funky colour can add a much-needed touch of personality to this new place you’ll likely spend lots of time in. Even a little decorative painting or picture on the wall could spice things up. Especially if you’re planning on being in China for at least a few years, it’s worth spending a bit more to set up a kitchen in which you actually enjoy being. You can find these little accessories at a variety of places, including Wal-Mart, Carrefour, Metro and IKEA. Don’t be afraid to shop around to find your favourite before buying these.
Making the most of your Chinese kitchen will obviously look different for you, but whatever you choose to buy, remember that the best part of having a functional kitchen is the meal you can make with it for friends and family. If you succeed in cooking a meal that brings people together, no matter how much or little you’ve decked out your kitchen, you can take comfort in the fact that you are, indeed, the proud owner of a functional Chinese kitchen.
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