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nakji

Bare Minimum

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I went to the market yesterday to buy plates. My husband was unimpressed.

"More plates?" he asked. "What's wrong with the two we have now?"

"I'd like to have more than two plates. We're having guests next month, it'd be nice to have something for them to eat off," I sniffed.

"Well, you'll only end up having to wash more. Bowls too? Are you nuts? Four NEW bowls?"

"I broke our bowl yesterday." I replied, defensively.

"So now we need more, is what you're saying. You can't buy just ONE more? To replace it, I mean. Like what are the other three for? I never use a bowl." He argued.

"I thought it might be nice to have a set. They're just small."

He seemed unconvinced.

When I got them home, I was running the water from my kitchen tap when I noticed it was hot. "Hot water?" I thought. "I don't have hot running water in the kitchen." Then I realized the forty degree temperatures outside must have heated up our water tank. For once, the soap bubbled attractively in my dishpan (there's no sink, either).

It came to me suddenly as I reflected on all of this that I have lowered my kitchen standards considerably since I moved to Vietnam. My kitchen has a two ring gas burner; a rice cooker; a coffee maker, and a fridge. For equipment, I have a can opener, a spatula, some chopsticks, a cleaver, a cutting board, a coffee mug, six (!) plates, four bowls, and three glasses. And a corkscrew (I'm not crazy). Now, this doesn't make my kitchen much different than most other kitchens throughout Asia, really. Ovens and dishwashers are by no means standard. And the lack of equipment and dishes reflects my propensity for moving every couple of years. Also, it's really easy to live off of street food here, so I don't cook nearly as much. But I have pared down; when I lived in Korea, I couldn't live without a toaster. Now I have fruit for breakfast, I find I don't need one. I also had a microwave, which I don't really miss.

I don't even notice the lack of hot running water anymore.

So what is the bare minimum you think YOU could adjust to? What are the minimum standards you'd need to cook happily in your kitchen?

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Interesting topic. I think that in one respect we all have moe than we really need, and at the same time we do not have everything we really need. In my case, I find the microwave oven a total waste. It just occupies space. On the other hand, I could do with a nice set of japanese knifes! Do not get me wrong. I still cook, the process does not stop.

On the sideline, I was impressed by nakji's statement regarding streetfood in Vietnam. Is it really that good? I have heard from friends and read in Bourdain's travels that Vietnam has one of the best cuisines in Asia, but the quality of streetfood comes as a surprise.


athinaeos

civilization is an everyday affair

the situation is hopeless, but not very serious

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Now I know I really shouldnt have gotten my daughter the service for 12 to take to the dorm apartment...but but but... it was a garage sale the whole set was only $15

she said cool we'll only have to do dishes once a week

T


The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers

Maxine

Avoid cutting yourself while slicing vegetables by getting someone else to hold them while you chop away.

"It is the government's fault, they've eaten everything."

My Webpage

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Cool topic and I think you should do a food blog about living in Vietnam!

I have found that I can live without a lot of things. I don't need a dishwasher (what's the point, anyway, when 90% of my dishes are family hand-me-downs and antiques and can't go in it?), I can do without a garbage disposal although it's the one thing I REALLY miss from my mother's suburbian dream kitchen. I don't need that many pots and pans, one of each size is plenty. I am well aware that I have WAAAAYYYY too many sets of dishes, and am giving one away to my sister. (We love our dishes in my family.) I don't need a six-burner stove, four is fine, and I could probably get by with two, as I always just find myself using the same two burners over and over again anyway. My mother has two ovens, which when I lived with them thought I could never do with out, but now realize that one is more than enough. I could live without a microwave, as I never really use it and it just sits there collecting dust. However, I MUST have my toaster-oven. I don't understand how people live without toaster-ovens. It's the only way to properly make cheese toast.


-Sounds awfully rich!

-It is! That's why I serve it with ice cream to cut the sweetness!

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Fascinating question. I've finally reached the apex of my gadget- and equipment-hoarding, I think -- I actually chose not to buy a stack of stainless steel bowls for the first time recently -- but the stuff I have I use and like. When we travel, however, I pare way, way down, bringing two knives (chef's and paring), a cutting board, and a fry pan, sauce pan, and stock pot. That's about what "bare minimum" would look like to me, I guess, but, man oh man, I'd miss my wok. And my strainer. And my cast iron skillet. And my Bradley smoker. And....


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I spent two winter seasons working in Death Valley. I lived in an eighteen foot travel trailer. Neither the gas operated refrigerator nor the oven worked the first year I was there so I made do with just that, a few pans, and an ice chest. Oh yes! A waffle iron and rice cooker.

I can get by with less but prefer having "luxuries". Sold the microwave to a co-worker because it took up too much space on my counter top.

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Now I know I really shouldnt have gotten my daughter the service for 12 to take to the dorm apartment...but but but... it was a garage sale the whole set was only $15

she said cool we'll only have to do dishes once a week

Thanks for the advice, rooftop1000! I'm going to university next year. :biggrin:


May

Totally More-ish: The New and Improved Foodblog

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So what is the bare minimum you think YOU could adjust to? What are the minimum standards you'd need to cook happily in your kitchen?

Let's see ... when I used to go car-camping, I got pretty damn minimalist and made out quite well. In fact, I found it kind of an interesting adventure in its own right--made me think of those "Boxcar Children" books where the four orphans resourcefully set up housekeeping in the woods.

IIRC, my car-camping rig consisted of one big deep non-stick skillet with lid; one heavy-bottomed lidded saucepan; just enough dishes and flatware for my companion and me; one large lidded Rubbermaid bowl that served for mixing, serving, and storing; a few assorted cooking utensils (spatula, stirring spoon, utility knife, can opener, Swiss Army knife with corkscrew/bottle opener, etc.); and a plastic cutting board. I had along a small assortment of seasonings, a cooler chest, a big Thermos, and a 5-gallon folding vinyl water container. My VW camper van had a built-in sink and a cooler of its own, but no stove, so I brought along a two-burner Coleman camping stove. And that was pretty much it--and with a little ingenuity it was quite enough to turn out some satisfying meals.

Even now, my setup is relatively minimal. I don't seem to be all that big on gadgets. I keep thinking I should really get a food processor one of these days, but somehow I never have. The roommate owns a microwave and a George Foreman Grill, both of which I've found useful--but I've yet to ever go out and buy either such appliance on my own. Now that I've gotten into the Foreman Grill, I probably will buy one for myself whenever I next move, but I seriously doubt I'd ever buy a microwave if an apartment didn't already come with one built-in. I once owned a bread machine and an ice-cream maker, but only because in both cases friends of mine were getting rid of their old ones for cheap or for nuthin'--I seriously doubt I would buy either new/at full price. I do love my pressure cooker and wok, though--and I'm glad I finally own a suribachi again. No fancy knives. No Le Creuset. No cast iron of any sort--actually, that's something I really should fix, given how inexpensive a good basic Lodge pan is. It's just my tightwad streak showing up again--I love looking at all the purty kitchen stuff, but somehow I'm usually content just looking rather than buying (I'm sure salespeople absolutely *love* me. :laugh: ).

But the no running hot water thang? I was okay doing without when camping, but I gotta say I would severely miss it in my everyday home cooking scene. I'm a real bug about getting kitchenware *clean*, and while I can tough it out without a dishwasher, having to heat water every time I needed to wash something would get to be a real drag real fast.


Edited by mizducky (log)

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I forgot to add in my original post that I also have a frying pan (non stick; large) and two pots: small pot and big pot.

I can't imagine what was up with not putting hot water into the kitchen. On the other side of the wall is my bathroom tap, which has both, so it's not like they forgot. I guess they just figured no one would need it. When I desperately need hot water (like if I've cooked something greasy) and just walk around the corner into the bathroom and fill up my basin. I don't find I need to do that much anyway, as I hardly ever cook meat any more. By the time I get up, around 10 am (due to my late teaching schedule) most of the meat in Hanoi has been sitting on the street for more than 4 hours in 30 degree plus heat. My rice cooker sees a lot of action. Also, there's a guy in the street with a wok on a propane burner that'll sort me out with fried rice any time. That's one of the main reasons I can get away with such minimalism.

At any rate, I am now experimenting with recipe minimalism as well. I found somebody selling avocados for slightly over a dollar a kilo. (to a Canadian, that's like offering gold for 40 cents an ounce). I made guac with only garlic, limes, avocados and lots of salt - all of the other ingredients being unavailable (all of the herb vendors were simultaneously out of cilantro - how does that happen?). It tasted fine. I served it in one of my new bowls.

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At any rate, I am now experimenting with recipe minimalism as well. I found somebody selling avocados for slightly over a dollar a kilo. (to a Canadian, that's like offering gold for 40 cents an ounce). I made guac with only garlic, limes, avocados and lots of salt - all of the other ingredients being unavailable (all of the herb vendors were simultaneously out of cilantro - how does that happen?). It tasted fine. I served it in one of my new bowls.

In order to put the cost of the avocado into some sort of perspective, could you please tell us what is the average monthly salary and the cost of living in Hanoi?

In the realm of recipe minimalism, is it common to eat raw fish, shrimp, squid ... in Vietnam? If yes, could you please elaborate on preparation and serving procedures?


athinaeos

civilization is an everyday affair

the situation is hopeless, but not very serious

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I don't like to buy more than I need - especially as I don't have that much storage space. when I bought cutlery I went to a shop where you could by pieces individually - so I got 2 knives, 2 forks and 2 spoons. I have one huge pasta bowl I eat out of most days, a black stoneware bowl for soup and noodles and a couple of plates. I share a house so we have loads more stuff communally, but I use my things 90% of the time. I have two saucepans, 2 woks (One normal one, one heavy cast iron one without a handle) a saute pan and a casserole. I have a couple of knives (Small little global veg knife, big heavy chefs knive and a viciously sharp santoku) and my essential microplane grater.

Fairly minimal really - most of my friends have lots more, even the ones that never cook.

We did go out and buy a deep fat fryer recently but It hasn't even been turned on yet.


I love animals.

They are delicious.

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In order to put the cost of the avocado into some sort of perspective, could you please tell us what is the average monthly salary and the cost of living in Hanoi?

Well, according to the CIA factbook, the average per capita income here is about $2,800. I make around $1500 US a month, which is hardly a high wage, but we can make it stretch here. Obviously, Vietnamese usually adjust their prices upwards for me, so I'm not sure that the price I paid for the avocados is the same price a canny housewife would pay for them. In the areas away from the tourist districts, though, I usually can get really good prices..for example, a bag of vegetables for 9,000 dong, which is around 50 cents US. But seasonal fruits like avocados seem to be a lot more expensive. Whenever I go into work with bags of things I've bought on the street (which is pretty much how I do my day-to-day shopping - makes menu planning hard!), the Vietnamese staff pounce on me and ask me what I paid. Then they hum and haw and cluck and tell me what the real price should be! But since the difference is usually less than a dollar, I don't mind. Some expats get really frustrated by the whole double-pricing thing, but if I wasn't happy with the price they quote me, I wouldn't buy it. If I'm happy with the price, then it's a good price for me.

I'm not sure about the raw foods...It seems to me that the heat would discourage this. And I haven't seen anything served raw. Most things seem to be boiled, stewed, or fried.

Carlovski, you sound like my husband!

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[...]

Obviously, Vietnamese usually adjust their prices upwards for me, so I'm not sure that the price I paid for the avocados is the same price a canny housewife would pay for them. In the areas away from the tourist districts, though, I usually can get really good prices..for example, a bag of vegetables for 9,000 dong, which is around 50 cents US. But seasonal fruits like avocados seem to be a lot more expensive. Whenever I go into work with bags of things I've bought on the street (which is pretty much how I do my day-to-day shopping - makes menu planning hard!), the Vietnamese staff pounce on me and ask me what I paid. Then they hum and haw and cluck and tell me what the real price should be! But since the difference is usually less than a dollar, I don't mind. Some expats get really frustrated by the whole double-pricing thing, but if I wasn't happy with the price they quote me, I wouldn't buy it. If I'm happy with the price, then it's a good price for me.

[...]

When we were in China, we basically took whatever the starting price someone would quote us and divided by four. Usually we would get that although sometimes we would go up to about a third.

I could never live without an oven, I use it almost daily! My minimum kitchen would consist of:

range+oven

fridge

chef's knife

wooden spoon

stockpot, large pot, medium pot

skillet

sheet pan

scale

measuring cups/spoons

2 plates

2 bowls

cutlery

2 cutting boards


Martin Mallet

<i>Poor but not starving student</i>

www.malletoyster.com

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I learned the last time I redid a kitchen (different house, different city), that I could cook for everyone with an outdoor grill only. If I wanted to get fancy, I could add the tiny microwave and one burner. For utensils, a paring knife is nice but an 8-chef is really all that's necessary. And with some attention and adjustment, you can pretty much do anything in a stockpot or large saucepan.

The first dinner party we gave in our current house had me pulling my hair out over the lack of storage, the barely-lit cooktop, the oven that baked only when it damn well pleased. Mr. FFB remarked that it was just horrible that the food came out so unpalatable that everyone felt it necessary to eat twice their weight and ask if I could come to their house and do the same thing for them.


"Oh, tuna. Tuna, tuna, tuna." -Andy Bernard, The Office

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For the minimalist kitchen, I don't think you can beat this pan:

gallery_28847_1134_461357.jpg

Calphalon "Everyday Pan"

It's made of heavy-gauge hard-anodized aluminum, I got mine on sale for $25-$26 US. It's hard to tell from this pic, but it's 4" deep, 15" across.

It rocks! Saute, stir fry, fry eggs, cook bacon, shallow fry, brown meat, sweat veggies and because it's technically NOT coated with non-stick, it's great to cook meat and makes a mean pan sauce from the drippings. Since it's oven safe to 450 degrees, I have finished thicker cuts of meat in the oven, and used it for small oven-braised meals. It makes a super frittata. I did a jambalaya in it, and can't wait to see how it will do with paella - the size and shape looks just right. The only thing I haven't done in it is soup or stock, but for small quantities, I don't know why it wouldn't work!


"Anybody can make you enjoy the first bite of a dish, but only a real chef can make you enjoy the last.”

Francois Minot

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A Swiss Army Knife and a Bic lighter.

SB (bare minimalist) :cool:

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When I was much, much younger and able to do a lot of hiking, we went camping in the high Sierras and my camp kitchen was extremely minimal. The heaviest items were a cast iron frame with hooks, a standing grill, and a ring tripod that could hold an 18 inch cast iron skillet, also an 8-quart Dutch oven with a top that could hold hot coals, for baking. Also a couple of aluminum-clad ice chests, I still have one, that doubled as seating.

With these items and a few rolls of heavy duty aluminum foil, I could cook full meals for 8 people.

We had several 50s era aluminum mess kits purchased at an Army/Navy surplus store which were easy to clean, wouldn't break and didn't weigh too much. Coffee was made in a one-gallon enamel coffee pot that was 40 years old at the time - coffee was "boiled", clarified with eggshells and strained through muslin.

We ate a lot of fresh-caught trout, *bacon (from a slab, that didn't have to be refrigerated), *ham, ditto, dried beef, potatoes (we took a 100 pound bag for a 2-week trip because the guys were all big potato fans).

I made roasted potatoes, fried potatoes, scalloped potatoes (made with dried milk) and potato soup.

*We had a canvas "cache" bag that came with a rope and pulley so it could be hung from a high branch in a tree a bit away from the camp area to keep bears out of the camp. We have to move it every couple of days because the bark on the tree would be shredded every morning and we didn't want the trees harmed too much.


"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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Back when I was married to the Evil One, we used to camp frequently in the Boundary Waters in Minnesota. Kitchen for those 5-10 day trips consisted of a campfire, a little white gas stove with one burner, a 2 quart pot with a lid that could be used as a skillet, a pocketknife, one spoon, one cup, and one bowl each. If we caught a fish, the paddle served as a cutting board.

Right now, however, I am not so austere. I have been waiting for 3 weeks for the carpenter to come in and install two little cabinets around my new dishwasher, and the counter top over all.

I gave up on him this morning, and installed them myself, because I COULD NOT LIVE WITHOUT MY DISHWASHER FOR ONE MORE MINUTE.

(I hope the carpenter police do not come around with plumb bobs and levels, cause I am sure I will get a citation. But I feel so butch, having done it myself. :wink: )


sparrowgrass

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I lived in a tree nursery in Thailand a bunch of years ago. It was four guys in the middle of nowhere. Our kitchen was one rice cooker, one knife, a cutting board, and a pan kind of like a wok. There was one propane burner. The kitchen was under a thatch roof, no walls. The dining room was a picnic table, with splintery benches. I had some amazing meals there. It could have been that I was savagely hungry by the end of the day. Or maybe it was sitting in candle light while the cicadas chirped a jungle symphony just for me, that made the food better. Or maybe I just lucked out working with amazing cooks.

Breakfast sometimes would be just the burned bits from the bottom of the rice cooker (I swear they tweaked it so it would burn the rice) with prick nam plah, and then you dunked it in a fried egg. Yum. Dinner were Curries so hot your grandchildren hopped around and cussed, or Tom Yum Goong (where they got shrimp is anybodies guess) and rice. That was followed by bottles of Sang Thip and Singha.

One night I heard a bunch of banging in the kitchen long after we went to sleep. Figuring someone was whipping up a little 3 AM snack, I moseyed over. The lights weren’t on which I thought strange. But these guys could cook drunk, with no lights no problem. Flashlight in hand I approached the dining room to hear things being broken and snuffling/grunting noises. Very strange. My Mag Light beam fell on an eight foot Water Monitor. A lizard of quiet temperament but frightening aspect. We looked at each other for a couple of beats, and then I went back to bed. For the life of me I didn’t know what to do with a dinosaur in my kitchen.


A DUSTY SHAKER LEADS TO A THIRSTY LIFE

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When I was in grad school, I had (and all were purchased used at yard sales):

1 small and 1 medium saucepan

1 stockpot

1 cast iron fry pan

1 cutting board

1 serrated bread knife

1 spatula

2 wooden spoons

1 big mixing bowl

1 strainer

1 baking sheet

I somehow managed to make anything I put my mind to with the above. Years later I upgraded my entire kitchen - but I've rarely cooked as much as I did then, and with so little.

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A Swiss Army Knife and a Bic lighter.

SB (bare minimalist) :cool:

Two sticks for fire, one for skewering and a sharp rock for cutting.

Or you can live on the water and eat sashimi.

:raz:


Screw it. It's a Butterball.

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When I was in grad school, I had (and all were purchased used at yard sales):

1 small and 1 medium saucepan

1 stockpot

1 cast iron fry pan

1 cutting board

1 serrated bread knife

1 spatula

2 wooden spoons

1 big mixing bowl

1 strainer

1 baking sheet

I somehow managed to make anything I put my mind to with the above.  Years later I upgraded my entire kitchen - but I've rarely cooked as much as I did then, and with so little.

I had a pretty similar list as an undergrad. I had no stock pot; a pie pan and loaf pan instead of the baking sheet; and distinctly remember 3 white dinner plates.

I still have a lot of this stuff today. I'm mostly paring down these days, trying to get rid of useless stuff I've accumulated over the years, but it's hard to let go of such long serving equipment.


Cheers,

Anne

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I’ve gone the other way. I like the latest kitchen and the best equipment. After many years of sacrifice and simply not having the money to accumulate stuff I’m now taking advantage. I figure after all those years we’ve earned the right.

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I had a pretty similar list as an undergrad.  I had no stock pot; a pie pan and loaf pan instead of the baking sheet; and distinctly remember 3 white dinner plates. 

I still have a lot of this stuff today.  I'm mostly paring down these days, trying to get rid of useless stuff I've accumulated over the years, but it's hard to let go of such long serving equipment.

It served me well (and would probably would serve me well still!), but I got tired of looking at chipped enamel, mismatched lids, and rusty tin. Aesthetics won, and I upgraded. Still, there is a point to be made in all this - appearance doesn't make a damned bit of difference. My poor-grad-student method of using a glass jar filled with ice water to roll out pastry dough was, in fact, superior to my fancy-schmancy Williams-Sonoma rolling pin. Go figure.

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