One of the horrors of leaving your home for a foreign country is leaving a life’s worth of accumulation behind. One of the joys of arriving is accumulating anew and realising that a huge amount of what you’ve previously accumulated is ephemera. Left is a photo of the entirety of my current cookware in Cambodia. Most of it is so cheap, it’s practically disposable but in accumulating anew, I’ve pared the kitchen back to what I consider to be the bare essentials. When you have the rare chance to populate your kitchen with tools in a single hit, you tend to focus on the utilitarian rather than the meretricious.
Only two items are particularly Cambodian. The opaque bucket on the left is a cheap ceramic filter (locally marketed as “Rabbit Filter”) which lets you enjoy the fresh, cholera-free flavour of Phnom Penh tap water without the risk of death. Between the vegetable peeler and the waiter’s friend on the right is a tool to shred green papaya and green mango. The other local element is the quality of the appliances – the combined purchase price of the pictured rice cooker and blender is not more than $30 – and so it is within reason that they’ll catch fire at an inopportune moment.
Omitted are our set of knives – a full block of Victorinox knives, a single 20cm chef’s knife, and sharpening steel – they were returned to Australia on our last trip in preparation for leaving Cambodia. My predilection for travelling with carry-on luggage only and the airlines’ aversion to knife-toting passengers are a poor mismatch. I also couldn’t find the bread knife when I took the photo. The remaining knives are the Thai Kiwi-brand cleaver and mini cleaver: these are the tools that I’ve seen locals do everything from gut pigs to carve fruit with, and so they’ll suffice for the next few months.
Also missing is the bakeware and turbo oven, a mini convection oven that is a remarkably good oven analogue for a machine that looks like a glass basin attached to a hairdryer. I’ve recently discovered that the “defrost” setting cooks at just above 60oC which is perfect for toying with meat in a manner that would make Hervé This proud.
While it will be heart-rending to part with the 1960s yellow glass dinner set that I methodically collected through a decade of thrift shop trawling and the Mexican iron tortilla press, I can do without much of the kitchen junk that I have in storage. And disposing of it gives me an excuse to acquire again.