Expat guide: How to equip your kitchen

4:16 PM

So you are fresh to India, you got a little shock discovering that Indian kitchens aren’t exactly the same as your standard western kitchen and you are now wondering what to do with this room, and where to get what you need to get it up and running.

First, you need to get the basics taken care of. Your kitchen is likely to become completely bare: no fridge, no stove, nothing. So, this is a good place to start.
As I mentioned previously, stoves here are gas stove, and that too just the stove top. There are cooking range available but UNLESS your kitchen can accommodate one (and very few do, as you probably remember reading that often even the fridge doesn’t fit inside).
Indians use a basic 2 or 4 burner stove that you place on top of your kitchen counter and connect to a gas cylinder. In the west this type of stove would be called a camping stove. Here, it’s standard kitchen gear.

You will then need to get yourself a gas cylinder subscription. I won’t post all the links here but I wrote about it extensively in the past, it’s a PITA to get. Subsidised official agencies such as Indane and HP gas are taking forever to process your registration and deliver your cylinders. If you can get help from your landlord or an Indian friend do it! The paper proof you need to provide is crazy. If you can find an independent gas supplier, they will cost you more, and you might take the risk to get less gas in your cylinder, but they are much faster in the delivery. We had one in Bangalore that was quite reliable, we switched to independent dealer after far too many screaming matches with HP gas (and I mean screaming matches...the F bomb was dropped...often)

If you live in Mumbai in a newly constructed building the chances of you having piped gas is big, and that solve all the gas supply woes.

If you are thinking about electric stoves, be aware that most cities in India experience very frequent power cuts, scheduled or not. These cuts can last for hours, meaning you could go hungry at meal time. If you still wish to go for one, the latest rage in the hot plate department is the induction cooking plate. It is supposed to use less electricity, but you can cook only one thing at once, and you need to find flat bottomed induction cookware to use on these.

As for the fridge, you have all sizes and prices available in multi brand outlets such as Croma, e Zone, or regional chains. Before buying one, see where it will fit in your home, some kitchen as I said don’t have space for a fridge and then the question is how much space do you want to devote to your fridge in the living room, or your guest room (trust me I've been there)

When it comes to cookware, basic one can be bought in hypermarkets such as Spar, Hypercity, Star Bazaar and yup Big Bazaar. Smaller supermarket also have a few basic pots and pans. For better quality and specialised pans, head to the nearest mall and look for a big store like Lifestyle or Home Stop, they have a lot of variety not other shop will have.
And of course if loosing your mind in a store, or mall  isn't your thing just yet, you can find everything on Amazon India

Indian cuisine doesn’t require you to get a lot pots and pans. The two main ones are pressure cooker in which people cook lentils and rice, and a kadai which is the Indian name for what you know as a wok back home. You can find them in several price range, starting with cheap aluminium ones  that will require you to use tons of oil and will get deformed quite fast to the now very popular non stick coating one available in many brands. From experience, the hard anodized ones are the best. They are a bit pricey, but I highly recommend simply because thanks to maids who just don’t know how to wash things gently I lost many non-stick pans to mad scrubbing. Most maids can strip the coating of your cookware using a standard scotch brite sponge!

You will need one or two medium steel pans to boil water and milk for your tea and maggi noodles. Be aware of the fact that most sauce pans don’t have handles though. You will need a special plier to pick them from the stove. The huge pro of these pans is that they are stackable and take way less space than conventional western style pans in your limited Indian kitchen storage space. Choose them with a rounded copper lined bottom as they conduct heat better and boil your water much faster on a gas stove.

If you plan to try making chapatti, you can start by getting yourself a chapatti board, a rolling pin and a concave tawa along with thongs to handle your chapatti on the flame. A tawa is the name given to a frying pan, the concave one is rounded and has no edges. The flat tawa also known as dosa tawa is flat bottomed and has a slight edge. It would be called a pancake pan back home.

All of the above is needed if you want to cook Indian food. And as an expat you are likely to get sick of it fast, or frustrated at not getting it  right.

This means you need to get yourself a few continental basics as well. The main appliance you will need to continental proof your kitchen is the microwave/convection oven.

Why one that does both you ask? Simple, it saves you space and possibly money. The microwave/convection oven is likely to have a much bigger capacity than a simple OTG (oven toaster grill).
Indian cuisine isn’t high on baking, so ovens aren’t part of daily life. There are big brands that do real size electric ovens, but they are the type you have mounted in a modular kitchen, a thing you are not gonna get in your Indian kitchen unless you own the property.

I’ve been using my microwave/convection ovens for 5 years now, still running great, and baking goods well, you just need to bake your cookies in smaller batches. You’ll need to get yourself, oven proof dishes to cook gratins and casseroles. Pyrex is available in India in stores such as Lyfestyle and Homestop or the local brand Borosil in many hypermarkets as the microwave trend is catching in cities.

All cooking accessories such as whips, pizza cutters, baking trays, pie mould, muffin mould are getting more an more available in hypermarkets and Home stores such as mentioned above. For more details, read my blog entry about baking in India.

To spare your sanity also invest in a good food processor, and a sandwich maker. Be assured that the kitchen gizmos market is catching up in India, you can even find quite a lot online. Flipcart and Amazon are one of my favourites when it comes to home and grooming appliances. You can pay cash on delivery as well if you aren’t too sure about your credit card being accepted.

Now for the most important thing: plastic containers.

They are a MUST. I won’t repeat that enough. All lentils, cereals, and flour come in plastic pouches, you need something to store them efficiently home. The containers need to be airtight as the climate is generally humid in most of the country. Leave even a pack of crackers open for a couple of hours and it will be mush. So, to store food you need good containers.
The other problem in Indian kitchens are cockroaches and ants. You can call pest control if you want, but the climate is such that they come back quickly, way too quickly. 
Plastic containers being such a big thing, you will find them in every shape, size colour, style and price range, in just about any supermarket or hypermart and even on the road side.

My advice is to buy a few 1-2 litre capacity containers to store your staples of rice, flour and lentils, and then each time you buy something else in the food section go buy the corresponding size of container in the household section.
Also get yourself a set of small boxes or a masala box to store spices as they don’t come all in glass jars like in the west (some do, but not all). Then, get a bigger plastic square box to store the opened pack of spices creating yourself a spice pantry. Over the years, you will find that jam and nutella jars can be used to store some food stuff too (though in Mumbai they are useless to keep the humidity out).

last but not least, you will need plates, glasses and cutlery. Indians mainly use stainless steel  plates and tumblers to eat, along with tiny bowls to serve the veggies and lentils. A more recent trend is melamine cookware or for the most adventurous glassware such as the Corelle brand (which yes does exist here).
Be well aware however that a lot of maids do not take much care while washing the dishes, and your ceramic or glass dinning set might be decimated in a matter of weeks if you don’t take strict action from the first break. I’ve been there!

So or you wash it yourself, or lecture you maid about the importance of handling them with care, and immediately deduct the broken plate or glass from her salary (they won't take you seriously if you just give them a warning...again been there!)

Melamine plates can’t got in the microwave, and get distorted when hot food is placed in them after a year or two, and they eventually crack and break so while it is what I have right now, inherited from a friend returning home, they are not my favourite. My maid killed my glassware set in Navi Mumbai, set which was a cheap one we got as a wedding gift. So I am relying on whatever I have left until we find a ceramic set we like.
Tea mugs are easy to find everywhere, be it gift shop, supermarket, or even department stores such as Westside. A lot of Indians still drink tea from their steel water tumbler, but I hate burning my hands on these, a trend I’ll never get into…ever.

So here are some of the basics to get your kitchen running. If you come from the US, don’t be tempted to take your appliances from home, India runs on 220v not on 110.

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