If you've ever snooped around the kitchens of your foreign-born friends, you've likely noticed that their kitchen essentials aren't exactly the same (or even nearly the same) as our kitchen must-haves. Of course, some of these once-exotic kitchen tools and appliances have worked their way into our homes, but quite a few have retained their air of mystery. Here are some familiar (and a few less-familiar) items you're likely to find in kitchens around the world.
In the United States, it's a safe guess that most homes have a stove and a microwave (or at least a stove or a microwave!). In South Africa, most homes have a grill — or rather a braai (an Afrikanus word that can also refer to an entire room or even a separate house dedicated to grilling). I learned of this interesting fact from world explorer and travel writer Diane Selkirk, who told me via Facebook: "We've seen more braai equipment than I ever thought possible."
2. AGA Cooker
Probably one of the best-known and most-coveted of all kitchen appliances would have to be the iconic AGA Cooker, practically a staple in kitchens in the United Kingdom (see Iris' on-screen cottage-chic kitchen in The Holiday). But you might not have realized the following things: The AGA (short for Aktiebolaget Gas Accumulator — try saying that three times fast) was invented in 1922 by a Swede, a blind Nobel Prize-winning physicist named Gustave Dalen to be exact, who was trying to create a more efficient cooking solution for his wife. The stoves were first imported to the U.K. in 1929 and first manufactured there in the early '30s. AGAs are still produced solely in Britain by generations of the same family.
3. Electric Kettle
This small appliance is present in some kitchens in the U.S., but basically ubiquitous throughout Canada and the U.K. Why? Tea, of course. Electric kettles, tea pots, and tea brewing systems are not only more convenient than their stovetop counterparts, but they also allow more precision so you can brew the perfect cuppa, whether you prefer black, green, white, or oolong.
A Guide to Brewing Tea
If you live in Russia, or parts of Turkey, Iran, and Eastern and Central Europe, chances are you own a samovar — not a kettle. The somewhat large, usually metal, frequently ornately decorated metal container is used to boil hot water for tea. Some contain a hidden well or pot within a pot that holds a tea or sweet drink concentrate. It isn't an elegant-looking object, but they are often passed down through generations and displayed prominently and proudly.
Not all bibimbap (literally "mixed rice") is dolsot bibimbap, but it's a popular variety and one that calls for a very distinctive and over-sized stone bowl — aka a "dol sot" or dolsot. It's not only a part of the presentation of the rice, veggies, meat, and fried egg dish, but it's also crucial to the cooking process. Typically, the components of the bowl are cooked separately, then piled into the dolsot, which is placed directly over the heat to finish the dish off.
6. Moka Pot
This adorable stovetop coffee maker so prevalent throughout much of Italy, Europe, and Latin America was originally designed and patented by inventor Luigi De Ponti for Alfonso Bialetti in 1933. Its popularity (today, the iconic Moka Express is the number-one coffeemaker in the world with over 200 million units sold) is at least in part thanks to its midcentury design aesthetic and retro Bakelite handles. The pots are displayed in modern art museums including Cooper-Hewitt, the Museum of Modern Art, and the National Design Museum. But Moka pots also produce very good coffee. The distinctive eight-sided shape allows it to diffuse heat perfectly while enhancing the aroma of your coffee.
A cassole, or glazed ceramic dish with slanted sides, might easily be mistaken for an upside-down tagine, without the fluted air vent. And similar to its Moroccan lookalike, it serves a single purpose in the homes of Southern France: to cook cassoulet, a slow-cooking casserole containing a variety of meat and beans. Traditionally, the special pot gets filled with duck, pork, sausage, and beans, and then cooks directly in the fire. Of course, if you don't have a cassole, a Dutch oven or slow cooker will do just as well — and they don't require an open hearth, either.