I Moved to Hawai’i with Just 3 Suitcases — Here Are the 10 Kitchen Essentials I Brought with Me
I’ve toyed with the idea of moving to Hawai’i for a long time, but it always felt too far-fetched until a recent set of circumstances led me to the island of O’ahu. My days are now filled with sunshine under palm trees with sweet fruits, instead of snow slush and a loud squirrel that terrorized my old neighbors in Brooklyn (true story).
It took me about one month to move to Hawai’i. (That included deciding on it, finding a new place remotely, and figuring out the logistics of the farthest move I’ve done so far yet.) Besides the city chaos, I also left behind a small U-Haul’s worth of items in my in-law’s basement. I only took three suitcases with me to O’ahu, and deciding what to pack was harder than I had anticipated — especially for all things kitchen.
My kitchen is my safe place. It’s where I work, nourish the ones I love most, and spend a lot of my spare time. I labored over what was coming with me to Hawai’i, but here are 10 of the items that made the final cut.
It may seem silly to pack spices, but sazón is my security blanket. It provides me comfort anywhere I am, which means a lot in a new, unfamiliar place. Out of the other states I’ve lived in (New York, California, and Florida), Hawai’i has the smallest community of Latinx people. It’s the first time I don’t have access to plantains at my closest grocery store. Given the tradeoff with everything else, I’m happy to adjust, but I’m grateful to have my favorite spice because I’m a step closer to feeling at home with a plate of achiote-stained yellow rice.
There are two kinds of people: those who don’t cook from cookbooks and those who do. I am the latter. I’ve spent many years acquiring my cookbook collection for research and inspiration. It was too difficult to be apart from them all, so I had to bring some with me — but picking the ones to make the journey felt like asking a parent which child they love most. Here’s what I brought.
- Maangchi’s Big Book of Korean Cooking: From Everyday Meals to Celebration Cuisine by Maangchi and Martha Rose Shulman
- Cook Korean!: A Comic Book with Recipes by Robin Ha
- The Gaijin Cookbook: Japanese Recipes from a Chef, Father, Eater, and Lifelong Outsider by Ivan Orkin and Chris Ying
- Aloha Kitchen: Recipes From Hawai’i by Alana Kysar
- Cook Real Hawai’i: A Cookbook by Sheldon Simeon and Garrett Snyder
Unlike the Latinx community, Hawai’i has the highest population of Asian people out of anywhere else in the U.S. and make up the majority of the state. Ingredients like daikon are not placed in the “ethnic” or “Asian” aisles — they’re simply where the rest of the produce lives. The cookbooks I brought reflect that. While I am still settling into my new place, I’m also very aware that I am a guest on an island that has been home to many before me for over a thousand years. Alana and Sheldon’s words and recipes are continuously teaching me about their home and history through the food, and I am eager to learn more.
3. Chef’s Knife
Cooking is much harder — and more dangerous — without a good, sharp knife. I use a Global classic chef’s knife for almost everything in the kitchen that my husband got for me as a gift (thank you, husband). It has a sharp edge that glides through any cut and has a handle that feels as if it were made for my small hand. With this one good knife, I’ve been able to replace all the mediocre knives before it — sort of like an unintentional analogy for love.
4. Salt Holders
In the before times, I did ceramics. Throwing wet clay always centers me, and looking at my finished pieces still acts as a reminder to stay present. I love my two salt holders and heavily rely on them when I’m seasoning anything. One is a small turquoise bowl that’s speckled with metallic spots that I use for kosher salt. The other is sculpted to look like a daruma (Japanese wishing doll) that homes the flaky good stuff.
5. Pepper Mill
I didn’t think it was possible to love a pepper mill until I met this one. My Unicorn Mills Magnum cracks pepper to the ideal size for photos and to gently pop in my mouth for a subtle kick. I first heard about it from Sana Javeri Kadri, the founder of Diaspora Co. Spices, and when a spice CEO tells you to buy a $50 pepper mill because it’s the best, you take their word for it. Fresh black pepper showers anything from juicy strawberries to adobo in my kitchen, so a really good pepper mill is an essential tool I’ll bring wherever I am in the world.
6. Pasta Pot Holders
Why use a dish towel to hold a hot pot when you can use bow-tie pasta instead? A few years ago a close friend gave me these pasta pot holders as a gift, and they have easily become one of my most-used kitchen items. Beyond just being cute, they’re made from silicone and are extremely heat-resistant. The indents on the bow-ties snuggly fit on every pot I’ve used them for, and make draining pasta pretty fun.
A Microplane is a handy, dandy tool that grates everything from hunks of salty Parmesan to whole nutmeg. While a regular box grater works for a lot of things, it lacks the refined precision that you find in a sharp Microplane. Blocks of chocolate are transformed into fluffy shaved piles within a few strokes, and it grates cheese so fine it resembles freshly fallen snow.
8. Vietnamese Coffee Filter
Drip, pour-over, press, espresso — I’ve had many coffee makers in my life, but my Vietnamese coffee filter is the only one that matters. I also love just how portable and sturdy the stainless steel filters are, which is ideal for squeezing into a snuggly packed suitcase. All I needed was a can of Café du Monde and I was in business.
9. Plastic Bench Scraper
Chop some herbs, use the bench scraper. Slice some onions, use the bench scraper. Get the last bits of sauce, use the bench scraper. If my kitchen were a movie, the plastic bench scraper would be the star. This small piece of flexible plastic easily bends to whatever angle you need it. Once it became a part of my kitchen, I could no longer imagine a future without it.
10. King of the Hill DVDs
This is sort of cheating, but the complete DVD collection of King of the Hill is one of my must-have kitchen items (and a general prized possession). I leave it on play whenever there’s an empty moment and fill any stillness with the sounds of Bobby, Hank, and Peggy. Some people listen to music while they cook; I listen to “that boy ain’t right” on repeat. To each their own.