How to Build a Minimalist Kitchen

A basic kitchen within a limited budget.  The prices are in INR and places referred to are in Hyderabad.  Of course, they are a few years old too, but not likely to have changed drastically, unless you are reading this many years later.  This post is about how our initial kitchen was built and with what.  

The Budget Kitchen

1.  Two burner gas stove top.  The difference between two burners and a single one is negligible.  There are lot of fancy featured stove tops where you can choose from the surface finish, thick gauge sheets, the number of burners, self ignition knobs, etc.  But if you go to the wholesale markets, you will get a basic two burner stove top for under 600 rupees.  You will get light gauge steel and sharp edges at the bottom and on the insides as you go down the pricepoint, buy the one that seems okay for you.  Remember that the basic mechanism is the knobs, the piping, and the burners.  Regular maintenance gets you the same service as from a much costlier branded one.  Mozamjahi market is a good place to hunt for bargains.  Ours (Laxmi brand!) cost 650 rupees with almost no bargaining.  It is unlikely that you will get one for under 500 rupees.
 SUMMIT WTL03 is a 24 inch wide cooktop in gas with pilot lights. Made in USA5Suburban 3-Burner Drop-in Cooktop - PropaneColeman Two-Burner Propane Stove
2.  A medium sized iron pan with a cover.  10 inches is perfect.  Invest in the best grade you can afford.  Cast iron is expensive and so are the newer better coated ones.  We bought Teflon since we couldn’t afford a good cast iron one.  Avoid settling for cheaper Teflon coats, since they come in various gauges and qualities, and the cheaper ones wear out, which basically means you ate the Teflon, not very healthy, over time.  Ours set us back by 260 rupees when we bought it from the kitchen supplies stores at Monda Market.  The same product, same brand sells at almost double the price in kitchen supplies stores in the city, and more at higher end malls and showrooms.  We also bought a small aluminum saucepan to cater to our tea habit.  Two wooden spatulas, one small and one large, a pair of wooden turning tongs (bamboo is good too), and two wooden serving spoons will cost you less than 100 rupees.  A wooden rolling pin is also handy.  Craft fairs and exhibitions are a good place to look for these.  All of this cost can be halved if you go with aluminum pan and steel spatula (khunti), turner, and serving spoons.  With a little deal hunting and bargaining, you may not need to spend more than 300 for this set of pan and spatulas.  
 Lodge Logic L10SK3 12-Inch Pre-Seasoned SkilletLodge Logic L8SGP3 Pre-Seasoned Square Grill PanCuisinart Chef's Classic Enameled Cast Iron 10-Inch Round Fry Pan, Provencal Blue
3.  A knife.  Yes, just one.  Invest in a good one.  I used a 6 inch medium serrated kitchen knife with a moulded plastic handle that cost me under 100 rupees.  Look out for the handle, it should be moulded all around the blade, and not just fixed on two sides with a pin through the blade joint.  These will give way easily.  Also, test the blade, with a 6 inch or smaller knife, the blade should not be flexible if you try to bend it.  If it is, you will get uneven cuts and it is likely the metal may give way too.  A chopping board.  You can go to the local wood shop and buy a cut piece of board for cheaper, but I spent about 100 bucks buying two of them, a small (8”X12”) hard plastic board and a larger flexible plastic chopping sheet, very handy for large quantities that you then have to pour into a small mouthed cooking vessel.  You can get a good basic 6-8 inch plain steel knife for less than 50 rupees, and the chopping boards (yes, two of them) for another 50 rupees if you are not fussy about where you buy them from and how they look, and get the same functionality from them too.  Knife and chopping board 100 rupees.
 Ginsu 4817 International Traditions 14-Piece Knife Set with Block, NaturalVictorinox 47520 Fibrox 8-Inch Chef's KnifeVictorinox 47529 Fibrox 7-Inch Granton Edge Santoku Knife
4.  A pot with a lid.  We got what is known as a dekchi (the root of the word dixieland, in my mind) with a satisfactorily heavy cover, in aluminum, one 8 inches, one 6 inches, and they came for under 200 rupees.  While many avoid aluminum, it is much cheaper, and the best grade medium sized pot will not cost more than 100 rupees.  Having two pots was useful though I felt one would have worked too.  Three is luxury, anything more than that is decadence, and two digits is a crime.
5.  Plates, cups, bowls, spoons, etc..  We got two medium sized cups, two regular glasses, six small cups, four melamine dinner plates, and two large serving bowls (just regular large bowls with a steel cover for each), along with a 6 set of teaspoons, tablespoons, forks, and two table knives (wasn’t needed, but came in a set).  We bought all of these at the wholesale market and at China Bazars and it cost us less than 400 rupees.  We also bought some new jars of different sizes to store things like grain, cereal, sugar, etc., in, but later realized we didnt need to!  You will be surprised at how willing people are to get rid of empty jars and containers that are cluttering up their kitchens.  So if it is not urgent, don’t buy those, and put the word out that you would be happy to relieve your friends of their unwanted kitchen containers.  You will want a small pestle and mortar unless you are happy using thick paper folds and hammer to get your pepper powdered among other things.  Pestle-mortar, go with stone, cheaper, longer lasting, the low end metal ones invariably start rusting with time.  A whisk or a masher is useful too, but you can always use a fork and a serving spoon to get the same results.  If you need to scrimp, you can beat this crockery deal by going plastic instead of metal, ceramic, and glass and not spend more than 250 rupees.
 Kitchen Supply 2373 1-7/8-Inch Mini Muffin Silicone Baking Cups, Set of 12+Adjustable Red Twill Chef's HatVictorinox 48042 Cutlery 3-Piece Paring Knife Set, Black Poly Handles
6.   A pressure cooker.  Essential.  Look out for festive discounts and stock clearance sales.  They tend to throw really pleasant surprises your way.  It also doubles up as a second large pot for times when you want to use the pot but have kept something in it that you cannot throw away.  As the family and the kitchen grows, people also end up with pressure cookers no longer big enough for them to use, or ones that need a gasket or valve change and the man of the house decided it was simpler to buy a new one, so it is lying on the top shelf for years, and would love an owner.  Our first pressure cooker was a 1.0 liter one, unbranded, very twee, 110 rupees, but of limited use.  Pressure cookers need space to create pressure in, the small ones, though they are adorable to hold and to behold, are good only for boiling stuff like two potatoes.  Some months later, we waited till the sabse sasta chaar din sale came up, and reached the store early in the day and got a 3 liter branded pressure cooker for under 300 rupees.  
7.  Trays or racks for produce and supplies.  Other than insisting on the good knife and the good pan, this was my other contribution (splurge) to the list.  I bought three of the cheapest office supplies plastic inbox trays, two large ones, one for vegetables and one for keeping all the lesser used supplies together, and a smaller one for cutlery and equipment.  This can be done without if your kitchen comes with shelves that are easily organized or organizable.  My cost 100 rupees, but then I am lousy at bargaining, and at that point, it seemed this organizing feature would be worth the time I would save not having to look for things.  Time proved otherwise, but let us not go there.
8.  Kitchen cloth.  You can buy a pair of good hand towels for under 50 rupees, fold them in half, place your palm on it and draw out the outlines of a mitten -- the thumb and all the other fingers.  Staple it along the line.  Turn it inside out, and you have an oven mitten that doubles up to clean your spills.  The staples are a one time idea only, since they will give you trouble as you wash and reuse.  Stitching one set of mitts, and keeping another set of towels handy is several times cheaper than the expensive absorbent swipes that sell at stores.  You can also audit your old clothes for what you may no longer wear, and as long as they are absorbent, you can cut them into napkin sized pieces and keep cycling them.
9.  Others.  You will need a good liquid dishwash detergent.  Take some of it out and dilute it for regular use, use the concentrated one only for oily dishes or stubborn stuff.  Buy a sponge with an abrasive layer, and the smallest pack of steel wool.  It turns out more expensive, but you end up not wasting it either just because it began to pick up rust.  You will want a trash can with a cover.  You can buy one cheap, or you can recycle an old bucket with a piece of board for the cover. 

10.  Alternatives.  While much of our kitchen came from Monda Market, Mozamjahi Market, and China Bazaars, you may also want to check out Agro Mech Industries at Sanath Nagar.  We discovered this treasure trove but it was after we had exhausted our budget!

End of list.  There was perhaps a time when I would have scoffed at this inventory, but I soon realized that it was sufficient for basic needs.  Yes, special meals and guests were a problem, but these were times when a fried egg with dal and rice was a special meal, and guests were scarce, the ones who did come gladly shared and celebrated in our frugal life.

The pots would largely be used for making rice, sambar and rasam.  Veggies that needed cooking or boiling and then frying could be pressure cooked and then cooked in the pan.  Tempering for dal would be either done in the pressure cooker before adding the washed lentil, or in the pan and then poured into the pressure cooker with the boiled and mashed lentils in it.  Meat sears best in a pan, and small pressure cookers are really not very comfortable to bhuno anything more than half a kilo of meat.  (If you need to cook more than that quantity in a small pressure cooker, buy meat without bones, easier to bhuno in smaller containers.  One can also bhuno in a pan in two batches and then pressure cook them.  Necessity the mother of invention.)  Fries, curries, chapatis and even papads and podis (low to no oil), can all be made using the pan.

Meal planning came very useful, as we didn't have a refrigerator, and could store neither produce nor leftovers beyond a certain limit.  Also, having a clear idea of what each meal involved helped decide the vessels, and the order of using the vessels without having to run to wash the containers between items.

The basic kitchen taught us to focus more on how we cook, our understanding of the processes involved, and to turn mealtimes into a celebration, during, before, and after.


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