If you had to name the kitchen tool you can’t live without, what would it be? This is the question we asked of journalists, bloggers, and food-savvy friends around the world. Woks and rice cookers topped the list for many in Asia, and as Paris-based pastry chef and cookbook author David Lebovitz pointed out, a digital scale is essential in much of Europe for recipes that measure ingredients by weight. A few items that follow will be familiar, yet we also discovered appliances and gadgets that are uncommon—if not unheard of—in American kitchens. Check out these tools that exemplify local cuisines and lifestyles in intriguing ways.
Australia: Barbecue Tools
“No Australian household is complete without a full set of barbecue tools, including tongs, fork, scraper, and brush,” a Sydney-born friend says. Grilling is a time-honored cooking method throughout the country, and barbecued items hold a prominent spot on home and restaurant menus. The restaurant Manta in Sydney, for example, offers grilled king prawns, beef, octopus, and whole fish, while Rockpool adds grilled vegetables, figs, quail, whiting fillets, lamb, and lettuce to the mix.
China: Hot-Water Dispenser
Along with a rice cooker, wok, and steamer baskets, a hot-water dispenser, such as the kind made by Zojirushi, topped the list of essentials for our China-based sources. “On-demand hot tea and other warm beverages are important,” explains Susannah Chen, who lives in Shanghai. “Few homes in central and southern China have true central heating, and they’re typically poorly insulated to boot. Warm drinks and lots of layers are useful here!”
Cuba: Cafetera Espresso Pot
Ellen Silverman, who has traveled to Cuba three times over the past 15 months for her photographic project Spare Beauty: The Cuban Kitchen, says that cafeteras (aluminum espresso pots) for making coffee were ubiquitous in the kitchens she photographed. “In every kitchen you see at least one if not more cafeteras, which are used to make a cafecito, the sugary sweet coffee that Cubans favor.” A pressure cooker is the other “workhorse of the Cuban kitchen,” always visible on top of the stove cooking a pot of rice.
England: Vegetable Peeler, Potato Masher, and Roasting Tin
This is the Holy Trinity of tools for preparing the classic English Sunday dinner of roast meat and vegetables, according to a number of our sources across the pond. A good peeler is essential to make short work of the “neeps and tatties and other root veg beloved by Brits,” says one friend. Another adds that the masher is a must “given the country’s obsession with the king of tubers —shepherd’s pie, cottage pie, fish pie, anything you can eat under a layer of mashed potato.”
“You can play with the same vegetable endlessly by experimenting with different ways to cut it, and a mandoline slicer lets you cut vegetables into perfectly regular slices of varying thickness, thanks to the adjustable blade,” says Paris-based food writer Clotilde Dusoulier, author of the blog Chocolate & Zucchini, who is currently working on a new cookbook “devoted to the love story between French cuisine and vegetables,” as she puts it. “It saves the cook a lot of time, and it is the key to creating the kind of paper-thin slices that look so delicate on top of a tartine or salad.” Béatrice Peltre, a Boston-based cookbook author and blogger at La Tartine Gourmande, who was born and raised in northeastern France, is also a fan of the mandoline. “It’s a simple utensil that my mother bought for me at the foire d’expositions [fair] in Metz because I simply loved hers, which she had bought many years before and uses all the time to this day.”
Germany: High-Quality Knives
While the do-it-all Thermomix food processor might be the trendy gadget in Germany, Weimar-based food photographer and stylist Meeta K. Wolff, author of the blog What’s for Lunch, Honey?, favors another German-engineered device for slicing and chopping: “I think the most important thing in my kitchen would be my set of Zwilling knives,” she says. “They never go out of fashion, and without proper, sharp knives one is only half a cook.” No surprise, considering that two favorite knife brands among professional chefs—J.A. Henckels, which makes Zwilling knives, and Wüsthof—come from Germany.