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A lot of people tell me that they’d love to start cooking more, but they just don’t have the space in their kitchen.  They live in tiny studio apartments and it just doesn’t make sense to buy a bunch of raw ingredients when there is a pizzeria downstairs.

Well, join the club.  I live in a tiny apartment in Madrid with a walk-by kitchen, the kind that is sort of just tacked onto the wall of the hallway to the living room.  There are several delicious takeout places nearby.  But controlling cost and reducing the chemicals, fats, and preservatives in my diet are factors that give me no choice but to work with what I’ve got.  And I manage to cook something almost every day.

It is obvious that the more space you have in the kitchen, the easier it will be to prepare large meals from scratch.  There’s simply more space to cut vegetables and/or meats, let things “set,” rinse things out, etc.  Same goes for extra appliances–most would say that more is better, especially if you like to entertain visitors and make huge feasts.

However, this doesn’t mean that a small kitchen–or even a studio kitchen–will stop you from making most of your favorite things.  You just have to get a little more creative.  Instead of a full Tiramisu cake, make individual glasses of them (this is even more useful if you live alone or with only one other person).  Instead of giving up on having produce in your kitchen, use the limited space as motivation to keep the produce fresh and moving through, and dedicate a small table in the living room (or the space above the stovetop, if possible) for occasional conversion for chopping.

In Tbilisi, Georgia I lived for a while in a post-Soviet apartment where my stovetop consisted of what is called a “blue bomb”–a blue canister of natural gas with a flat spigot on top.  These are very popular throughout the world where there is no mainstream grid connection to a cooking fuel source.  I would twist the spigot until I heard the gas; light the gas with a match; and place my pot on top of the canister to heat it up.

Yet, with a little creativity, even this set up doesn’t have to hold a person back.  In fact, many of the best foods I’ve ever had I tried at various community feasts that were cooked with this type of setup or even less.  Supras, or large feasts, in Georgia with all kinds of food cooked on blue bombs and in cauldrons over open fire in the field; burning livestock dung as fuel directly under the cooking pot outside a yurt in Inner Mongolia; Hangi in New Zealand  and Curanto on Easter Island, with food cooked underground–these are great examples of traditional cooking that don’t require even half of the appliances of the typical Western kitchen.  And the food was on par with anything I’ve had at expensive restaurants, and in many cases even better–because sometimes less really is more.  What’s more, the ambience of home is priceless.

In my current apartment, I went for several months in Madrid with no oven and only one electric burner.  I did finally invest in a toaster oven, which has helped, but even before I bought it I was still able to make a great many of my favorite dishes without it.

I’m willing to bet, though, that most people reading this probably have a refrigerator and freezer, an oven of some sort and at least an electric burner if not a stovetop.  So please believe me when I say that it is still possible to make great food regardless of your kitchen size.  The recipes and methods posted here have often been tested in such small kitchens, and if something specific is needed, I’ll mention it.

One Response to “Size Doesn’t Matter (Well… not *that* much)”

  1. jenny says:

    I totally agree that a small kitchen doesn’t necessarily have to limit your cooking and certainly not your creativity. I stayed with some Palestinians once and I was amazed at the size and quality of the meals they served out of their tiny kitchen. I was a little shocked one night to see the ladies chopping food on cutting boards on the floor but their floor was immaculate, LOL.

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