As I wandered around my spacious two bedroom, two balcony apartment in Korea for the first time, I was positively giddy. It was well furnished, lit-up by big windows, and I had a completely empty room to do whatever I wanted with. There was, however, one small problem with the space. Really, really, small.
I have a micro-kitchen. A small sink with a small counter space, just big enough for a dish rack, next to it a two-element gas stove. Above, a couple of cupboards for storage. A mid-sized fridge, and a small kitchen table, topped with a microwave and toaster oven.
Despite my surprise, I had struck gold in terms of kitchens in Korea. I had a real fridge! And a toaster oven! Many kitchens in this country aren’t that fancy!
I felt limited by how small it was. I love cooking, baking, and eating, and I tend to organize most of my life around these activities. Washing the dishes would be a pain in such a small sink, and where was I supposed to chop vegetables?
With a few adjustments to the kitchen, and to my own practices, I’ve managed to make it work. I’ve made everything from simple stir-frys and soups, to bread, cookies, yogurt, pizza, and gnocchi. I’ve made thanksgiving dinners for eight people and prepared salads for twenty-five.
Here are my tips for making a micro-kitchen work for you:
Get a dish rack and keep on top of your dishes
Having a dish rack has saved my life. I don’t have the space on my counter to pile up dishes to dry, so this gives me a bit more space and organization. More importantly, washing my dishes as I make them is the only way to keep my kitchen functional.
Invest in a rice cooker
My rice cooker, which has just 2 settings and costed about $20 CAD is my best friend in the kitchen. I became a fan of this multi-purpose appliance when I lived in a residence with no kitchen in my third year. I refused to eat at meal hall for every meal, so I found this fantastic webite called Cooking Without a Kitchen that has recipes for everything in a rice cooker and other common appliances. You can make anything from pasta, soups, stews, and cakes, to my personal favourite, yogurt in this versatile lifesaver. Gmarket is a great spot to find cheap rice cookers that will arrive in a day or two.
This may be a bit tricky for people on a tight schedule, but shopping daily is not only a great way to keep your kitchen space open, but also reduces food waste and can help your wallet. I also stopped buying in bulk because I’m only ever cooking for two people, so I’d rather pay a little more for smaller sizes, and have fresher food.
Keep only what you absolutely need
When I arrived, there were piles of cutlery, dishes, and tupperware that I never used. They just piled up and got in the way. Eventually, I passed them onto my friends and it cleared up so much space in my cupboards and on my counter. I keep enough for 2-3 people to eat with a full set. If there are anymore than that around, it’s unlikely I’ll feel like doing dishes for that many people, so I go paper anyway. It also means you have to do your dishes more frequently so no dirty dishes pile up!
This is pretty much every dish I have, and I’ve never felt like it wasn’t enough!
Store additional items in the next room
I keep a lot of dried goods and snacks on hand. I have piles of rice, legumes, oats, dried fruit, peanut butter, etc. on hand to make dinner prep easier. However, I just don’t have the space to store all these items in the kitchen so I keep them on my balcony. It’s otherwise empty space in my house and it keeps my cupboards a bit more clear. Nothing like opening the overhead cupboard and having a bag of flour fall into your face!
My “pantry” on the balcony.
Purchase another “counter top,” preferably something foldable
Some micro-kitchens have virtually no space for food prep. The simplest option is to purchase a large cutting board that can be placed on top of the stove for chopping food. However, this can be tricky with balancing stove-use and just balancing the board itself. I the space is there, a fold-up table is ideal. I had quite a bit of extra space so I bought a permanent table for my microwave and toaster oven to free up the kitchen table for prep.
I purchased this table on gmarket for about $20 CAD and it’s helped clear up a ton of space for food prep on my kitchen table!