A cramped kitchen doesn't have to cramp your cooking style.
For any food-loving world traveler who’s found themselves stuck in a lackluster or downright useless rental kitchen, the struggles of maneuvering in an unfamiliar Airbnb cooking space are all too real.
While most home cooks will want to take advantage of local produce, spices, and specialty ingredients while traveling, cramped and ill-equipped Airbnb kitchens can often be a deterrent to your culinary ambitions. Though some more luxurious rentals will come decked out with state-of-the-art appliances, many others will severely cramp your cooking style, offering a humble hot plate as a heating surface, and meager tools and supplies worn out from a constant influx of visitors.
On one trip to Paris, the tiny futon-equipped studio I rented on the top floor of a six-story building offered no more than a cutting board, a single working burner, and a small sink by way of a “kitchen,” forcing me to get creative with how I prepared my farmers’ market finds.
For those navigating a temporary kitchen that is less than desirable, these simple tips and recipes will help to make a bumpy foreign cooking process run a little smoother.
Come Equipped With Your Own Essential Tools
While most rentals will be stocked with the most basic utensils and cutlery, if you’re planning to create a number of meals in your Airbnb kitchen, coming prepared with a few essential tools will make your life a million times easier. Packing a traveling knife set (like this one) in your checked baggage will ensure you have a sharp, capable instrument available to do all of your chopping, slicing, and dicing.
Bringing along your own measuring cups while traveling outside of the U.S. can also be a lifesaver, as the majority of the world relies on the metric system for measurements, making cooking conversions a far more confusing process for American chefs.
Ask for an Intro to Your New Space
With each kitchen comes a unique set of challenges, so it’s best to get a lay of the land while you still can. Before your host disappears, make sure to ask for a run-down of how to work the stove, grill, and any other confusing or foreign appliances. If you’re renting a room in a shared space be sure to ask about using any fundamental ingredients—like salt, spices, and olive oil— before assuming they’re fair game.
Hosts can also be an amazing resource when it comes to tracking down the best farmers’ markets, grocery stores, and specialty shops, so be sure to take make note of their recommendations before hitting the streets in search of ingredients.
If you’re super concerned about the kitchen situation and plan to prepare many of your own meals, reach out to the renter prior to booking and inquire about the availability of tools, appliances, and basic ingredients before you commit, so you know what you’ll be facing when you arrive at your rental.
Embrace the Local Ingredients
For the highest-quality meals with the lowest amount of effort, turn to local, in-season ingredients that won’t require a lot of fussing over to taste fantastic. Hit the farmers’ market and ask around about the best regional ingredients, and don’t be afraid to experiment with unfamiliar fruits and vegetables that are beloved by locals.
Consider taking a market tour with a knowledgeable guide to learn more about foreign ingredients, tricks for avoiding tourist traps, and how to find the best quality for lower prices. On one such tour in Paris—a town overflowing with boulangeries and fromageries—my guide taught me how to recognize city-wide window signage that indicated a bakery, charcuterie, or cheese shop had earned accolades and expert endorsements for their products, and pointed out streets and neighborhoods where the best of each kind of ingredient could be found.
Go for One-Pot Wonders
For every traveling cook working with minimal space, tools, and heat sources, one pot recipes can save the day by maximizing the potential of your small area and reducing post-meal clean up. Draw inspiration from recipes like One Pot Pasta, Poached Halibut and Vegetables, Thai Basil Chicken Stir-Fry, and Lemony Shrimp with White Beans and Couscous, or experiment with your market finds to create a new one-pot dish representative of your vacation spot.
Soups, stews, and chilis are also a great way to take advantage of single-pot situation, and to incorporate a number of local produce and meat options. Take advantage of a simple but hearty pot of Turkey Bean Chili or One-Pot Beef Stew for a satisfying but undemanding homemade meal.
Become a Salad Master
For those whose heating capabilities are limited to microwave or toaster oven—or less—simple, no-cook salads are the perfect solution to make the most of farm fresh finds when appliance access is nonexistent.
Recipes like Bloody Mary Tomato Salad with Quick Pickled Shrimp, Antipasto Salad, and Italian White Bean and Artichoke Salad, are sure to wow despite being deceptively simple and requiring no heat source.
Salads are also a great option for rentals that lack any form of refrigeration, which isn’t uncommon in many parts of the world. Take advantage of produce that requires no refrigeration, and whip up a simple Vinaigrette that’s sure to taste great atop nearly anything.
Know That Dips and Spreads are Your Friends
When armed with the simplest of kitchen devices: bowls, utensils, and (if you’re lucky) a blender or food processor, the sky becomes the limit for creating delicious dips, spreads, and sauces to be served with freshly baked bread, crackers, or crudité.
A Tangy Cucumber-Yogurt Sauce, or simple Traditional Hummus will require little effort while satisfying your snack cravings, and you can incorporate local spices and ingredients to give these simple dishes your own travel-inspired twist.
Watch: How to Make Traditional Hummus
Master the Art of the Cheese Board
In regions known for their quality cheese and charcuterie options, embrace the art of the board, which can be executed to perfection in even the most limited of kitchens. And seriously, who doesn’t love a cheese board?
Crafting your own spread not only gives you the freedom to pick and choose based on your personal preferences, but can save you some major dough versus opting for pricy restaurant charcuterie spreads. Check out these tips for building an epic cheese board on a budget, and prepare to become everyone’s favorite travel companion.