For starters, normal pots and pans will do. But as you learn more and cook more adventurously, you'll appreciate a few key additions to your tool set. The right tool for the right job, right? Please note that these are not all Thai cooking utensils and tools, but the ones that I have found work the best for me when I cook Thai food away from Thailand.Wok and SpatulaOne of the most important tools is the wok and a spatula. Finding the right wok here in the U.S. can be a challenging job. I have gone through so many woks.
Stainless Steel Wok
Carbon steel woks are great if you have a restaurant. They are light, with great heat transfer and rigidity. With nearly daily use, they last a long time. I have found though, in most households, even our own, woks are not used frequently enough to counteract their natural oxidization and rusting.
Teflon woks have never lived up to their promises for me. I have had ones with bumpy bottoms, smooth bottoms, even ones with a life time warranty. Sooner or later they all stick at one spot or another. I've even had Teflon coating peel, and I ended up eating it unknowingly. Yuk!
Since then, I found my true love in Thailand, a light weight stainless steel wok. This wok is the best by far. I like a light weight wok because it is easy to move around on the burner and heats quickly. This wok is very easy to clean and has two good handles. Food rarely sticks, but if it does, I am not afraid to scrub it. For the handles, one is long and one short - just right for fancy maneuvers on the stove and in the sink.
Stainless Steel Spatula
For spatulas, I prefer a stainless steel spatula made for woks. They can be tough to find outside of a Chinatown, but are great because they make it easy to turn over the food. These spatulas have a long thin handle, a flat, rounded flipper with a small lip around the back and a rounded edge on the front that matches the rounded walls of the wok. Make sure that you don't get a spatula with a hole in the bottom of the handle where the metal from the handle wraps around -- otherwise, food and cooking residue gets stuck in the handle and can not be cleaned out. I also used to use, and be very happy with, wooden spatulas and still have several handy. I stick them in the dishwasher with no problem.
If you eat rice frequently, you'll love the ease and perfect success rate of a rice cooker. Like a bread maker, you pour in the rice, pour in the water, close the top and plug it in. 20 minutes later it's done. There are many models, and when you pick one out, look for: - a non-stick pot, - a solid feeling lid and handle that locks down when closed (otherwise the lid will rise up with the bubbles of the boiling rice) - a lid that you can easily take apart to clean - a painted outside that you would not mind keeping on your counter
You can find clay pots, normally from China, with a lid in most oriental groceries for about $5-$10. They have to be the best bargain ever. I use a clay pot for cooking my soups and sauces (great for making spaghetti sauce from raw Tomatoes too). Clay pots are nice because they heat slowly and hold the heat well and do not impart flavor into the food. Frequently in the store, they have a metal wire "bra" on them that you can take off once you bring it home. You need to be careful when heating a clay pot that you don't heat an empty one too hot or else the bottom will break away from the edges. What start out as hairline cracks, quickly become leaks.
Mortar and Pestle
A beefy mortar and pestle would be the next thing I'd invest in. While a food processor will do in most cases, there are some foods that need pounding in a mortar. If you own a strong one already, even if it not a Thai one, that's great.
If you don't own one and would love to have one, here is the information that might help you make the decision. There are two types of pestle and mortar from Thailand, a clay one and a stone one. Both are frequently available at oriental groceries.
The clay mortar is meant for green papaya salad. The pestle for clay mortar is made out from palm wood. The pestle is much lighter than the stone pestle, thus it is good for bruising the green papaya without grounding it.
The stone mortar is used for pounding everything from garlic to curry paste. It is extremely heavy (10+ lbs). The pestle is made out of the same type of stone. Prior to power tools, inside of the stone mortar was rough and had to be smoothened down by pounding rice husk or sand. Now, these mortars come exceptionally smooth inside and lacquered on the outside.
The mortar and pestle that I frequently use is a clay one that is actually a toy one (an embarrassing admission). No, it is not the one I owned since I was a little kid. My sister broke that one. It is much smaller than a real one, yet does it job. My mother brought this one for me from Thailand because it fit well in her suitcase.Gas StoveHigh temperatures help you get better flavors when you cook with a wok. A gas stove is a big tool, but you'll find that you get much better control over your temperatures, higher heat and better heat distribution.