How to Cook in an Airbnb: 11 Essential Tips
Being a food lover and avid home cook, I love to experiencing another culture through the food, not just by eating out at the restaurants, but also by going to the local markets, shopping for ingredients, and taking them home to cook in a kitchen. It makes for some fun stories: I’ve whisked eggnog by hand in the sweltering heat of Buenos Aires at Christmastime. I’ve grilled lamb sausages on a rooftop in Brooklyn at sunset. I’ve made nachos at 4 a.m. in New Orleans. I’ve roasted fresh-caught whole fish on the beach in the Dominican Republic. Of course, being able to do this sort of cooking requires a kitchen, and this means that instead of staying in hotels, I often prefer to stay in a house, like an Airbnb or VRBO. In order to have a successful culinary adventure in an unfamiliar kitchen, however, you’ve got to make some preliminary arrangements. Here’s how to cook in a rental home like an Airbnb.
If you want to have a great time cooking in a rental, seek out a house with an amazing kitchen. Wish your home kitchen had an island? Get an Airbnb that has an island. Don’t want to waste time doing dishes while you’re on vacay? Make sure it has a dishwasher. There are tons of rentals out there, so search for one that has a cool kitchen that you are you excited to cook in. Just be sure to set the price perimeter within your budget. You don’t want to find your dream kitchen only to realize it’s way out of your budget.
Once you’ve found the ideal place, reach out to the host to express that you plan on using the kitchen. Every host has a different style. Sometimes the kitchen is filled with items left by past guests; other times the kitchen is completely empty—there’s not even any salt, pepper, or olive oil! Figure out what kind of kitchen you will be dealing with. If the description on Airbnb says it’s “fully stocked,” be sure to find out what that means. What culinary gadgets are there? Is there a toaster, microwave, or food processor? What about cooking tools? Cheese grater, spatulas, whisks? Is there a baking sheet, large pot for pasta, and sauté pan? What about the pantry? Are there any spices, vinegar, or baking items, like sugar and flour? Get as much information as you can.
A knife block filled with dull knives is the home cook’s worst enemy, so pack at least one knife, but preferably two: a paring knife and a chef’s knife, like a santoku, will do the trick. Find a brightly colored affordable set that comes with traveling sleeves. Use these knives just for traveling. The bright color will ensure you never get your knives confused with the rental’s knives. Plus, when you’re emptying out the kitchen on your last day, you’ll be able to find the knives quickly.
When I’m traveling to a foreign country, I like to bring two forms of culinary measurement. America is the only place in the world not on the metric system, and it can be hard to make certain things, especially if you plan on baking, without proper measuring tools. I bring a 1/4 cup so I can properly measure liquids, and a thermometer so I can check the temperature on protein. For tablespoon and teaspoon measurements, just use a regular spoon. The large soup spoon size is a tablespoon, and the small tea spoon size is a teaspoon, hence the names!
Pack any other essentials that you can’t imagine cooking without. Your favorite apron, a small whisk, Microplane, or beloved cast-iron skillet. What you pack depends on whether or not you’re flying or driving to your destination; if you’re driving, go ahead and bring that Vitamix—why not?!
When you arrive at the house, take an inventory of the kitchen. Open all of the drawers and look in all of the cabinets. Situate yourself within the space and make a list of anything that you’ll need to get at the store. If the baking sheet looks grimy, get a roll of foil to cover the browned parts when using it. Are there cleaning tools? Paper towels? Napkins? Dishwashing soap? If not, add these things to your list. Look in the pantry. What kind of oil and spices are there? Note if there’s no black pepper or very little sugar. Is the water drinkable? If it’s not safe to drink, then you will have to get bottled water or boil all tap water before cooking with it. Is there a grill? Does it have propane? Figure out the answers to these questions before you go to the store.
Head to the local grocery store and fill your cart with your favorite things. Sparkling water and lemons, a good local cheese, salami, crackers, seasonal fruit, and vegetables are all on my list. You are on vacation, so splurge! I love to check out the snack aisle and grab a few bags of potato chips that are native to the area. Lay’s classic potato chips come in tons of exotic flavors. Give yourself plenty of time to check out the store and browse the aisles. Find a friendly-looking checker or person behind the deli to ask about local markets. Is there a farmers market? If so, when and where is it? If you’re at a seaside destination, ask where the fish market is.
When you make your initial big shop to stock the kitchen, be sure to get breakfast items. Especially if you plan on going out on the town that night, you’ll be happy the next morning when you wake up and there are eggs, milk, bacon, OJ, and sparkling wine in the fridge. English muffins, bread, fruit, tomatoes—whatever you like to eat for breakfast on vacation, get. Don’t forget coffee, coffee filters, or tea.
If you’re in the Caribbean during mango season, experiment with dishes that include mango. You’ll save money by buying the items that the natives would be buying. If you are at the grocery store in Spain and notice all of the Spanish grandmothers scooping up heirloom tomatoes, go over there and get some tomatoes. Embracing the local ingredients is one of the reasons to travel, so use your nose and mouth to sniff- and taste-test your way to the best items.
Figure out what you can cook with what you have. If there is no big soup pot, don’t make pasta or chili. If there is a grill, use it to make grilled vegetables, grilled chicken, and grilled bread. A vacation rental is not the place to experiment with a complex 20-ingredient mole, even if it is in Mexico. Keep things simple by cooking what’s in season and local to that area. When I was in Costa Rica for 10 days, the fish was so fresh, the tomatoes and avocados so ripe, and the tortillas so pillowy that I made roasted fish tacos at least six of the nights we were there.
It’s a vacation, so you’re going to want to get wine, beer, or liquor to enjoy while you’re at the house. A good bottle of rum or whiskey is fun. Mixers like fresh fruit juice or tonic should be on the list. Instead of buying one bottle of wine, get two.
The first time I cooked in a foreign kitchen, I realized how lucky Americans have it. In many places, the kitchen relies on a propane gas tank, and the second that tank is empty you can no longer use the oven or stove. Expect to run into a few culinary challenges, but be creative to solve the issues that arise. In the end, you’ll become a better cook and have a few memorable stories to tell your kids.
If you’re not having fun cooking on vacation, go stay in a hotel and let someone prepare the meals for you! Otherwise, remind yourself that every meal doesn’t have to be perfect. Pour a glass of wine, put on your favorite playlist, and relax. If you’re with a group of people and everyone is outside while you’re in the kitchen cooking, make your friends or family members take turns being your sous chef.
Below are four items every Airbnb kitchen needs.
Do you often cook in a rented house? What is your advice for making the most of your vacation kitchen time?