Nothing in my entire house so perfectly combines utility, simplicity, sustainability, beautiful design and tradition as my set of inexpensive, generic bamboo steamers.
I use the two-tiered, six-inch set daily for steaming small servings of fresh vegetables (over boiling water in a cheap wok–another cool tool). Potatoes steam to mashable softness in about 12 minutes.
The big twelve-inch set accommodates a whole batch of steamed buns, masses of vegetables, or even a plate of leftovers to be gently reheated–and it’s fantastic for carrying pies and cookies to parties, and so much more attractive than plastic ware.
These common everyday items of Asian cookery are craft works of real beauty, with their woven-bamboo lids, their curved and stitched side walls, and their beautifully slatted and fitted bottoms. They darken as cooking heat caramelizes the sugars in the bamboo, but they last a long, long time (I’ve been using mine daily for four years with no sign of failure), and when they do finally give up the ghost, I can burn or compost them, and easily afford a replacement.