How to Start Learning to Cook—An Expat's Guide

You don't need much to conquer the basic skills of cooking.

Full disclosure: I’m only Malaysian. But before I learned how to cook I was reliant on food from hawker centres and fast food, which can get boring, fast. It took me a while to get myself to start cooking, though the biggest fear I had was something rather silly. It wasn’t that I was afraid that I couldn’t cook up a delicious meal or mess up the cooking process. No—I was just afraid of turning on the stove. I had this irrational fear that I would accidentally blow the kitchen, and myself, up. As silly as it is, I finally got around it, right around when COVID hit. So I was able to have hearty home-cooked meals during the pandemic, which helped me cope with missing home during then. If you want to start cooking but have no idea how to, you needn’t be afraid. Here’s how to start cooking for yourself, even if you’re new.

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How to start learning to cook – 5 easy tips to start

Another full disclosure: I’m no master chef. I only started cooking and meal-prepping when I was in my mid-20s. Though I don’t claim to cook amazing meals—most of my food has received praise from my sister (who lives with me) and some of my friends. So take it all with a pinch of salt, so to speak.

Let’s begin; the art of cooking beckons!

1. Get the right cooking utensils and kitchenware

After all, how else are you going to start cooking? While most Singapore serviced apartments and Singapore co-living apartments have fully-equipped kitchens complete with kitchen utensils and appliances. But not every apartment rental in Singapore comes with them. So here are a couple of kitchen essentials that could help you cook up a feast in record time.

Here’s what you can get as a rookie chef:

  • Air Fryer: I wouldn’t be able to live without mine. It’s truly magical because it can heat up and cook anything from fries to chicken wings. Plus, it works its magic with minimal oil, letting you enjoy all the flavour without the extra calories.
  • Rice Cooker: Say hello to perfectly fluffy grains every time! As it simply takes charge of rice cooking, you’ll have more time to experiment with all the different rice-based dishes from around the world.
  • Electric Pots: The speedy sidekicks are the ultimate multitaskers. Brew soups, cook pasta, cook scrambled eggs (a fellow colleague did it before)–they do it all! If you’ve had a long day, just boil some water, throw in some vegetables, meat and seasoning, and let it cook. In no time, you’ll not only have a comforting bowl of soup, but a healthy meal too. Such is the beauty of the all-in-one pot method.
  • Pots and Pans: You’d have to know what you want to cook too. I would suggest getting one frying pan and a deeper set pan to start. The frying pan lets you, well, fry dishes easier. But a deeper set pan lets you toss around your ingredients without it spilling everywhere.
  • Cutting Board: This should go without saying, and the last thing you want is to damage the kitchen in your apartment rental in Singapore.
  • Knives: Have it a few different sizes. Larger knives can help you easier slice or mince meats and vegetables. Whereas smaller knives can give you more control over smaller, more delicate ingredients, like tofu. 
  • Measuring Spoons: While I use my own ‘instincts’ to measure my ingredients, getting these will help you make sure everything is in the right proportion.

2. Start with easy recipes

If you want to know how to start learning to cook at home, start with a simple recipe. Simple meals can be very delicious too.

For me, I remember I started with the simplest ingredients: egg. I first fried an egg to add to my Maggi instant noodles, as well as frying some luncheon meat. But the first ‘recipe’ I cooked was scrambled eggs, because I love scrambled eggs, and it seemed simple enough for someone with no basic cooking skills and zero cooking technique. 

I just went on Youtube and saw a few videos about cooking scrambling eggs. One of them was by Tasty, that viral cooking content production company that took over Facebook for a hot minute. And I played it as I cooked, trying to remember what the chef in the video was saying. And voila! Scrambled eggs, made with Meiji milk, a pinch of salt, and the President French Butter (trust me, french butter will save your life).

Just start with something easy. That’s where all the best chefs in the world hone their cooking basics before they embark on the rest of their cooking journey. So you don’t need to buy recipe books or go to a class. You can even just try out different recipes you see on social media, though it’s best to do a little more research if you see something on Tik Tok.

I sometimes even just take whatever is on the first page of Google, though you can head to proper websites with more trusted content, like Eater or New York Times cooking. Or just ask your parents about their recipe!

All you need is 3-4 simple recipes to master (instant noodles count, in my opinion). Even 2-3 recipes can get you going for months. You’re not in The Bear, you don’t need to make decadent restaurant meals. So just start with some basic pasta recipes, and then you’re well on your way.

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3. Season all the seasonings

Yes, I’m salty. Trust me, after you stock up on your spice cabinet, you can truly see why they say variety is the spice of life. Getting seasoning is one of the easiest ways to punch up your cooking. That said, always add them gradually, and taste your food as you add seasoning.

If you prefer cooking Asian delicacies, here are my recommendations for some basic condiments and seasonings to help add a twist to your dishes:

  • Light soy sauce
  • Thick soy sauce
  • Sweet soy sauce
  • Fish sauce
  • Sesame oil
  • Chilli sesame oil
  • Chilli oil
  • Rice vinegar
  • Black and white pepper

 For Western delicacies, a little spice can go a long way. For me I usually add these spices onto my Western dishes to give it a proper kick:

  • Paprika
  • Cajun
  • Basil
  • Mixed herbs
  • Nutmeg
  • Garlic Salt

Of course, these are not exhaustive lists. As you learn different recipes, you can slowly experiment with how the different spices and seasonings work together. This was an important learning process for me as I learned that some condiments just can’t be used with certain recipes. For example, if I was frying thicker-cut noodles, I would add different kinds of soy sauce together. But if I’m frying bee hoon, which is much thinner and finer, the heavier sauces, like the thick soy sauce and the sweet soy sauce, would overpower the bee hoon. So you have to keep in mind both the taste and the texture of different seasonings.

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4. Plan your meals

We’re getting into the nitty-gritty now. Meal preparation can go a long way in helping you save money and cooking time (because you won’t need to get out for an extra grocery run). I usually plan it over the weekends. I do it for two reasons:

1. So that when I go grocery shopping I have a proper ingredient list, and I won’t forget anything (I’m very forgetful).


2. So that I don’t feel guilty about all the spoilt food items in my fridge.

With meal-prepping, I can make sure that I have all the food items I have, and that I can tailor my meals according to my schedule. If it’s a busy week, I’d probably get more dried food items since they spoil less easily. Or, I can cook a bit more rice on the top of the week, and just fry the leftover rice for the rest of the week.

5. Get the chemistry

If you want to learn how to cook at home, you also have to learn how things cook. You don’t need to read a whole book about it, but you need to know some of the basics, like how to spot how a raw chicken becomes cooked, or how to reduce certain fruits and vegetables to bring out its flavours (tip: always simmer with low heat).

So try to be sensitive and observant when you cook. Start realising how your ingredients behave. With that, you can graduate to more adventurous recipes, it’s important to develop a sensibility towards it so you can adapt your cooking skills across different recipes.

It’s not that hard to learn how to start cooking at home

One of the first things I started to realise after I started cooking is that, cooking is kind of like learning new languages. You slowly learn how different cuisines come together, where they can intersect and diverge. Now you can be rid of scrounging along aisles upon aisles of convenience foods and make your favourite dishes (and start to realise a lot of restaurants are overcharging their food).

But, alas, all good things have an end. After you finish cooking, there’s one thing that most chefs would dread—the kitchen cleanup.

About the Writer: Benedict Lim

As the resident punmaker, Benedict is really bad at making people laugh. They’re much better at diving into the nuances of the things they write about.


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