Lessons from organising my pantry

ST's Tan Hsueh Yun in her kitchen. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - When you cook, bake and have never seen a condiment you are not curious about, things pile up in the pantry.

Every few months, stuff starts falling on my foot when I open the cupboard and I find myself buying stuff I already have.

Being mostly housebound in the time of coronavirus, I took the opportunity to do my regular purge-and-reorganise exercise. Here is what works for me:

Group supplies into themes

I bake a fair bit and three of the pullout shelves in my pantry are devoted to baking supplies. I have one shelf for flavour extracts, leaveners, cocoa powder, yeast, sprays and pastes for greasing cake tins and such. The shelf below is for flour, sugar and other baking supplies that have been opened up. The third is for supplies which have not been opened yet. At a glance, I can see what I need to replenish. I also have shelves for canned food; dried fruit, nuts and seeds; honey and jam; condiments; and Japanese groceries such as Kewpie mayonnaise, and konbu and katsuobushi for making dashi.

Bags not boxes

In my next life, I will have a walk-in pantry the size of a hangar. Then, I can let my inner Marie Kondo go nuts and organise everything in white enamel tins with attractive labels. Alas, that is but a fantasy. Boxes and other containers take up too much space, so I put my half-used bags of flour or dark brown sugar into sturdy zippered plastic bags, press out all the air, seal them and stack them on the shelves. I find I can fit more into the space I have this way. As long as my shelves stay themed, I can find what I want in a jiffy. And I reuse the bags of course.

First in, first out

Reorganising the pantry is a golden opportunity to weed out stuff that is past the use-by date. After throwing out the expired supplies, I group everything into themes, say, canned tomatoes, spicy condiments or honey. Then I tag the cans or jars that need to be used up first, using those rolls of washi tape I keep buying but never use. You can use whatever you have on hand; sticky notes or other kinds of stickers. At a glance, I know which can of tomatoes to reach out for.


Labels facing out, where possible

Where I can, I like to store tall bottles in the middle of my pull-out shelves with the shorter ones on the outer rim. where possible, I have the labels facing out so I can see what's in the jars. But saving space and cramming stuff in is paramount, so between that and having labels facing out, I choose cramming.

Spin and grab

In my condiments cupboard, which is near the stove, I store my sauces, oil and spices on inexpensive lazy Susans I get from Daiso. They save space and I can spin and grab whatever I need. Place the bottles with labels facing out, taller bottles in the middle. Also indispensable is a squeeze bottle. My default cooking oil is grapeseed oil and the bottle of the brand I buy is too tall to fit onto the shelf. So I store it in the pantry and pour what I need into a squeeze bottle, which you can find in household and discount shops. The one I have has four small nozzles, so I never accidentally pour too much oil into a pan.

The secret to maintaining a perfectly organised pantry is the one thing I find very difficult to do - buy less stuff.

My excuse is that I sometimes cook for work so I need specific ingredients for whatever recipe I'm working on. And if that ingredient is, say, tamarind paste, I find it necessary to try different brands so I can tell readers which one works best. All that means buying more and more.

So I have resolved to use up what I have in a creative way. These are famous last words of course. However, I will try my best to stick to the plan.

You are going to be bombarded with recipes using canned fish and luncheon meat. Those cans are expiring soon.

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