Most American households contain a conventional oven: a heated compartment that can turn a tray of gooey dough and chocolate chips into mouthwatering cookies in only minutes. The design is so common and easy to use, you may think it’s universal. Believe it or not, while ovens can be found all over the world, they often look and behave in very different ways!
THE SOUTH AMERICAN WOOD-FIRED BARREL OVEN
The name is less creative than you might think: the oven is literally made from a cylinder-shaped metal barrel. The clay that surrounds the barrel is used for insulation, which requires burning less wood. It doesn’t hurt that the clay makes the oven look like a barbecue invented by Spanish missionaries.
The barrel oven is used to cook for large groups of people, and it is especially popular in its birth country of Argentina. Pizza, pies, stews, and roasts are the most common foods cooked in it.
THE EUROPEAN STEAM OVEN
Leave it to “The Old World” to create the next step in cooking technology. The steam in the oven allows you to control humidity to ensure food is cooked and moist every time.
Steam ovens have over 100 different settings that allow you to cook food in ways you never imagined. Ever want to hard-boil eggs without boiling a pot of water? With the steam oven, eggs come out just as hard and moist as if they were cooked in a pot.
THE AFRICAN SOLAR OVEN
What many parts of Africa lack in electricity, they make up for with extreme heat. The solar oven requires no power except for the rays collected from the sun. It’s the closest humans may ever come to photosynthesis.
via Abri le Roux (flickr)
Solar ovens are easy to build. Surround a metal pot with any materials that will reflect sunlight – whether aluminum foil, mirrors, or something else – and make sure to insulate the top of the pot with a tight lid. The oven only works during the day, so it’s important to leave it out on a darker surface, which will attract and maintain heat longer and more efficiently.
THE MIDDLE EASTERN TABUN OVEN
Ever wonder which oven the Israelites used to cook matzo in before leaving Egypt? It was probably the Tabun oven. Jewish and Arab communities have used the oven to cook bread since pre-Biblical times. It is still in use today.
The oven is made out of clay bricks and features a cone opening at the top. The opening is initially covered while the fire starts in order to let the clay retain heat. The oven uses many fuel sources, from dried wood to animal droppings. After a few hours of warming the oven, it can cook four to five pieces of bread at a time.
THE CHINESE CLAY OVEN
Called “gang” in China, clay ovens are four feet tall, freestanding ovens found in Chinese cities run by older street vendors. With China’s recent economic boom, these ovens will soon be a thing of the past.
via Jeff Kovacs (flickr)
(image is a Thai clay oven, but both are visually identical)
The ovens store kindling in their large metal vats and roast food like sweet potatoes and corncobs on the top. Burlap sacks are used to keep the food warm until purchased.
Every part of the world has an oven unique to its culture. Next time you fire up your oven, think of what you’re eating and how it might be cooked in another part of the world!
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