Dirty kitchen in the Philippines

Most of the household related tasks here in the Philippines seem to need so much more effort than in Europe. They are much more time consuming because so much is done by hand, as in it’s not automated—like for example: washing the laundry, doing the dishes, or cleaning the floor. But the one thing that surprised me the most were the kitchens. 

Many households here (in the rural areas and even in the cities) have “dirty kitchens” (called “abuhan”, literally, the place where the ashes are). It is a kitchen that is physically separate from the house and features a stove that uses firewood or coals for fuel. While there are many variations on what makes for a dirty kitchen; here in the North of Cebu, it is because dirt is literally a component of the system.

A countertop made of dirt, around 5 inches thick, forms the base where the stoves are placed. The pots and pans are placed right on top of these clay stoves while firewoods are regularly fed into the fire when cooking.


So it is with our kitchen here. It is not inside the house but outside in the backyard. It is for practical reasons that they are outside. The obvious fact being that cooking with an open fire would be too dangerous inside the house. Having an outdoor kitchen helps to isolate cooking heat and smells. It also keeps the smoke outside.


Personally, I’m not familiar with this system at all. It’s like camping all the time. But in fact, even when I’m camping, and I do camp a lot, I use the gas-powered stove! This system is just so totally alien to me. I’m just afraid I’d burn all the food if I take over. But what’s amazing though is watching them cook anything in these kitchens. You can really see their lifelong experience with these because they make it look so easy.

Luckily for me, there is an additional gas-powered stove in the outdoor kitchen. That’s what I use for cooking noodles and preparing oats. It couldn’t be any simpler. Just turn the dials until the igniter sparks and you start a flame going.

For the dirty kitchen stove though, the process is more involved. There is some prep time too. They actually gather woods, chop them up, put them to dry, and pile them up for storage. As an aside, even 8 months after Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda hit, we’re still using the woods of felled mango trees, coconuts, talisay, and even the remnants of our destroyed old cottage.