The history of wok

in Mamma's Cooking Diary

Invention of wok

"Wok" is a Cantonese word (鑊)  and simply means "cooking pot". This cross between a saucepan and a frying pan was developed several thousand years ago in the Canton region of China, where fuel was scarce. There was usually only one fireplace, on which the whole meal had to be prepared. In order to make the best possible use of scarce fuel, the wok was hung directly over the fire. Its shape and the material of which it was fashioned made it a good conductor of the heat given off by the flames that flickered beneath it. All the ingredients were finely chopped before cooking, thus reducing cooking time to a minimum and economizing on the use of expensive wood. In the course of the centuries, the wok came to be used all over the Far East. Asian people everywhere have a high regard for nature, and thus for all food. They make every effort in their cooking to preserve as far as possible the aroma, colour and texture of the fresh ingredients - which is very easy to do with a wok. The wok has now begun a triumphal march around the world, and this practical cooking pot can now be bought in various forms in virtually all kitchen utensil shops.

Tradition wok making in ancientChina
Traditional wok making in ancient China

The traditional wook This looks rather like a hollowed-out hemisphere with a long wooden handle. It has a rounded base and sloping sides and is fashioned from beaten iron or steel. These materials conduct heat rapidly, but also cool down quickly as soon as the wok is removed from the heat. This means that food cannot overcook. It is preferable for the metal to remain slightly uneven after being beaten, since the food then clings to the edge of the wok while the liquid runs downwards. This makes it easy to bind sauces in the bottom of the wok.

a Chinese craftsman making a wok


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