What’s in a wok?

Chinese home kitchens typically aren’t heavy with gadgetry. You will normally find a sizeable round chopping block, an all purpose meat cleaver, a fruit/paring knife and, at the centre of it all, a wok. A wok which preferably comes with a lid.

Woks can be used for essentially every type of Chinese cooking method – stir-frying, pan-frying, deep-frying, boiling, stewing, braising, steaming, smoking (the latter two are when the lid comes in handy) – hence their importance in the kitchen. As a result, the desirable features of a wok include even heating and having steep and deep sides to prevent spillage when cooking, as well as for practical spacing issues on the stove.

In a space-tight city such as Hong Kong, it is common for home kitchens to have two-burner gas stoves which sit atop a section of purposely low kitchen benchtop. The wok lives permanently on one of the burners because why would you need to put it away when you’re using it every day? And although I have a four-burner cooktop in my current kitchen, I still need to be mindful of large woks which can effectively invade the space of other burners despite it being positioned on only one of them!

My maternal grandfather had a small wok which was coveted by all family members. It heated up quickly and was relatively light, and had become blackened through being well-seasoned over many years of use which rendered it non-stick. It was narrow in diameter and had a rounded bottom which fit perfectly into the stove burners. This was inherited by an aunt of mine but sadly it had to be retired a couple of years ago.

Modern woks, such as the Anolon one pictured above, conveniently come with a non-stick coating which does away with the seasoning process and means little or no oil needs to be used when cooking. Well, unless you’re deep-frying, of course! They also tend to have a wider flat area at the bottom compared with traditional woks, which means you can still fry “flat” things (like eggs, crêpes, pancakes, etc) without everything pooling in a pit. At 30cm in diameter the Anolon wok is at the upper extremity of my ideal size, only because I have small hands and wrists and have trouble balancing anything larger, although the rubber-coated handle which is ingeniously taller than it is wide aids with its grip.

And grip is important when cooking things such as the stir-fry below, so that you can slide it out onto a plate when done rather than having to lift it out in sections and lose heat from your cooked dish.

Stir-fried bitter melon with egg (涼瓜炒蛋) (serves 2-3 as part of a meal)
Bitter melon is something I didn’t learn to appreciate until a few years spent living in Hong Kong. It was rarely available in Sydney during my childhood, although thankfully this is not the case now. Cantonese cuisine features melons/gourds from summer through to autumn, whilst the colder months are spent eating green leafy vegetables. Blanching the melon slices prior to cooking helps to temper the bitterness, and cooking it with egg adds a creamy sweetness.

·         1 medium-sized bitter melon
·         2-3 eggs, lightly beaten
·         small chopped chilli, XO sauce (optional)

1.      Halve the bitter melon lengthwise and remove the seeds and soft inner pith by scraping with a teaspoon. Cut the melon into thin (3-4mm) slices.

2.      Heat a wok over medium-high heat and add the bitter melon. Pour enough freshly boiled water over to cover the melon slices. Add 1 tsp salt and stir until dissolved. Once the bitter melon slices take on a bright green colour, strain and set aside. Discard the cooking water.
3.      Return the wok to the heat and wipe dry the inside with a paper towel. Return bitter melon to the wok and stir-fry briefly with ½ tsp salt. (Chopped chilli and XO sauce, if using, can be added to the melon at this point in time.) Pour over the egg and let cook until starting to set before turning over, in sections – it does not have to be neat or kept in one piece like an omelette. Continue to flip and turn until the egg is cooked then slide onto a plate to serve.

Mademoiselle Délicieuse received an Anolon Advanced 30cm Open Stir-Fry pan for review courtesy of Kitchenware Direct as part of this post.

happy cooking!


  1. I love my wok, unfortunately I dno longer have a gas stove thought!

  2. I need a new frypan/wok and have been searching for a 28cm to no avail. The bitter melon with egg looks good, it would be perfect with rice and soy.

  3. i love bitter melon :)

    good review!

  4. Lol woks have no use in our kitchen, though a 30c-35cm flat based fry pan is well loved by all.
    So... this is a Cantonese dish? Would have though it's Vietnamese 'cos mum makes it all the time! =p Not a lover of bittermelon, I will have a few thin slivers doused in heaps of soy with a big mouthful of rice - all to mask the bitterness.

  5. I've always hate bitter melon but yours looks great and I haven't had it since I was a child so I'm ready to try it with adult taste buds.

  6. I remember my wok back home! It's just like you said, well oiled through the years being used! We are still in search of a good one, and the Anolon one looks like a good one to try. Thanks for that!

  7. I didn't mind bittermelon as a kid, especially in bittermelon and pork soup! Mmmm.. my parents also make this dish as well. Love it a drizzle of soy sauce and rice.

  8. I can read this post with joy and not with sad wistful longing now that I have a wok burner! Yippee! My apartment has a terrible electric stovetop that made using my wok completely impossible, but I got a gas wok burner and bottle for my birthday and it was like all my Christmases had come at once. Or all my birthdays had come at once. Actually scratch that, I'd hate all my birthdays to come at once!

    Aaaaanyway, nice review :)

  9. No matter how my mum makes bitter melon (or how much sugar she adds to it), I still find it way too bitter to like. Not that I don't eat it.... I just don't like it :S

  10. OH THE SHAME>.... I gave my electric wok to my sister and have not used one since then. I am going to pick your brains on this matter as it needs to be rectified immediately!

  11. I've been meaning to replace my rust ridden wok...thanks for the recommendation. Anlon it is!

  12. My mum was horrified by the fact that I owned a wok but no lid for it. She had to go and buy me one! :D

  13. i have to admit i am not very good at wok cooking and don't have a good one. its on the list to invest in :)

  14. My two grandmothers have a fight about which wok we use in the household; it's quite funny. My mum has resorted to using the one they each bought when either of them is around. It spares her the headache of listening to them complain. :D

  15. I've never tried bitter melon, nor have I ever owned a decent wok!!!!!!! At least you can lay claim to having one in the family.

  16. ohhh grats on the new wok! looks sexy

  17. I could not live without my wok. Sadly it is a flat bottom one that goes on my electric stove. I miss gas so so much :(

  18. Gorgeous bittermelon pictures R :) We bought my mum a new, lighter wok for her birthday a few years back and she immediately started looking for the lid... which we had neglected to buy! Needless to say, that situation got remedied quick smart!

  19. Hey Fiona, gas has definitely revolutionised my cooking!

    Hey Bel, I know, I feel so strange that I seem to be on a constant hunt for a small(er) wok!

    Hey Dolly, same! And I'm one of those strange people who've like bitter melon since a young age too.

    Hey Angie, I definitely find that rounded edges help with tossing various things around in the pan. Haha, and definite crossover with bitter melon being popular in various Asian cuisines.

    Hey JehanP, some people absolutely hate bitter melon when they're younger but grow to enjoy it later! Try it with some soy or stir-fried with blackbean sauce or chilli (anything strong really) to help mask some of the bitterness.

    Hey Star, you get comfortable with using a good wok and it's so sad when you then have to go looking for a replacement!

    Hey Phuoc, I've always quite liked bittermelon, especially when it's been left overnight to absorb the flavours of what it's been cooked with.

    Hey Conor, haha, that is a seriously practical gift to receive! "Here, have a bottle of gas and a wok burner!" Those individual burners also work a treat for steamboats/hotpots.

    Hey Tina, don't worry, my mother didn't grow to even remotely like bitter melon until she was almost 50!

    Hey Gastronomy Gal, do you mean those electric plug-in ones? They're just not the same!

    Hey Adrian, yes, replace stat! Surely it can't be healthy if your wok is sprouting rust...?

    Hey Agnes, eheh, I seriously wouldn't know how to steam stuff if I didn't have a lid left over from a long-retired wok =p

    Hey muppy, I find woks quite useful for "catching" things that otherwise would've ended up all over my stovetop of the floor =p

    Hey Vicky, ahaha, "My wok is better than your wok"?

    Hey Kitchen Butterfly, it's always a struggle to find that absolutely perfect kitchen appliance/utensil, isn't it?

    Hey sugarpuffi, thanks!

    Hey Sara, mum's only ever had electric stoves whilst living in Sydney and it's just not the same!

    Hey shez, thanks! Haha, it's not a "complete" wok unless it comes with a lid =p

  20. Thank you for the info. It sounds pretty user friendly. I guess I’ll pick one up for fun. thank u

    Wok cooker


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