The Quest for a Wok

by | Jan 9, 2010 | Cookbooks / Blogs / Social Media

Ni hao! I recently saw Martin Yan on Emeril Live, Martin was one of the early television chefs that we just loved to watch. “Yan Can Cook” came on PBS in 1982, years before the Food Network came on the scene. He was so fun to watch, quite a sense of humor, and his hands were lightening fast! There is a YouTube video where Martin carves a chicken in 18-seconds, it takes me about an hour and the possible loss of a fingertip!

Many moons ago we received a wok for our wedding; unfortunately, during one of our moves, the wok was sacrificed (a rather large unwieldy thing). Seeing Martin at work inspired me, my quest for a wok begins. Bob and I had been talking about wanting a wok for a few years, he has become a better cook than myself during his unemployment, a very patient chopper, and fastidious kitchen cleaner! So, it’s rather appropriate that I should be shopping for a new wok on our 30th wedding anniversary (how the heck did that happen, 30 years?!). And hopefully Bob will be using it more than I do.

I had saved an article on buying a wok several years ago, but of course I couldn’t find it. I did remember that the author had visited The Wok Shop in San Francisco to purchase it, and that the “traditional” woks are actually very inexpensive. So I went to The Wok Shop website and started shopping around, many, many, many choices, but couldn’t remember which wok had been recommended.

So, I did a Google search on “how to buy a wok” and found a perfect story at, I think he may have read the same article I did! He recommended the traditional Chinese cast iron wok, made of very thin iron, unlike our faithful ½ ton frying pans.

The quest continues…back to The Wok Shop, and the traditional cast iron section. You won’t believe the price, their smallest wok at 13” retails for $9.95, yes, that’s right, $9.95!! Just because it was so phenomenally cheap, I did a Google search to see how much other retailers were gouging us for woks, and there on the first page was a wok for $234.95??!! I’m sorry, I’ll stick with the wok used by the locals from San Francisco’s Chinatown for $16.95. I went with the largest at 16”, our family is used to cooking for a crowd even when there are only 2 in the house. Well, the search didn’t end there, now I had to look for some authentic accessories, a “chuan” or spatula, a “hoak” or ladle, a skimmer and a bamboo steam rack.

And then, the pursuit reached a pinnacle when I spied the really cool section…cleavers! Bob has always wanted a cleaver, but they were always too expensive, or others looked so cheap, we never bought one. Not at the Wok Shop, carbon steel cleavers starting at $6.95, I love this place! They did have an extra heavy duty BBQ Cleaver for $79.95, but I stuck with the vegetable cleaver that was on sale for $9.95, gotta love a bargain. The website described it as “popular among many Chinese chefs in San Francisco,” how can I go wrong, Chinatown is my absolute favorite neighborhood in the city, the largest Chinatown outside of Asia as well as the oldest Chinatown in North America. After shopping around on the site for a while, the pursuit continued, I decided that we really needed a meat cleaver too (I think there’s room in my kitchen drawer, or I’ll throw away the knife that currently resides in the cleaver spot in my knife rack). This turned out to be the most expensive purchase at a whopping $19.95.

After finalizing my purchase, I realized I needed a cookbook, and of course it had to be a Martin Yan cookbook, so the hunt continued at where I’m a one-click shopper, I was now treading in dangerous territory. I perused the list and chose just one, “Martin Yan, Quick and Easy”. But low and behold, there was the inexpensive option of shopping from the used/new section at Amazon, and I found a new book for $4.63, a steal even with the cost of shipping.

Well, now that my quest was accomplished, I have to wait patiently for the arrival of the found treasures, so I will check back in on the blog once we have the wok seasoned and put to good use!

zai jian, nancy