The science behind 'the breath of a wok,' an essential ingredient in the perfect bowl of fried rice

2020/10/29 16:02

Today's Vocabulary

1. nudge (v) 
to move slowly and almost reach a higher point or level

2. engulf (v) 
 to surround and cover something or someone completely

3. lump (n)
 a piece of a solid substance, usually with no particular shape

4. benchmark (n)
 a level of quality that can be used as a standard when comparing other things

5. seared (v)  
to fry a piece of meat quickly at a high temperature, in order to prevent liquid and flavor escaping from it

6. ethereal (adj)
 light and delicate, especially in an unnatural way

The science behind 'the breath of a wok,' an essential ingredient in the perfect bowl of fried rice

Chef Kwok Keung Tung tosses the wok with one hand, using the other to stir with a metal spatula. Both hands occupied, he uses his knee to nudge the gas stove’s lever up and down to control the fire fan, sporadically engulfing a third of the wok in flames. It takes only three minutes for the lump of white rice to transform into the bowl of golden fried rice he places on the serving counter.

“Wok is the essence of Chinese cooking in South China. And Cantonese chefs are the master of fire and wok.” For those who grew up in a Cantonese family, it’s almost impossible to go to a Chinese restaurant without hearing someone — usually older — comment “gau wok hei” (enough wok hei) or “ng gau wok hei” (not enough wok hei) when establishing a benchmark of how authentic a Chinese restaurant actually is.

Hei (also Romanized as “hay”) is the Cantonese word for “chi,” meaning energy flow. It was once a hard-to-explain and largely ethereal concept mostly popular in the South China region. In other parts of China or Asia, even though they used woks, they didn’t focus on wok hei.

“Wok hei is not simply hot food; it’s that elusive seared taste that only lasts for a minute or two,” legendary American Chinese food writer Grace Young wrote. In other words, it’s a combination of that steaming aroma you breathe in and the almost-burning sensation on your tongue that somehow enhances the flavors of the dish.

Fried rice was brought into the spotlight in July, thanks to a viral YouTube video titled “Uncle Roger DISGUSTED by this Egg Fried Rice Video.” In the clip, “Uncle Roger,” a character created by UK-based Malaysian stand-up comedian Nigel Ng, reacts to a BBC video on how to cook egg fried rice.

He points out everything done wrong in the original egg fried rice video, a response that has gathered more than 17 million views so far. Among the major offenses in the original video? Watery rice


  1. In your opinion, which countries have the best cuisine? The worst? Why?
  2. What is the best way to cook rice?
  3. Are you a big rice lover?

“ Give a bowl of rice to a man and you will feed him for a day. Teach him how to grow his own rice and you will save his life.