Wok On, Buy in Chinatown

Categories: SFoodie

WokWithBacon.JPG
Ben Narasin
Yee Cheong's wok on campfire coals
​I've always been a big fan of cast iron: skillets, griddles, butter melters that look like medieval castle defenses in miniature. They last forever, they're cheap, and they don't seem to have any "bad for you" issues as aluminum and Teflon are reputed to have. Even stainless steel leeches chromium into water.

For all the cast iron I have, it wasn't until my friend Carolyn mentioned her cast iron wok from Chinatown a few years ago that I considered this classic Swiss-army-knife of the Asian kitchen could ever be made of the metal. Too heavy, right?

It took me plenty of walking and searching vainly amongst gewgaws, spiky produce and dried miscellany before I found my cast iron wok. Last week, I retraced my steps so I could tell you where to buy one: Yee Cheong General Contractor (1319 Stockton at Broadway). The awning ads for Fuller O'Brien paint were my first clue this was the place. Not! Chinatown really needs subtitles.

As unconventional and hard to find as the location was, the price made the search worthwhile.

A cast iron wok at Yee Cheong is just $6.99 or $7.99 depending on size. Sur La Table's cheapest wok is $33; its most expensive is $250. Williams-Sonoma has plenty of expensive woks, but does have a $20 cast iron one.

But $8 seems better, so I splurged and added a stand for $2.59.

The cast iron in the wok is as thin as construction paper, so the wok is actually quite light. It's unseasoned so you need to do that yourself. Yee Cheong will give you instructions (in English!) or you can google it if you don't know how. Interestingly, Yee Cheong's method is the only one I've seen involving an onion.

Simplicity and durability are clear. It's iron - how are you going to screw that up? I use mine as you'd expect; stir-fries of leftover rice and dinner scraps, making or re-heating dumplings and, with the addition of a bamboo top, as a steamer.

Just try not to "wash" your cast iron: avoid soap. Your best cleanser is rock salt and a cloth. I've had mine for years and it's better than when I bought it and equally at ease on a stove top or the coals of a campfire. It just continues to wok on.

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Yee Cheong General Contractor

1319 Stockton, San Francisco, CA

Category: General

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9 comments
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Matthew D
Matthew D

Much better than my 'fancy' one which always made my veggies mushy and my meat raw.  

dscross
dscross

Stainless steel works for woks as well although I guess the durability factor plays into it. Can you get non-stick cast iron cookware?

Bob
Bob

Somehow you missing the place called "The Wok Shop" ?

jpancake
jpancake

This surprised me, as well.  If you do any kind of searcihng on 'wok' and 'china town', you'd kind of have to go out of your way to avoid it.  Fwiw, it's where I bought my wok.

http://www.wokshop.com/

Cookie
Cookie

Forget fancy pots and pans just get a good cast iron pan which is good for baking boiling, broiling and frying just about anything and everything.inside or outside over an open fire. And in case of an emergency can be used as a weapon, too.

Jim
Jim

Just wondering, does Yee Cheong's sell other cast iron cookware?? Besides a wok, I am also looking for a dutch oven and a frying pan.

Melissa Chung
Melissa Chung

what we have been doing to wash, is to wash as you would other kitchenware, then heat the wok back up until it's almost dry. it'll keep well.

Sfoodieben
Sfoodieben

Good point.  I also heat my cast iron to dry, but any soap, and even water, can strip of the wonderful tempering that accrues with time.

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