Tucked away in a small kiosk along Dunlop Street, Wok Hey has been serving up mouthwatering wok-fried rice and noodles to hungry Singaporeans since 2019. This homegrown eatery specializes in fast-casual stir-fries prepared with intense wok hay technique right before your eyes. With fresh, fiery flavors and smoking hot woks, Wok Hey aims to bring the hawker stall experience into the modern era.
Origins and Culinary Philosophy
Wok Hey was founded by three longtime friends and self-professed “fry- fanatics.” Inspired by their love for wok-cooked street food, they sought to recreate that experience in a more contemporary setting. The focus is on traditional recipes like kung pao chicken over rice and char kway teow fried noodles, prepared using time-honored Chinese wok hay methods.
According to co-founder James Lee: “We just couldn’t find that authentic charred, smoky wok taste anywhere. At Wok Hey, we go back to basics with the sizzling hot wok as our only focus.” Only the freshest proteins and produce make the cut. The owners say they select ingredients based on what looks best each morning at the local Chinatown wet market.
The menu at Wok Hey features a tight selection of just 5-6 stir-fry classics cooked to order in under 5 minutes. Some guest favorites include:
Five Spice Chicken Rice
Tender, wok-seared chicken thighs sliced atop fragrant ginger fried rice. Showered with snipped scallions and a five spice blend.
Salted Fish and Egg Fried Rice
Fluffy rice tossed with morsels of savory salted fish, wok-scrambled eggs, light soy sauce and crunchy pork lard bits.
Fresh water spinach stir-fried in an addictive housemade sambal chili paste. Smoky and spicy.
Wok-Charred Bak Chor Mee
Al dente egg noodles with wok-fried minced pork, fishcake slices, greens, and vinegared chili sauce.
Wok Hey’s narrow focus lets the cooks refine just a few dishes to perfection. Steamy aromas and sizzling sounds fill the bustling kiosk as woks are continuously fired up to sear each plate’s ingredients at ultra-high heats. It’s a showcase for the flavors only true wok hay technique can deliver.
Wok Hay Cooking Methods
Wok Hey uses time-honored wok practices to achieve maximum flavor:
- Seasoned carbon steel woks preheated until smoking
- Ingredients pre-cut for fast, high-heat searing
- Frequent scooping and tossing during frying
- Just a few ingredients at a time to avoid steaming
- Brief resting off heat to control doneness
According to Lee: “Wok hay is all about respecting the ingredients and knowing when to pull back before burning. Our woks run at over 500°F to create that perfect char.” diners can taste the results, with each crunchy blackened edge and smoky bite.
Fast-Casual Dining Experience
True to its fast-casual concept, Wok Hey focuses on quickly serving freshly cooked,Flavorful meals for dining in or takeaway. The streamlined setup allows customers to watch cooks prepare dishes to order in the open wok kitchen. There is some indoor and outdoor seating, but many opt to take the ready meals for a tasty on-the-go lunch.
With prices averaging $6-8 per plate, Wok Hey aims for accessibility and broad appeal. At peak times, the line can snake out the door as office workers, families, and hungry students queue up for their wok hay fix. Cooks work at lightning speed, firing up sizzling woks and shoveling steaming fried rice and noodles into takeaway containers within minutes.
“We want people to experience authentic wok hay flavors without needing to spend hours in a restaurant,” explains Lee. “Our dishes bring that smoky ‘breath of the wok’ taste into a modern, fast-paced setting.
Bringing Wok Hay to the Masses
Since opening in 2019, Wok Hey has already expanded to two locations in Singapore, with more potentially on the horizon. The team hopes to eventually bring the wok hay cooking concept to international markets as well.
For now, they are focused on perfecting their flagship Dunlop Street kiosk, and introducing their charred, smoky wok creations to new crowds every day. As their tagline states: “Our wok talks, our food rocks.”
So next time you are exploring Chinatown and a craving for sizzling wok hay strikes, head to the mouthwatering aromas wafting from Wok Hey’s hectic kiosk. In just minutes, you’ll be on your way with a piping hot takeaway bag of perfectly wok-fried rice or noodles. The traditional flavors of charred, smoky wok hay cooking are alive and well here.
Wok Hay Cooking Technique
Wok hay is an essential technique in Chinese cooking, but what exactly is it? This stir fry method and the signature smoky flavors it produces have origins going back centuries. Wok hay imparts food with a charred, almost burnt taste that is utterly unique. From its influence on regional Chinese cuisine to the science behind those powerful savory flavors, here is an in-depth look at wok hay and how to achieve it yourself.
A Brief History of Wok Hay’s Origins
Wok hay refers to the distinctive smoky and slightly charred flavors imbued into ingredients cooked in a piping hot wok. The term translates literally to “breath of the wok” in Cantonese. This cooking technique likely emerged hundreds of years ago as Chinese chefs sought to add complex flavors when cooking over open flames and primitive stoves.
In ancient times, the development of wok hay was borne out of necessity. With only basic cooking technology available, early Chinese cooks needed ways to transform the natural flavors of simple country vegetables and meats into something more intense and savory. Cooking food quickly over high heat helped not only to make ingredients more digestible and sterilize them, but also instilled them with rich new tastes.
Over decades and centuries of experimentation, techniques evolved among chefs across China’s different regions to maximize this flavor alchemy. Common ingredients available in various provinces also played a role in shaping distinctive local styles of wok hay cookery. Slowly but surely, the signature taste of charred, caramelized ingredients cooked in smoking hot wok pans became a cornerstone of many Chinese dishes.
For example, in Sichuan province, bold chile peppers are first dried over fires and then combined in woks with Sichuan peppercorns and garlic. This imbues the finished dish with some smokiness from the dried peppers, along with numbing heat and tingly spice flavors. In coastal regions, wok hay techniques make use of the abundant seafood, pairing shrimp, clams, and squid with ginger and shredded vegetables.
Meanwhile, in the north, the cold climate led to heartier wok hay fare featuring thick wheat noodles, lamb, and hot chile bean sauces designed to warm diners up. Southern chefs put their own spin on wok hay too, using short-handled woks suited to their stoves and incorporating local seasonings like fermented black beans. Despite the diversity of ingredients, wok hay was the common pillar of flavor behind it all.
Over time, wok hay became a cornerstone of many Chinese stir fry dishes like kung pao chicken, chow mein, and fried rice. When the technique migrated abroad, wok hay took on global influences as well. For example, Chinese restaurants across the US will often augment their wok-seared dishes with extra brown sauces or spices to suit American tastes. However, at its core, the flavor and cookery of true wok hay remains unchanged from ancient times.
The Science Behind Wok Hay’s Signature Taste
So how does wok hay impart that slightly burnt, pungent savoriness into food? The chemical secrets behind it are similar to other dry-heat cooking methods like grilling or broiling. Two processes create the bulk of wok hay flavor:
The Maillard Reaction
This is a complex chemical reaction between amino acids and sugars that occurs at high temperatures. It produces hundreds of new flavor compounds that do not exist innately in ingredients. The results are the rich, caramelized notes in seared meats and browned vegetables. Wok hay takes the Maillard reaction to the extreme at ultra-hot wok temperatures.
When proteins and sugars in food are subjected to intense heat through stir-frying, it causes aminos acids and reducing sugars to combine. This produces a cascading series of chemical reactions that don’t occur during normal cooking. These Maillard reactions lead to the formation of entirely new flavor molecules that provide foods with richer, more savory tastes and alluring aromas.
Everything from the satisfying umami taste of a grilled steak to the crust on freshly baked bread originates from compounds created by the Maillard reaction. In wok hay cooking, the ingredients are constantly stirred and tossed over high flames in a near-frictionless wok, maximizing exposure to this process. The result is an intense distillation of deep flavors unachievable at lower heats.
This happens when heat causes sugars to break down. New compounds with nutty, bittersweet flavors develop. Wok hay caramelization depends on ingredients with natural sugars like onions or sauces with sugar or honey additions. The intense wok heat rapidly accelerates caramelization.
When sugars are heated to high temperatures, their molecular structure starts to break down. The long chains of sucrose molecules in things like honey or maple syrup begin fracturing into smaller fragments. This creates hundreds of tasty new compounds, including sweet furanones, malty melanoidins, and nutty-tasting pyranones.
The rich dark browning that develops as sugars caramelize adds incredible depth and complexity. From creme brulee to Peking duck, the flavor dimension it brings is undeniable. Wok hay cooking unleashes an avalanche of caramelization thanks to the fierce heat. Onions transform into a tawny, bittersweet jam in minutes. Savory sauces take on shades of mahogany. It’s pure flavor alchemy.
Further smoky and charred flavors come from small bits of oil and marinades catching on the wok surface and taking on a nearly burnt taste. Wok hay truly unlocks a complex cascade of flavors not found in gentler cooking.
Essential Ingredients for Halal Wok Hay
Certain ingredients and preparation steps enable wok hay to emerge in its full glory:
High-Smoke Point Oils
Frying over high wok heat requires oils that can withstand extremes without burning. Peanut, vegetable, avocado and refined olive oils have very high smoke points perfect for wok hay.
The extreme temperatures needed to generate wok hay require oils with a sufficiently high smoke point. This is the temperature at which oil starts breaking down and releasing bluish smoke. Classic cooking oils like extra virgin olive oil and butter have smoke points under 400°F – far too low for wok hay.
Instead, peanut oil is a popular choice with a smoke point around 450°F. It has a mild, nutty flavor that complements many Chinese dishes. Refined safflower and sunflower oils can reach up to 510°F before smoking, while rice bran oil goes even higher to nearly 500°F. They allow the wok the reach the heat levels needed to create charred flavors.
Ginger, garlic, scallions – these provide a fragrant base. Their flavors become concentrated through wok charring. Onions also grow sweeter when caramelized by wok hay.
Certain herbs and aromatics contain flavor compounds that truly blossom when subjected to wok hay cooking. Ginger is a prime example – in its raw state, the gnarled root has a fresh, bright, almost citrusy taste. But when sliced and stir-fried over intense wok heat, ginger transforms.
New potent flavors emerge – spicy, sharp, and warming with hints of pepper and lemon. The heat drives off ginger’s natural moisture and concentrates its signature zing. Likewise, mellow raw garlic becomes almost peppery with a pronounced bite after wok frying. And mild scallion whites develop a sweet, creamy flavor similar to onions after caramelizing via wok hay.
Sweet and savory sauces that include sugar, molasses, honey or other sugars will rapidly caramelize into sticky glazes when wok fried. This adds bold new dimensions to dishes.
Many classic Chinese sauces have some sugar content to balance out salty soy sauce and savory oyster sauce components. Simple honey, brown sugar, or rock sugar are often used. When a sauce hits the scorching heat of the wok, these sugars undergo an almost instantaneous caramelization and Maillard reaction.
The resulting syrupy glaze clings to ingredients, imbuing them with concentrated depth and complex bittersweet notes. The sudden burst of caramelization also introduces appealing new textures – a crispy shell on chicken or chewy caramelized veggies. Wok hay sauces like hoisin and char siu are designed specifically to capitalize on this transformation.
Wok Hay Cooking Techniques and Tips
With the right ingredients, here are some key techniques to develop intense wok hay:
- Preheat wok to very high heat until nearly smoking
- Use a round-bottom wok for best control
- Have ingredients ready for fast cooking and tossing
- Fry in small batches – avoid overcrowding
- Quickly toss and stir with long handled wok tools
- Brief rest periods off-heat to control burning
- Coordinate ingredients by cooking time
It takes practice to perfectly balance the charred flavors. But the eating rewards of searing with sizzling wok hay are worth the effort.
Preheat the Wok Properly
A piping hot wok is essential for wok hay. Always start by heating the empty wok over maximum heat for 2-3 minutes. Test the wok’s readiness by flicking a drop of water onto the surface – once it evaporates instantly, you’ve achieved the temperatures needed. The metal of the wok itself also provides thermal mass to prevent ingredients from dropping the temperature excessively when added.
Choose a Round-Bottom Wok
The traditional round-bottom design prevalent in China isn’t just for looks – it has functional advantages as well. The rounded shape allows for easy tossing and stirring of ingredients with a flick of the wrist. Flat-bottomed woks retain heat less evenly and don’t facilitate stir-frying motion as well. Carbon steel or cast iron woks are ideal for conducting heat efficiently and developing wok hay.
Work in Small Batches
Avoid overcrowding food in the wok, which causes temperature to drop drastically. Instead, stir-fry proteins and veggies in smaller batches for best results. One to two servings worth of food at a time heated over high flame is perfect. Remove each batch and set aside before searing the next.
Control the Burning
Wok hay walks a fine line between maximizing smoky depth and burning food to an inedible charcoal crust. Removing the wok from direct flame for brief periods lets you control the char level. You can also transfer ingredients to a bowl when they reach the desired caramelization, before returning the wok to heat up again. It’s a balancing act learned through practice.
Some Classic Wok Hay Recipe Ideas
Once you have the basics down, try applying wok hay techniques to these popular Chinese recipes:
- Kung pao chicken – Spicy dried chiles and peanuts
- Beef and broccoli stir fry – Oyster sauce glaze
- Vegetable fried rice – Eggs, soy sauce, sesame oil
- Chow mein – Crispy pan-fried noodles
Kung Pao Chicken
This Sichuan staple combines the numbing heat of Sichuan pepper with sweet, nutty peanuts and savory chicken. Marinating the cubed chicken in oil, rice wine, cornstarch, and soy sauce gives it an extra-crispy texture when wok fried. Along with the classic wok-charred veggies like bell peppers and zucchini, it’s a perfect backdrop for experiencing wok hay.
Beef and Broccoli
This recipe proves wok hay can make even an everyday veggie like broccoli irresistible. Marinating sliced flank steak locks in juices while velveting the meat. When stir-fried, the beef takes on a perfect sear while the broccoli turns deep green with crispy browned edges. A rich oyster sauce glaze pulls everything together. It’s a go-to weeknight dish to have in your repertoire.
Vegetable Fried Rice
Almost every ingredient in this dish benefits from wok hay flavor. First, garlic, ginger and onion are fried to a brown frazzle. Then cubed carrots, peas and other veggies are seared until just tender. Day old rice is best – the starchiness fries up into irresistible crispy bits when tossed in the wok. Some soy sauce, sesame oil, and eggs bind it all together for the ultimate wok hay fried rice.
This quint essential Chinese takeout staple relies on wok hay for its signature flavor. Egg noodles are first boiled until chewy. Then, pork, cabbage, and bean sprouts are stir-fried with soy sauce. The noodles go into the hot wok last to crisp and char slightly. A crispy nest of wok-seared noodles is the ideal bed for the pork and veggies – soft and tender inside with irresistible edge charring and wok hay essence.
Frequently Asked Questions – Is Wok Hey Halal
Is Wok Hey Halal-certified?
Yes, Wok Hey is Halal-certified by the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS) in Singapore.
What type of food does Wok Hey serve?
Wok Hey serves a variety of stir-fried dishes, featuring wok dishes such as fried rice and udon. All items are Halal.
When did Wok Hey obtain its Halal certification?
Wok Hey obtained its Halal certification in September 2019, ensuring that all their offerings are Halal.
Are the ingredients used at Wok Hey suitable for Halal consumption?
Yes, all the ingredients used at Wok Hey are Halal and adhere to the respective Halal guidelines set by the certification authority.
Where can I find a Halal tag at Wok Hey outlet?
The Halal tag can be found prominently displayed at all Wok Hey outlets, giving assurance to customers regarding the Halal status of the food.
How can I check if Wok Hey is Halal-certified?
You can always check for the Halal certification of Wok Hey by visiting the official website of MUIS (Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura) or by reaching out to the outlet directly for verification.
Does Wok Hey offer convenient take-out options for its Halal food?
Wok Hey aims to serve convenient and quick take-out options for those looking to enjoy Halal food