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  • Writer's pictureKathy Chin Leong

The Wok Shop

Updated: Oct 31, 2021

*Included in the print edition

“A wok is like a woman,” grins Tane Chan. “The older, the better!” According to Tane, the owner of The Wok Shop (above) on 718 Grant Avenue, the steel wok is the most versatile, practically indestructible, cooking utensil there is. “It will last you a lifetime. If it rusts, you can scrub it off. Aging makes it better. It is supposed to discolor. You can steam in it, deep fry, poach, boil, stir-fry…poor Chinese villagers in the old days had one pan, the wok, and it did everything.”

Tane is Chinatown’s wok ambassador who has been sharing her passion and knowledge since 1972 when she started the business. Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Tane settled in San Francisco and started the Yum Yum Gift Store in Chinatown in 1968. It became The Wok Shop after President Richard Nixon’s famous trip to China which opened up trade relations with the United States. According to Tane, media coverage of his 1972 journey exposed the American public to wok cooking for the first time. Fascinated tourists began asking Tane questions about the mysterious wook, and she would happily correct them saying, “It’s wok, like walk in the park.”

The narrow wok jungle is packed with every size of wok imaginable. They are hanging from the rafters, lining the walls, and stacked on tables. Recipe books, bamboo steamers, spatulas, and wok-related implements share space with colorful paper lanterns and a giant replica of the Golden Gate Bridge in the back. When she is not downstairs packaging woks for online orders, Tane is advising customers on how to season and care for their pans. For now, retirement is not in her vocabulary. “I love what I do,” the 80-year-old stresses. “I have good rapport with my customers, and they become friends. Plus, I like telling them all my wokking jokes.”

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