Why Doesn’t My Fried Rice Taste Like Restaurant (wok hei fried rice)

By | June 6, 2022

You have tried the fried rice from restaurants and you love it.

You decided to make your own fried rice and started to learn how to fry rice from Youtube, Facebook, and various sources from the internet.

But no matter how hard you try, you still can’t make the fried rice taste like the one from the restaurant.

What is actually missing from your fried rice recipe?

Here I am going to discuss what actually makes fried rice taste like the one from the restaurant.


Why Doesn’t My Fried Rice Taste Like Restaurant

To make fried rice like in a restaurant, you need to prepare a wok (seasoned cast iron round bottom pan), burner (gas stove) which is able to achieve up to 1000 degree celsius temperature, and a good cooking skill of toss-fry. Normally in a modern home kitchen, most families only have the flat bottom pan, electrical stove which is able to achieve 200 degree celsius, and normal cooking skill (not easy to master the toss frying skill like the chef in a restaurant).


Restaurant vs Home Kitchen 

When you are going to a restaurant to order fried rice, I mean the cantonese restaurant, probably you are able to observe how the chef cooks the fried rice.

The chef uses a big cast iron pan of round bottom shape, with super high heat flame, and quick motion of tossing the rice to mix with the ingredients.

That actually makes the difference of why you can’t make the fried rice taste like a restaurant.

This is called wok hei fried rice.

You can’t make fried rice that tastes like a cantonese restaurant because you don’t own a wok, a gas stove with ability to heat up to 1200 degree celsius, and the skill to toss the rice like the cantonese chef.

Normally what we have in our kitchen is a flat bottom non-stick pan, and an electrical stove with roughly 200 degree celsius heat temperature. The kitchen equipment that we have is also not suitable for a quick motion tossing way of cooking.

The fried rice tossing technique that was performed by the cantonese chef normally required a certain period of training and practicing (apprentice), and came along with guidance from the master chef of a restaurant.

So it is impossible for people like you and me to perform the quick motion tossing technique at home without someone’s guidance.

And I believe most people can’t even perfectly flip an egg with a pan, don’t even talk about tossing fried rice.


What is Wok Hei?

Wok in cantonese character is 鑊, means a deep round-bottomed cooking pot, normally with cast iron material.

Hei in cantonese character is 氣, literally means “air”,or “energy”.

Wok Hei translated in English means thermal energy emitted from the round bottom cooking pot, in other words “breath of wok”.

When the chef tosses foods on the Wok, the smoky flavor rises up from the Wok and imparts the taste and flavor on the foods.

When you are eating the Wok Hei fried rice, the steaming aroma that you smell, and the burning sensation in your mouth, enhance the flavor of the fried rice.

That’s why you can’t find the pleasure of eating fried rice in your own kitchen.

What actually causes Wok Hei?

Scientifically It is actually a result of Maillard reactions, sugar caramelisation, and oil smoking.

Maillard occurs when reaction between sugar and protein upon high heat, and produces the browning effect on the foods.

When sugar is heated to 338° F, it will start to turn to brown color, sugar compounds break down and form new compounds, this is called sugar caramelisation.

That is the reason why fried rice changes from white to brown when it is tossed under high heat of 1000°C on wok surface.


Wok (Round bottom cast iron pan)

Another element that contributed to wok hei fried rice tastiness is the Wok.

Wok (cast iron or carbon steel) which is used in frying rice must undergo a seasoning process.

Seasoning is a process to add layers of polymerized oils on the surface of wok, helps prevent corrosion, rust, and gives a non-stick properties when cooking.

Seasoned wok not only provides non-stick properties, it also enhances the flavor of the food cooked in that wok.

A well-seasoned cast iron wok can enhance the Maillard reaction, leading to better browning and flavor development in your dishes.

The seasoning on a cast iron wok adds a subtle flavor to your food, often described as “smoky” or “earthy.” This can enhance the overall taste of your dishes, especially when stir-frying vegetables and meats.

The “smoky” or “earthy” flavor you perceive in dishes cooked in a seasoned cast iron wok comes from the combination of the polymerized oil and the residue from previous cooking.

This residue contains flavorful compounds that are released when heated, contributing to the taste of your food. The high heat used in stir-frying also helps in intensifying these flavors.

The seasoning layer acts as a natural flavor enhancer. It imparts a subtle essence of the flavors from previous meals cooked in the wok, creating a unique and desirable taste profile. This is why seasoned cast iron is often preferred for certain types of cuisine, like stir-frying,


Wok Hei Toss-fry Skill

Toss-fry, another important element for cooking wok hey fried rice.

When you go to a cantonese restaurant or the roadside hawker stall, you will see the cantonese chef use the wok, toss the food to the air, then catch the food back to wok, and keep repeating the action fast, until the food is cooked.

When the wok is put on the burner and heated up, there are two heating zones forming, sear zone and steam zone.

Sear zone located at the bottom of the wok, which is in contact with the heat source, with the hottest temperature which can achieve up to 1000 degree celsius. When the food touches the sear zone wok bottom, it will rapidly become brown.

Steam zone located a few inches from the bottom of the wok. When the food is heated up at the wok bottom, the moisture will escape from the food and form hot steam rising up. The hot steam is being confined by the high wall of the deep wok, compared to flat pan the steam will easily escape to outside of the pan zone. The steam from wok will actually help to cook the food faster when food is tossed to the air.

When a food is in contact with a heated wok bottom, the food will undergo maillard and caramelization reactions, and become brown.

The food will get burnt if it continues to be contacted with the high temperature wok bottom.

Tossing the food to the air will avoid it getting burnt as new surfaces of the food will contact with the high temperature wok surface and release steam.

The repetitive motion of tossing the food on the wok will ensure the food is cooked uniformly without burnt.

When tossing the food to the air, the hot steam from the food’s moisture can help to cook the food quickly.

The evaporation of moisture from the food will enhance its flavor, as water left food the flavor compounds will get more concentrated, break down and form new flavor compounds which improve the food’s flavor.


Final Thought

To cook fried rice like the one from the restaurant is actually not easy.

My suggestion: if you really want to master the skill, go get a teacher and learn from him.

Or you could be an apprentice for a cantonese restaurant to learn the skill.

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