Is This Why Kawali Handles Are Short and Hollow?

Almost every Filipino household has a kawali or wok. It’s the quintessential kitchen equipment: used for everything from searing meats and sautéing vegetables to frying an egg. 

Most Pinoy woks are made of aluminum, carbon steel or cast iron, and often silver or black. The typical one has a short, hollow handle. No one has really given this design much thought.

That is, until a Reddit user posted a pretty convincing theory about the true purpose of that hollow handle.

User khysamgathys posted a screenshot of a conversation with someone along with a photo of a generic wok. Underneath the photo is another photo of a woman standing beside a wok, but with a wooden handle attached to it.

“those local woks should have wooden handles wtf,” the person in the message says.

“Holy shit we are officially dumb,” the (presumably) OP (or original poster) replies.

“TIL (Today I Learned) the short handles of local Pinoy woks are actually sockets for the REAL wooden handle as per original Chinese woks,” OP said. “Which means for the longest time, Pinoys have been suffering pointlessly with our dumb f***ing woks.”

TIL the short "handles" of local Pinoy woks are actually sockets for the REAL wooden handle as per original Chinese woks. Which means for the longest time, Pinoys have been suffering pointlessly with our dumb fucking woks. from r/Philippines


Which got us thinking: oo nga no.

But is this theory sound? Is the wok’s handle really hollow so we could fasten a wooden stick in it for a better (and safer) grip? 

You have to wonder: Why have we been using oven mitts or a generic piece of rag to hold on to the wok handle when we cook? It would objectively be a lot easier if there were a wooden stick there to hold on to. 


Most commenters in the Reddit thread seem to be just as flabbergasted about this revelation as the OP.

“My entire life has been a lie,” klx96 said.

“I am so mad,” bebeazucarr said. 

“No wonder I could never make it wok,” wesleys22 said.

But some people expressed surprise that this was even an issue.

“Wait, your woks didn't have any handles?” asked mysthamog. To which mbmartian replied, “Huh TIL.. the wok we had always had handles. Even one that was replaced with a stick from a tree from the backyard.” 

“That’s what we did with ours since I was a kid,” said melo217. “Dad cut a piece of guava wood and shaped it to fit that socket of the kawali (wok), then hammered it in.” 

“We had wooden handles when I was growing up because my grandma put one on every new wok and regularly replaces them,” said hiphop_dudung. “I'm more surprised now that other people don't do that.”

Of course, the wok originated in China and over there, and almost everywhere else where woks are used, wok handles generally come in two styles: loops, which are popular in Southern China, and sticks, which are more common in the country’s North. 

Whether the original wok users actually attached wooden sticks to the handle to help them cook better is up for debate. What’s for sure, though, is that somewhere between its invention and its arrival here in the Philippines, woks with stick-style handles evolved, becoming shorter and were hollowed out. And that’s what’s made it to nearly every Filipino kitchen.

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Question is, are you going to put a wooden stick in your kawali now?

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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