It may sound ridiculous to make soups in the wok, but the Chinese actually do, and with remarkable success. To be sure, they also use ordinary deep saucepans to make soups and sometimes they combine the use of both. For example, the stock may be made in a saucepan and then the soup made with some of the stock in a wok.
Unlike a Western soup, which is often quite thick and cream-based, a Chinese soup is basically a thin, clear broth, with or without some ingredients swimming in it. The most commonly used ingredients are vegetables, either chopped up or sliced, sometimes seasoned with small pieces of meat or fish. For instance, a Chinese cook may use meaty spareribs as a base and add a few Chinese mushrooms. In the old days, the cook would have added a little bit “from the sea,” such as the dried abalone, which is now so expensive that it is out of the reach of most people’s pockets. Water would be added, and the soup simmered for a couple of hours. If a soup is not tasty enough, it is sprinkled with a little (1 or 2 teaspoons) of the magical soy sauce.
The Chinese love to have a bowl of soup with every meal. In the Western sequence of serving a meal, the soup always precedes the main course. In the Chinese sequence, a bowl of clear broth may be put side by side with a bowl of rice for day-to-day family fare. An exotic soup, such as the classic shark’s fin or bird’s nest, may come several courses down the line in a banquet. Then again, there may be another soup, the clear broth kind, a few dishes after the exotic soup.
In the Chinese home, you would never see many of the soups served in Chinese restaurants abroad, such as the immensely popular wonton soup. The Chinese would consider wonton (which are rather similar to pork ravioli) as dumplings in a broth, to be eaten for lunch or as a snack.