The best chefs and cooks are absolutely passionate about their knives; everyone seems to have their favorite, and internet forums are filled with discussions pitting knife brand against knife brand, Western vs Asian, one knife vs a collection, and so on.
Chinese chefs often use one knife- the cleaver- for everything. And we mean everything! Use the sharp end for cutting, flip it over and use the top edge to tenderize meat, then lay it flat and use its side to crush garlic in record time. What’s also wonderful about the Chinese cleaver is its weight, which makes for less hand fatigue during all the prep-work required for Asian cuisine.
But time and time again, professionals are naming Japanese knives as their favorites. Last year, six of the country’s top chefs- including April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig and Top Chef Season 4 Winner Stephanie Izard- were asked what their choice of knife was, and they all chose Japanese.
So what is it that sets Japanese knives apart?
Consider, first, the cuisine these knives were created for: Japanese dishes are clean in both taste and presentation, and often the most precise cuts are necessary. The classic Santoku-style knife is sharper and thicker than typical Western knives, and sports a blade that’s straighter rather than curved. After the second world war, Japanese cuisine began to reflect more Western influence- and Japanese kitchen tools adapted as well, finally evolving, in more recent years, to the Gyutou knife.
The Gyutou may be said to feature the best of both worlds, highlighting Japanese sharpness and precision as well as the lightness of Western tools. One of our favorites is the Hammered Damascus Knife by Yoshihiro Cutlery with a double-edged blade. Food and Wine has also featured a wonderful list of top quality Japanese knives.
Amazing knives are just one of Japan’s contributions that have been embraced by the world. Lately, the country has been in the news as the topic of comfort women has been discussed more widely, especially in light of the Korean War comfort women to the US military filing a lawsuit against their own government.