Japanese Cooking Knives-Kikusue
I like cooking. I´m not a super chef or anything. I just like cooking and seeing people eat happily. And I think it´s an essiential to have some basic good kitchen tools, such as a good cooking knife.
I´ve been using a Japanese Houcho (包丁/ cutting knife) for a while. When I go home this time, I bought a new one too, which cuts so good that I didn´t even bleed when I sliced my thumb the other day. But for me, it was normal that a cooking knife cuts… until a few days ago. I was in a friend´s house and picked up a knife in the kitchen to make some salad. It was a normal cutting knife, looked quite new than as soon as I touched the blade to a cucumber, I noticed a big difference from my cooking knife. Instead of cutting it, the knife sort of squashed the vegetable. At least I felt that way. It´s good to have a good knife that actually cuts.
Japan is a country where Samurai lived who carried Katana sword which could cut a head off with just one swing. Still now, there are some Katana craftsmen in Japan. Naturally, they make good knives too. I´ve met a German guy whose job is a restoration of old furnitures. He had a collection of Japanese chisels and told me that they are the best.
You may think they must be expensive because they are Japanese but it´s not always. OK, you can´t buy them for 10€ or 20€ but comparing the quality to other ones, like the one you can buy from a local supermarket, the difference is huge.
This time in Japan, I visited Kikusue Cutlery in Tokyo, near Ueno station. They sell not only cooking knives but any cutting tools. Nail clipper to garden shears, just looking at them, you don´t get board.
In the shop, there were so many cooking knives that I didn´t think I could just decided anything. So I went up to the counter and asked a salesperson.
He recommended me a Damascus knife. It sounded too exotic to be a Japanese cutting knife. Then he explained to me. Damascus steel, in other name, Wootz steel was produced in India and used for making swords in Damascus, Syria. The iron pillar in Delhi is made of this Damascus steel and is known as non-rust pillar. This steel is made from wrought iron but no one knows its mixture. Also since they stopped producing it sometime in the 19th Century, it´s even harder to know how Indian people made this special steel.
Now after a century, a swordsmith, Kiyoshi Katou (加藤清志) has brought back this Damascus knife. The mixture is a top secret but he does the beautiful work.
Can you see this wood-like petterns? This is the typical pettern of Damascus knives because the knife is made of layers and layers of steel sheets. Even you sharpen the knife, the pettern won´t go away.
Some knives have 33 layers, Mr.Nagatsu who helped me choosing the knife explained.
Actually I was asked to buy a traditional Japanese knives like these, which is made of iron. The problem is it´s very difficult to maintain. We have one at home, but it was so precious that we kept it in the box every time we used. And it was bad, really bad. The Houcho doesn´t like humidity and has to be in a dryer place, definitely not in a box. So it got rusted and whatever we tried, it never got better.
So unless you are going to be a Sushi chef, I don´t recommend to buy such a knife even though it´s cool and traditional.
These unique shape knives are for cutting paper. I´d never seen them before.Perhaps this curve is good for cutting petterns for clothing, I don´t know. But I love these tools for specific purposes.
They have chisels. The restoration guy would be happy to see them.
They have normal cooking knives too. This triangle shape knives are for multi-use. You can cut from vegetable to fish easily.
If you have one good multi-use knife (Ban-nou Houcho / 万能包丁), you´ll be OK.
But after listening to Mr.Nagatsu´s history of Damascus steel, I just had to buy that one. Although I was asked to buy that traditional iron knife, I bought a Damascus knife. And I was right! We are very happy with this knife.
The advice from Kikusue. Every time you use knife, wash it and dry it. Leave it outside, in a knife holder or stick to the magnet holder if you have one. The best you put some camellia oil or extra virgin olive oil on the blade to avoid oxidized.
You can also buy it from kikusue.
At the end, it´s your cooking tool, you have to take care of it.
I was in the shop nearly one hour and Mr.Nagatsu was very kind to show me different knives and to explain to me how they were made.
If you have a chance to go to Tokyo and want to buy a Japanese cooking knife, Try Kikusue Cutlery.
At the end, he found out that I came from Germany, he came close to me and show me secretly (there was a customer in the shop) his bicycle. He whispered that he is a passionate biker and it was his favourite bicycle which was made in Germany. Thank you for the share, Nagatsu san.
Actually, Samurai swords were made similar to the Damascus steel blades referred to in this article. The iron was heated, folded over onto itself and pounded together to weld the thin layers of steel until the final sword was completed. This folding was done about 15 to 20 times and created 30,000 very thin layers of steel. Good sword makers knew how to create different patterns in the steel that appeared once it was completed and polished. There are many different patterns with different names. Find Sensei John Yumoto’s book, The Samurai Sword and you will be amazed at how prolific the Japanese sword makers were and what masterpieces they created. Samurai swords have evolved from extremely versatile cutting instruments to works of art. Secret processes have been discovered and lost and rediscovered throughout their very long history. The first Japanese sword that was created using the “Damascus-like” folding process was in 795AD. Check it out. You will find it very interesting.
No wonder Japan makes good cutting knives.