Demystifying the Japanese knife, featuring Tanto
While travelling to Sakai to hand-select a knife is a pretty special experience, we acknowledge that not everyone can head to Japan for that reason. We're incredibly lucky therefore, to have Tanto at the QT hotel in Melbourne, which specialises in Sakai blades from the Aoki family, specifically the Suisin collection by Junro Aoki, the 10th generation successor.
Navigating a Japanese knife shop and selecting a Japanese knife is a task best left to the experts. There are typically rows and rows of different types, further segmented into grades (chef or cook), weights, lengths and materials. We spoke to Akira Shinkai, the Retail Manager of Tanto, about the differences between Japanese and Western knives, and the best introductory Japanese knife for cooks.
What is the difference between Japanese knives and Western knives, and what makes Japanese knives special?
Japanese knives are much thinner and sharper than Western knives as they are used to cut sashimi. Structurally, Japanese knives are also crafted through a multiple layer process, making the blade stronger and more flexible.
How can a customer tell if a knife is suitable for them? And how would they go about selecting a good knife from your recommendations?
It is always best for the customer to hold and feel the knife prior to making a purchase, as it is not solely about the size of the knife or its appearance. Most importantly, it is about the blade material, weight balance and sharpness.
[chotto comment: Our thoughts in the image below on choosing the right knife]
How do you care for a good Japanese knife?
There are four important things to remember:
- Japanese knives should be kept away from moisture, and thoroughly dried after washing by hand
- Never put Japanese knives in a dishwasher or use harsh chemicals and hot temperatures. This will ruin the blade and handle
- Whetstones (Japanese water stones) should be used to sharpen the knives
- The original edge angle should be kept when sharpening
Does Tanto offer a knife-sharpening service or knife-sharpening classes?
Yes, we have a knife-sharpening service (chotto comment: which we can vouch for. They are excellent) and have also just started knife sharpening classes. At present, they cost $60 and need to be pre-booked by phoning 03 8636 8836.
If a customer is just starting their Japanese knife collection, what knife / knives would you recommend and why?
I would highly recommend the Gyuto or Santoku knife as they are great all-rounders and multipurpose. The Gyuto Santoku Bunka has a good size, shape and width, making it an excellent choice for cutting poultry, vegetables and fruit.
And how much do the Gyuto knives start from?
Prices for the knives start from $125 for a Gyuto 210mm Carbon Steel and go up to $325 for a Gyuto 230mm Nickel Damascus.
Finally, could you tell us what your favourite knives are?
I love to use the Special INOX Petty 150mm. It is a simple design, but very versatile. The handle also has a good weight balance, making it an ideal choice when using it for long hours.
Another favourite is the hand-made Bunka Kurouchi due to its size and and all-round versatility.
Image credit: Tanto, QT Hotel
With thanks to Akira Shinkai-san from Tanto and Jessica Fornito from QT Melbourne for facilitating this interview.