After a decades-long absence of a specialty knife-trade in Vancouver, the city’s culinary community has been blessed with not one but two Japanese blade stores in the past month—each of which carries over 25 lines of meticulously hand-forged, razor-sharp knives from Japan.
Given that the price-points of these babies can reach upwards of $5,000, however, it’s worth doing a little self-reflection before you ditch that Ikea starter set for a Japanese cutter of your own.
Here are four questions to ask yourself before you go Japanese with your culinary knife-game, as shared by local chef and Ai & Om Knives (129 East Pender Street) owner Douglas Chang.
How are you going to use your knife?
“The first thing you should consider is what will be the primary purpose of your knife,” Chang explains by phone. “For example, if you’re a home-cook and you want one knife to do it all, it would have to be the chef’s knife.”
The chef’s knife—or Santoku—is a multi-purpose blade favoured by many for its versatility. But depending on what you’re trying to accomplish in the kitchen, there’s likely a knife for that, too.
Are you interested in mastering the art of butchering fish, meats, and other game? The deba (pointed carving) knife may be for you. Are you looking to slice, dice, and mince your produce more efficiently? Consider the straight-edge nakiri or usaba blades.
Whatever the case may be, having an idea of what you’ll be utilizing your knife for will help guide you in the selection process once you hit the shops.
What’s your budget?
Walking into a Japanese knife shop can be an overwhelming experience. To the untrained eye, there are often more tools than you know what to do with—each with their own advantages—and prices can range anywhere from $65 to $5,000 and more.
By setting a budget, you can narrow down your options economically while ensuring you nab the best knife for your needs within your price-range. It also prevents you from feeling the need to over-spend.
“Like with so many things, get the best that you can afford,” Chang says.
Beware of eyeing—and test-driving—knives that are outside your dollar bracket. If you fall in love, you may just have to lay down the plastic to take it home. (Though there are definitely worse things that could happen.)
How do you want your knife to look?
Is buying something for its looks shallow? Maybe. But Chang stresses that, in addition to performing well, it’s important that your knife appeals to you visually.
“It’s like wearing a shirt that you feel extra-special in,” he says. “It might be vanity, but it’s something that makes you feel good, too.”
From stainless-steel blades paired with dark, ebony wood handles to modern hunting knives that feature a curved, ivory-encrusted base, the options are endless when it comes to materials and decorative details.
Find a knife that excites you, suggests Chang—something that will get you pumped after a mere glance. “When you’re using a really nice tool that performs really well, it makes a task a joy as opposed to something you need to do,” he adds.
How do you want your knife to feel?
Do you have a knife you gravitate toward in the kitchen? Pick it up and note how it feels in your hands. Is it large and weighty? Does the handle take up the space of your entire palm? Is it small and delicate?
These characteristics will help you find a new knife that you feel just as comfortable holding and using, so they’re important to consider.
“Every person has their own preference,” explains Chang. “For example, some people like a really big knife because they feel comfortable with that. Some people don’t like the big knife; they find it a little daunting, intimidating, or slightly unwieldy.”
Japanese knives come in an assortment of styles so don’t be afraid to test-drive the tools in-store or inquire about a model’s availability in alternate sizes and shapes as needed.