Japanese Knife Glossary

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Kataba V Ryoba

There are 2 main categories of Japanese knives: Kataba and Ryoba.

Kataba

While hipsters call this type of blade "single bevel" or "one sided" those in the know are sticklers for Kataba. Kata – meaning one sided and Ha – edge {generally changed to ba because it sounds way coolier}.

The holy trinity of Kataba knives are Usuba, Deba, and Yanagiba. Next time you complain about the cigarette smoke in Japanese cafes, bars and restaurants bear a thought for the humble beginnings of these blades down in the industrial city of Sakai, Osaka.

Legend has it when the Portuguese first introduced tobacco to Japan they needed knives to slice the crops into pipe sized pieces. Firstly they approached the sword makers who promptly told them which hole to stick their tobacco, but they eventually make friends with the toolmakers over a pipe or two down at the local Starbucks.

The toolmakers were skilled at combining super hard steel with a back of soft iron producing the most enviable plane blades in the world. These single sided plane blades were re-fashioned to chop the delicate tobacco leaves without bruising.

When the Tokugawa enforced the policy of Kaikin, international tobacco trade waned and the talented toolmakers turned their hands at making knives mimicking the traditional toolmaking methods of Sakai.

Ryoba

In simple terms Ryoba means double or both edge and refers to western style knives that are not Kataba.

Ryoba is a minefield of styles and edge profiles but the important thing to remember is they are sharpened on both sides of the blade even if it varies from 50/50 to a whole lot and just a little bit.

For the Japanese knife otaku - read on for a breakdown of some styles of Ryoba.

 

Japanese Knife Types Gyuto

The Japanese blade with the coolest sounding name so you should totally own one (or eight). Translates as Cow Sword – meaning you can carve up a cow or anything smaller than a cow. It should be compulsory for anyone over the age of 18 to own one of these with a length of 18-21 cm. The ultimate multipurpose knife.

Santoku

Flatter edge profile than the Gyuto and a bit shorter but really great for chopping vegies, herbs etc. Falls down a little in the slicing department due to the broader blade but really cool for scooping up diced onion off the board.

Petty

Generally used for slicing lime for an emergency Gin and Tonic when your other knives are covered in Chicken Blood. You can also peel vegies, fruit and use it for an entire meal when you are too hungover to deal with a bigger knife – a TV chef who we will not name uses it for everything.

Paring Knife

An obsolete knife that old school culinary books tell you is a must have. Okay, if you must have one, then use it for peeling, paring down vegies and picking the food from under your nails.

Nakiri

A knife that is so cool right now you have to have one. Looks like a mini Chinese chopper but is used for murdering vegetables. This is the ryoba equivalent of an Usuba (although an Usuba is much cooler than a nakiri)

Boning knife / Honesuki

Pretty much as described. The sort of blade Hannibal Lecter would be very familiar with.

Sujihiki

The good old tendon puller. In the west we underestimate the Suji, Japanese chefs use it like a Gyuto (in more of a slicing motion) and as a knife to assist breaking down of carcasses. Love using this style of blade for trimming the sinew off cube roll and then portioning into bbq size pieces.

Bread

You really want us to spell it out for you?

And now down to the serious stuff...

 

Traditional Kataba Knives Yanagiba

There is nothing in this world like Yanagiba. This is a very serious blade originally forged in the fires of Mount Doom, Sakai. When perfectly sharpened it will slice sashimi that will have a sensual relationship with your tongue.

Deba

Probably the most frustrating and rewarding knife in the Japanese knife vocabulary. The first 3 times you use a deba for filleting fish you will use more expletives than Gordon Ramsay in a single episode of Kitchen Nightmares. After the 10th fish you will feel fairly confident and in 20 a little cocky. Give it a blast on chickens and you will become an honorary Osaka-jin.

Usuba

Used exclusively for advanced murdering of vegetables. If you thought you had a handle on "sharp" try a properly sharpened usuba and you will change your mind forever. Its like taking a GT3 to the track for the first time – your scared sh!^less and enjoying every second.

Takobiki

We are sure you have been bored to death by the Tako/octopus/kansai/kanto comparisons regarding takobiki so let's just say it's a credible, sexy alternative to a yanagiba especially when it has a rounded, pointy tip like Katana.

Kiritsuke

The dream knife of any Japanese fan boy. The straight blade can be used like an usuba, pointy tip used to accentuate how f@)k!ng cool the blade is and length of the blade to slice a very believable sashimi. In truth chefs use this as a multipurpose knife or like a Gyuto.

 

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