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The reason why you should consider buying less expensive Sashimi knife

After years of using and sharpening knives, slicing, and gutting fish, I came to understand that it's not the quality of the knife that matters, it's how you sharpen it. One of the most experienced Sushi Chefs I've ever worked with, Jin-san, used only two sets of ordinary chef's knives he bought at a restaurant supply store. They each cost around $15, but when he used them, he cut the fish faster and more beautifully than anyone I'd ever seen.

I had a fascinating encounter, one time, at a knife store in Tokyo. It taught me a valuable lesson about knife quality.

It was 2005, I was strolling in the Kappa-Bashi district in Asakusa, Tokyo. Kappa-Bashi is the restaurant supply mecca of Tokyo, with over 170 stores on an 800 meter-long800-meter-long street. You can find just about anything you need to run a restaurant in Kappa-Bashi. Japanese plates, Western-style plates, pots to serve noodles, soup dishes, pans of all sizes, shapes, and colors; chopsticks ranging from $1 to $30 a pair; traditional Red Lanterns, with calligraphy words written on them, like the ones displayed at Yakitori and Ramen shops; lacquerware, in both black and red, traditional and modern; store signs and uniforms, like the ones worn by Sushi Chefs in the U.S.; to-go containers and refrigerated showcases; even wax food displays, some that even looked better than the actual food.

You name it; they'll have it. It's a restaurant supply wonderland.

I stumbled upon a knife store with a few hundred knives on display. Japanese knives, Western knives, short blades, long blades, small, and big, most of which I'd never seen. Everything was laid out so beautifully in the display case.

As I was browsing, I wondered why there were so many different types of knives. Then, behind me, I overheard a conversation. A customer, a middle-aged man, was looking at a long, shiny, beautiful chef's knife resembling a small Katana or Samurai sword. Beside him was the store owner, an older man in an apron, who gave him a wary look.

"Can I see this one and this one, and…this one, please?" the customer asked the store owner.

"Yes, sir," said the owner. He opened the display case, took out three knives, and placed them on the table.

The customer looked at them for a minute, and the atmosphere got tense. He held each knife one by one, holding each up in the air to examine the blade, the handle, and the weight. He continued looking at the knives, stopped, and finally asked, "So, which one do you think is the best knife?"

"Well, they are all great knives."

"Yes, I know they are all great. But what I'm asking is which I should buy? Which one do you recommend?"

"Let me see…" the owner said as he frowned. "Well, I can tell you this from my experience. Almost all professional chefs buy inexpensive knives because they use their knives every day. They sharpen them every day, too. They know that they will damage expensive knives, so that is why they buy cheap ones."

The customer held his breath, stood still, and listened to the owner.

"Almost all the amateurs and semi-pro chefs end up buying expensive knives if you ask me," the owner said.

The customer squinted but said nothing. The owner continued.

"I suppose amateurs want to own and collect knives instead of using them. I suppose I don't mind whether they use the knives or not, as long as they buy from me," the store owner said. "But, if you are going to use them, I want you to get a knife that fits you the best."

The store owner stopped, and silence followed. I left the store right after their conversation, so I have no idea which knife he wound up buying. I'm guessing he bought a more expensive, nicer-looking knife because clearly, he was not a professional chef.

I sensed he was more attracted to the quality of the steel and its price. It reminded me of the day I got my first inexpensive Yanagiba at Rock‘n Hollywood Sushi. Even after the store owner shared his opinion, I felt the customer thought, the higher the price of the knife, the better its quality was.

As I learned through my experience, as well as from other Sushi Chefs like Jin-san, the quality and the looks of a knife is secondary, if you intend to use it every day in the kitchen.


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