7 Japanese Kitchen Tools: How They Differ From Western Counterparts

Japan has an exceptionally wonderful and unique cuisine so it’s only fitting that Japanese kitchen tools would be equally unique as well. If you’re picturing lots of modern, technologically advanced appliances, think again.

While Japanese kitchens definitely have some cutting-edge gadgets, they also have traditional yet distinctive tools that have been around for centuries. In this list, we’ll cover 7 Japanese kitchen tools and the difference between them and their Western counterparts.

1. Gyuto Kitchen Knife

You might be thinking, a knife is a knife, right? Well, there are several elements that make Japanese knives distinguishable; a Japanese kitchen knife is much sharper than its western counterpart, additionally, the materials and designs of Japanese kitchen knives are typically constructed for specific purposes and techniques that aren’t always applied in the Western kitchen.

The fundamental distinction between Japanese kitchen knives and their Western counterparts is that the edges of Western knives are typically honed on both sides, having what’s known as a symmetrical bevel, while the edges of Japanese knives have less pronounced belly curves.

The Gyuto knife is the Japanese equivalent of a common Western chef’s knife. It’s an essential, versatile knife with a standard length of 5 – 15 inches and it’s made of very hard steel, but has a thinner blade than typical Western ones for a more precise and delicate cut.

Western chef’s knives are essential multi purpose culinary tools that can be used for anything from hacking up a chicken to finely mince herbs. Japanese Gyutos on the other hand, are lighter, sharper, and thinner. Despite the hard steel, they’re more delicate and have more specialized applications. When used with the right techniques, Japanese kitchen knives perform exquisitely.

2. Taiyaki Maker

Taiyaki are Japanese fish-shaped waffles that every traveler loves to try, they’re made using regular batter that’s traditionally filled with red bean paste made from sweetened azuki beans, but they’re also commonly filled with custard, chocolate, sweet potato, and cheese.

Now, taiyaki makers are similar to regular waffle makers in functionality and operating mechanism but the distinguishing factor between them is the Teriyaki makers’ unique fish shape and what’s better than topping the peculiar authentic taiyaki flavor with the traditional fish shape?

Unlike the traditional Western Waffle irons, the Japanese taiyaki makers can add more fun to the monotonous square-shaped waffles and liven up your stale breakfast routine.

3. Japanese Mortar and Pestle

Because they were properly designed the first time, Japanese mortars and pestles are as useful now as they were back when they were first created hundreds of years ago.

Unlike a Western mortar, a Japanese mortar has rough grooves on the inside of the bowl to grind and mince easily. Japanese mortars are generally around 18cm in diameter and are typically made of hardwood which is ideal for fine grinding.

The best Japanese pestles are traditionally made out of Japanese pepper tree or prickly ash because these plants take their time to grow into strong dense trees which makes Japanese pestles exceptionally strong.

Western mortars and pestles, on the other hand, are commonly made of hard stones, ceramic, or metal which can make them much heavier and harder to move around the counter. Additionally, the heavy pestle can damage the mortar’s interior during the grinding process and the ceramic material can make it slippery, giving you less control over the process.

4. Oroshigane Grater

Japanese recipes often include finely-grated ginger, wasabi, and daikon and as you know, freshly grated ingredients make a world of difference when it comes to flavor. Because the size of such ingredients is too small for a typical Western grater, most Japanese kitchens have a special grater, an oroshigane.

A Japanese oroshigane is smaller than your typical Western grater and has finer and sharper teeth with no holes for the grated food to fall into, producing extremely fine and creamy textures.

5. Zaru Strainer

Traditional Western metal strainers are often used to remove and drain food from hot liquids, but in many cases, metal can affect the flavor quality of vegetables and other foods. Although Japanese kitchens do use metal strainers, when it comes to draining, rinsing, cooling, or drying food, zaru is a Japanese kitchen favorite.

A zaru is a flat woven bamboo basket that’s much more flexible than its metallic Western counterpart which makes it much more versatile and practical. In addition to its flexibility, a zaru can all be used to serve food as the bamboo adds a traditional and rustic aesthetic to your table.

6. Otoshibuta

The closest thing you can come to an otoshibuta in the western kitchens is a circular piece of parchment paper or a regular lid. Otoshibuta is a lightweight wooden lid with a smaller diameter than your typical pot. An otoshibuta literally means “drop lid” and unlike the typical lid often used in Western cooking, its main purpose isn’t to cover a pot or a pan, it’s to cover the food directly, hence the smaller diameter.

To perfect your Japanese dishes, place your otoshibuta on top of the food to allow water vapor to escape and seasoning sugars to caramelize, forming a rich flavorful gravy that envelopes and enriches the food. Unlike parchment paper or even aluminum foil, the Japanese wooden lid is more durable and easier to place and remove without the risk of burning your hand.

7. Chopping Board

Because Japanese knives typically have thinner and sharper edges, Japanese cutting boards are made to be more durable and flexible than the ones typically found in Western kitchens. Japanese chopping boards have some give to them as they aren’t as hard as the traditional ones because the extremely thin Japanese blades can damage the board if the surface us too hard.

For authentic Japanese food that will make your taste buds dance with delight, consider adding a few of these tools to your kitchen arsenal. You can find a wonderful selection of Japanese kitchen tools and utensils online or in stores. Has all this talk about food made you hungry for Japanese cuisine? Then grab your handy tools and get cooking.

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