Beyond The Cleaver

While cleavers may be more common, the Chinese cutlery roll contains more than just that one blade!

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The two primary cutting tools of all the butchers and fish mongers in the Yangshuo China area. The large knife is 11-inches long by 6-inches wide. The smaller butcher knife is normally carried in a homemade sheath while working.

More than once I’ve heard someone state that the well-known rectangular cleaver is the only knife the Chinese use for food prep. While it is the primary cutting tool of every home kitchen, to say it is the only knife used by this ancient culture is inaccurate simplification of the subject. For starters, there are many regional patterns and styles of cleavers suited to varying raw materials and cooking styles. And then there are the knives used by the pros in the open markets and food stalls that are a normal part of everyday life all over Asia. A recent trip of my own to the Yangshuo area of Southern China was a good example of this.
Butchers & Fishmongers

One of the first things I noticed in the markets was that the butchers and fishmongers were all using a pattern of slicing knife that was new to me. The huge 10- to 12-inch almost half-moon shaped blades were often 6 or 7-inches wide and around 3/8-inch thick at the spine. Strange as it may seem, the knives were actually very similar to those I had found in Spanish markets the year before. As with the Spanish knives, I was told there were both chopping and slicing versions in use. The real fun started when I actually tried to find an example to bring home with me.

A standard fixture in virtually every public market I’ve been in around the world is the “knife guy” peddling cutting tools and sharpeners to the pros working there. While I quickly located several cutlery venders in the various villages around Yangshuo, none stocked that particular pattern on a regular basis. Apparently they don’t wear these huge blades out often enough for there to be a regular demand for them. Through my Chinese companion, we asked many of the butchers where they had bought their own only to get a different answer from each one. The first would say offer “they don’t make these good old knives anymore” and the next would say something like “you can only buy them at a special shop in Shanghai.” (Shanghai was a three-hour plane flight from Yangshuo.) During my search I even visited a blacksmith that told me he could make one if I was willing to wait a couple of weeks.

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A collection of cleavers common to that area. Author visited the blacksmith’s shop where the all steel handled versions were made and bought three.