Cutting Edge

By Todd Coleman

Published on February 18, 2009

On a recent visit to Mumbai, I was captivated by the extraordinary selection of handmade kitchen knives available from mobile vendors, and at market stalls, where artisans sharpened carbon-steel knives at spinning whetstones and fitted blades with handles fashioned from wood, metal, and plastic. Some of the blades were painted, which helped to prevent rust; others had a hole for hanging; and still others were secured to their handles with tightly wound wire. Lyla Bavadam, a Mumbai-based journalist, told us that some of these chakkuwallahs (knife sellers) travel door-to-door, offering their wares for as little as 40 rupees (about a dollar) apiece; they also sharpen knives on a whetstone affixed to their carts. While professional cooks in India may own specific knives designed for different purposes, such as ones with long, thin, and flexible blades, which are perfect for slicing vegetables, most home cooks employ a single all-purpose knife. I bought a few knives from this particular vendor and have taken to using them for all sorts of tasks; they serve as a reminder that kitchen implements need not be expensive to perform beautifully and feel good in our hands.

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