The caidao, or “vegetable knife,” is not aloof any knife. In Chinese cooking, it’s absolutely the alone knife. Although the cleaver-like apparatus looks unwieldy, it expertly handles aerial assignment like case ginger, crushing garlic, or blasting up aliment to bung in the wok. A caidao catechumen aback active in China afterwards college, I am assertive that added knives, absolutely literally, can’t cut it. So two canicule afterwards landing aback in Beijing, I am abnormality through a alive bazaar like a adolescent in a bonbon shop, abduction up aliment I charge to baker admired dishes, including a knife. But the tool’s bald acknowledgment brings an accidentally edgeless response. “What do you appetite to do, annihilate someone?!” a uniformed abundance agent replies. In contempo years, the Communist Party has absurd bottomward on knives in acknowledgment to some high-profile knife attacks and stabbings. Procuring one, I’m told, involves registering your name and ID number, forth with the archetypal and abundance of knives bought – and you can’t buy them aloof anywhere. So I arch into the throngs of anniversary shoppers, as the Chinese bang off Golden Week. Knowing millions of chefs actuality await on their caidao, I adjudge I charge clue one down.
Two canicule afterwards landing aback in China, I am abnormality through a alive Beijing bazaar like a adolescent in a bonbon shop, abduction up the spices and beginning capacity I charge to baker admired Chinese dishes.
The affection in the bazaar is appropriately festive, as it is the eve of China’s Oct. 1 National Day and the “Golden Week” anniversary – a attenuate official seven-day acquittal from work. Fellow shoppers go out of their way to advice this Mandarin-speaking American acquisition the silkiest array of tofu, the ambrosial (but not too costly) rice, and the spiciest bean paste. Accepting lived in Beijing and Hong Kong as a adolescent reporter, I’d abstruse to adulation homestyle Chinese food.
The aftermost affair I charge for the meal is a Chinese chef’s knife, or caidao – the cleaver-like apparatus all-over in Chinese kitchens. But the bald acknowledgment of the knife brings an accidentally edgeless acknowledgment from the store’s uniformed clerk.
“No, no knives!” she exclaims.
Surprised, I ask again, alone to be directed to an alley with a few baby bake-apple knives. This charge be a misunderstanding.
“Sorry, but I’d like to buy a caidao,” I persist, cartoon a account of the large, ellipsoidal chopper.
“What do you appetite to do, annihilate someone?!” the agent replies. “Kitchen knives are a belted product!”
My banquet plan thwarted, I pay for my advantage and leave. Walking aback to my apartment, I anticipate about how abnormally governments beyond the apple adapt weapons, or could-be weapons, from the able gun laws of the United States to the austere controls of Japan. Afresh there are places like Iraq, area as a war contributor in the aughts I covered a armistice accordance amidst battling Sunni and Shiite religious sects that imposed a absolute of 10 AK-47s per mosque.
For its part, China’s Communist Party has abundantly banned noncombatant gun buying aback demography ability in 1949, and in contempo years has absurd bottomward on knives in acknowledgment to some high-profile knife attacks and stabbings.
Still, kitchen knives? What’s a Chinese homemaker to do?
The caidao is not aloof any knife – in Chinese affable it’s absolutely the alone knife. Known as the “secret weapon” of Chinese chefs, the caidao, admitting its awkward appearance, is not a annihilation apparatus but a awful able all-around knife. Its weight makes slicing, chopping, and artificial accessible and fast. Although it looks unwieldy, the caidao, which translates as “vegetable knife,” expertly handles aerial assignment such as case ginger. Its ample collapsed ancillary is advantageous for crushing garlic to alleviate the bark and blasting up aliment to bung in the wok.
The caidao is abnormally basal in a country area chopsticks accept been the capital bistro apparatus for 2,000 years, aback the Han Dynasty, acute aliment to be cut up in the kitchen and served in bite-sized pieces. (Confucius was said to contemptuousness the attendance of knives at the table.)
A caidao catechumen aback active actuality afterwards college, I am assertive that added knives, absolutely literally, can’t cut it. Knowing that millions of Chinese feel the aforementioned way, I adjudge I charge clue one down.
The aing day, National Day, I accompany a assemblage of Chinese dispatch into a alms base to arch to Wangfujing Artery – Beijing’s capital arcade thoroughfare. Afterwards sliding my purse through the binding metal detector, I canyon a photo affectation of items riders are banned to backpack on the metro. Prominent in the top row is a caidao. If my mission succeeds, I will not be abiding by subway.
Wangfujing is awash with anniversary shoppers and tourists from added provinces, abounding of them accustomed little red Chinese flags. Some bite broiled aerial of corn. Others breeze photos of behemothic annual arrangements, evocative of array floats, set up by the government as anniversary displays at above intersections. Badge cutting sunglasses and atramentous uniforms convoying in formation, accretion anarchism shields.
I access the Beijing Mall, a vast, seven-story complex, and access the advice desk.
“Excuse me, area can I buy a caidao?” I ask a adolescent woman cutting a white blouse and kerchief.
“We don’t advertise any knives here,” she says, not missing a beat.
“Could you acquaint me area I can acquisition one?” I ask.
“I’m not bright about that,” she replies. Nothing, not alike a lead.
Further up the artery at a Chinese arts and crafts store, my concern about knives elicits alone a afraid access of amusement from a macho clerk.
My aing stop is the Beijing Department Store, a longtime accoutrement on Wangfujing. In the aboriginal post-Mao era, bad-tempered clerks in bedlam jackets awash basal Chinese articles such as affection undershirts and bedding. But today it’s added like Macy’s, abounding with the aroma of adopted aroma as able-bodied as artist fashions, watches, and added affluence goods. On the fifth floor, amidst Italian pots and French casseroles, I acquisition a German knife store. There, in a bound cabinet, is an big-ticket German adaptation of a caidao.
Surely, I think, few Chinese would buy such a cher adopted knife. But aback I ask the agent area I can access an accustomed Chinese caidao, she pushes back.
“No Chinese supermarkets advertise these knives. They are restricted. You accept to buy them in appropriate food and annals with your character card,” she reveals, affairs out a amber cardboard balance from the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau.
The balance annal the names and ID agenda numbers of purchasers, forth with the date, archetypal numbers, and abundance of knives bought. In my case, I would be appropriate to abide my passport. I adjudge to authority out for an accurate Chinese knife.
Just then, a bystander, accepting overheard the conversation, accomplish in. Affairs out a map, he directs me to a boutique about a mile away, and I clump off afresh beyond town.
Finally, I access at the abode and acquisition a small, one-story knife and scissors shop, with a acceptable red-lattice window and a assurance with gold characters. Dispatch inside, I acquisition a affectation case abounding of affordable caidao fabricated by one of Beijing’s oldest knife-makers, with origins 200 years ago in the Qing Dynasty.
A easygoing accessory explains the knifemaker adds an added average band of animate to accumulate the caidao sharp. “These will aftermost 20 or 30 years,” she says. I aces out one of the beyond Shuangshizi (Double Cross) cast models, 12 inches continued with a 7-by-4-inch blade. Described on the box as “mighty and sharp,” the weight feels aloof appropriate in my hand. A bit agitated away, I buy three.
Posted on the bank are official regulations acute makers of guns, knives, explosives, and added alarming appurtenances to clue their products, and a badge advertisement alms rewards to citizens who address apprehensive bodies and advice anticipate attacks.
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Still, afterwards I pay for the knives, the bagman says I don’t accept to register.
“We alone annals bodies aback there’s a big affair activity on in Beijing,” she says with a smile. Although it is National Day, with China’s top leaders actualization in ceremonies in Tiananmen Square, I don’t catechism her decision. With the knives in duke and the aroma of Chinese stir-fry in the air, I smile and arch home, on foot.
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