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Mar 24, 2010 05:08 PM

What should I make my brother bring back from his trip to Asia?

He's going to Beijing, Seoul, Hiroshima, Osaka, Tokyo, Taipei, Hong Kong Shanghai and some other places in Japan, I want to make him get me something that can't be found over here, be it ingredient or cookware. Any suggestions?

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  1. I am so jealous. Definitely five jars of "Yuzu Marmalade" please!! Sorry, it is not a cookware though. We can buy it in the US, but it is very expensive!

    1. Wow. Obviously, you cannot ask him to bring everything, so you just have to prioritize your interests. Do you like Japanese knives? If so, maybe he can pick up a good traditional Japanese kitchen knife for you, like an usuba or nakiri for practical usage or a yanagiba for collection (I think of a yanagiba as a very specialized knife, but it is one of the most popular knife for collection). Obviously, he can pick up a hybrid knives like a Santoku or Gyuto, but those are more common here, so if I want to get one, I will get the traditional ones. Do you like Chinese chef knife? If so, you can get the infamous CCK knife over there - though you can get them over here just more difficult. What about some great Yixing Sand teapot (purple sand)? Like these:

      Of course, you can get them here, but the variety is very limited here and the price is high over here as well. They are considered as practical tool as well as art. So even if you don't drink tea, they are great for display.

      Chinese and Japanese tea. Real tea, not tea bags. The quality per price is just better over there. Can you get really good tea here, sure, but same as the teapots. The variety is limited and prices are high. Man, I can think of so many things for you to get :)

      18 Replies
      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

        nice. i forgot about knives. definitely could use the chinese "cleaver".

        1. re: sasserwazr


          If you like a Chinese chef's knife, then CCK is a very well respected brand from Hong Kong. Very inexpensive compared to Japanese knives, but more expensive than typical China Mainland knives. Here is a short article about its reputation:

          People at the knife forum has good things to say about this brand.

          Its address is here:

          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

            Thanks for the help. He came back in town yesteday with 2 new CCK knives. I love them.

                1. re: sasserwazr

                  Nice. KF1113 is a thin blade Chef's knife which can make very thin and precision cut. KF1213 is a medium blade knife which can pretty much handle fine to rough jobs in a kitchen from standard vegetable slicing to whacking chicken bones.

                    1. re: sasserwazr

                      :) I should have been clear. My last statements were not meant to be lecture. Rather they were questions. I just want to be sure. I don't own them. My statements were based on the Chinese characters of the knives. Thanks.

          2. re: sasserwazr

            Chinese cleavers are a good buy because one that he finds cheap and buys from some random merchant is still likely to be of usable quality.

            Some of the Japanese knives - especially the single beveled ones - require a more trained eye on the part of the consumer to make sure you're getting something useful.

            1. re: cowboyardee


              Yeah, I think to get a good Japanese knife will be difficult everywhere, but I feel if one is go to a Japanese knife store in Japan, then at least there is less of the "let's set this $10 knife at a price of $100". The store will be targeting mostly Japanese, so the prices cannot be completely off based. What do you think?

              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                The prices aren't what worries me - i doubt he's gonna go drop $1500 on a knife without knowing a thing or two about what he's buying. It's buying a cheap yanagiba or usuba that actually has a microbevel on the back side or no concavity or steel that's too soft to support its edge for more than 15 minutes that worries me. If the OPs brother knows what he's looking for in these respects, Japan would be an excellent place to buy a single beveled knife.

          3. re: Chemicalkinetics

            Re Yixing teapots (I collect them): Jade Garden Arts and Crafts in Manhattan Chinatown has a very nice range of these at reasonable prices. The owner is a connoisseur and buys several times a year in China. They have high-end ones occasionally too, one in the shape of a Buddha's hand fruit that was wonderful - felt like a living thing in your hand. That one was too $$ for me.

            1. re: buttertart

              Oh cool. Nice to know you enjoy them. I used to collect those when I were young. Or I should say my parents collected those when I were young for me. I don't have them anymore after all these years. I may start to do it again. Anyway, I thought it would be nice for sasserwazr's brother to look one up for him during the trip. He may able to find a decent one at a low price.

              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                You can find them all over Shanghai of course. My favorite one is from an antiques market in Suzhou, a lily pod with a worm crawling on it (love the vegetable and animal ones). They are not to everyone's taste, though. More of an acquired taste I should think.

                1. re: buttertart

                  :) Thanks. I like them too, but opposite from you, I like the plain one better.

                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    You are obviously more of a connoisseur than I. The really special ones are of course the plain ones. I have some of those too (a very nice green one for example).

                    1. re: buttertart

                      I can tell you for sure that I am not a connoisseur. I don't understand the pots for some reasons, but I don't have real knowledge. As for the reason, I like plain ones, I think that is just my personal taste. I like simplier things. Things which are too complicated confuse me. This is true for my choice of clothings and shoes and whatever. Maybe because I am a guy. I think guy tends to enjoy simplier patterns. I mean the look at we men's clothing designs.

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        Ge you suo chang - each has its points. I expected the real connoisseur to like the strict plain ones best (similar to a ceramics connoisseur finding the plainest and simplest Song dishes the finest) and the everyday person viz, me) to like the ones in the shapes of living things. However, had you seen that Buddha's hand one I'm sure you would have been very impressed.

          4. sasserwazr, this reply will focus on the "... make him get me something that can't be found over here ..." part of your query. That would rule out knives, as most any knife (or cleaver) that could be bought in Asia can be purchased in North America. And really special knives are really special largely based on how they feel in your hand, so your brother would need to carry your hand with him on his trip to Asia to get the perfect fit, and I am assuming you would have need of that hand over here during his trip.

            We travel to Japan about twice a year, and always bring back with us "something that can't be found over here"; what floats our boat may not be what floats yours, of course, but here are some Japanese things you may consider. Note, however, that they are not likely to be found in the shops at Narita airport or in the shops close to large hotels in Tokyo: your brother will need to be intentional in his shopping for you -- but I can guarantee that he will enjoy getting "out" -- not the usual rut -- in Tokyo.

            Cast iron. The best specialty iron casting in the world -- indeed, in the history of the world -- is done in the Nambu region near Morioka in northern Honshu. Nambu tekki ("tekki" means "fashioned") or Nambu tetsu ("testsu" means "iron") is sold throughout Japan. You can even get a very few pieces in the United States (see, but the selection here (except for fancy teapots) is very limited. Look, however, at the beautiful piece that tanuki soup purchased: Here is a bail-handle Nambu pot that we picked up on one of our trips (shown upside down in the photo so that its feet may be seen):

            Saké. Unless you are located in one of a very few American cities, your choice of saké is very limited. However, there are about 7,000 kura (breweries) in Japan, and the different varieties of saké are staggering (and to the uninitiate, perhaps intimidating). There is at least as wide a range of tastes among sakés as there is among varieties of wine. If your brother is willing to get onto the Yamanote line (the circular train line that more or less defines central Tokyo in the same manner that the Beltway defines Washington, D.C.), he can get off at Okachimachi Station and find himself at the doorstep of Yoshiike (note that both i's in the middle of that word are pronounced: "yoshi - ike"), an unprepossessing "department" store at ground level. But go up the stairs or escalator one level, and almost the entire second floor is devoted to saké, brands and varieties neither you nor your brother -- or anybody you have ever known -- has seen before. It is worth the trip, even if he buys nothing, just to see the array. Make sure that he takes his digital camera to get a picture for you.

            So -- if you send him on this errand -- what should your brother say, which among the thousands of saké varieties should he buy? Here are the three magic words (phrases) that -- for my personal tastes -- guarantee a home run: 1. "kimoto": it is a method of brewing sake that was the traditional and virtually only method until 1909, but requires more time in brewing and therefore is not widely used today for commercial reasons (high production saké is made by adding lactic acid; kimoto is brewed naturally without lactic acid). 2. "Dewa san-san" is a rice varietal that is used only in Yamagata Prefecture where the best saké (my opinion) is brewed, and was developed specifically for saké brewing. If a saké was brewed using Dewa33 ("pronounced "dewa san-san") rice, the brewer usually will advertise the fact on the bottle. 3. "Junmai" means the same as "unfortified" -- just as there are fortified wines in the West, many saké brewers juice up the alcohol content of their brew by adding what amounts to vodka to the mix. Natural, pure ("junmai") saké brings out the unique characteristics of the brew.

            Related to saké but easier to pack in luggage: a saké serving set made from Japanese cryptomeria ("sugi") or Japanese cypress ("hinoki") in the form of little square sake cups and a taller square tokkuri (serving vessel). Almost impossible to find in America, they may be found in almost any large Japanese department store, such as Miitsukoshi's main store at Nihombashi or the Yokohama Sogo at Yokohama Station. They never fail to garner comment, and saké, especially warmed saké, tastes different and special when drunk from them.

            Hario coffee and tea making vessels. Hario Glass is one of the leading makers of vacuum "syphon" coffee makers (non-electric: typically they employ small alcohol burners), which make better brewed coffee than any other method of brewing. Hario also makes some spectacular and fancy French press coffee makers, and a variety of interesting and beautiful glass tea pots and tea infusers. Takashimaya Department Store carries a broad range of Hario products.

            Any of the above should provide your brother with an enjoyable shopping excursion, and you with some unusual equipment or comestibles.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Politeness

              "Really special knives are really special largely based on how they feel in your hand..."

              I have to disagree somewhat here. How it feels in your hand is only one of many things that can make a knife special. If my brother went to Japan and picked me up a nice knife, I would be grateful and honored. And there are a lot of knife options available there that are not available here or else would require a lot more searching, long waits, and high shipping charges.

              Your other suggestions are very good ones, and thoughtful.

            2. make your list of an item from each stop and give him postage money so he can ship instead of trying to carry on a plane.. especially if it might be something larger or heavy. :)

              1 Reply
              1. Some decent green tea from a Japanese grocery/department store basement market.