Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Shaka Ulu

No, no restaurant review today. Instead, I present...the Ulu!

The what? The Ulu is a special Alaskan style of knife, or anyway cutting implement. According to the literature, these were originally made of slate, then various types of bone. I have heard stories about them being cut from circular saw blades in the early days of metal ulus. Anyway, as near as I can tell, they are unique to Alaska. I never heard about them before I got here; however, once you do get here, they're pretty impossible to ignore. Tourist brochures urge you to take the tour of the factory, and of course, buy at least an ulu, though there is much, much more to purchase.
The Ulu factory is so eager to draw in the tourists that they run a free trolley to and from several stops downtown. Once you get to the place, what there is to do basically is shop. Now, the ordinary experience may well be more dynamic, because we were there on a Sunday. We asked the girl behind the counter about the tour and she said "Well, there's only one guy working today." She gestured over to a big window that showed a guy, alone as advertised, applying a sander to a bunch of wood bowls. "You can watch him if you want..." Then she wandered off to 'help' other shoppers. That said, it is an impressive shopping experience. Besides many, many different sizes and styles of ulu and bowls, as well as ulu instructional videos and recipe books, there are a lot of different other things to buy. Everything from syrup and candy to earrings to Alaska videos. We purchased some foodstuffs about which I will be posting in the near future.
So how does the Ulu work? Once you get the hang of it, pretty darn well. We did not purchase a video, because although I am a sucker for tourist nonsense, even I have my limits. Your first instict is to grab that handle and chop straight down. This will work, because the thing is SHARP. Razors envy the edge on these suckers. However, the best bet is to sort of stroke with it, or rock. It really does work well with the bowl, as it keeps the things being chopped contained. This doesn't work so well with things you are just slicing, as I found that sliced items just sort of roll to the center. Possibly there is a technique to get around this - if so it was probably detailed on the video. :) However, for things you are dicing or mincing, it works extremely well. Will it displace knives as we know them? Probably not, but ours works pretty well, and we have already used it a number of times for chopping up veggies.
Ulu! Don't forget it!

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