Saturday, August 29, 2009

Marukai and the Magic Mandoline

Should I move to Japan?

I finally made it over to Marukai Daiso on the way back from dropping my parents off a the airport today. The Marukai complex has three shops: Marukai Market, a Japanese grocery store which I discovered has the most amazing instant udon noodles in a bowl for 87 cents; Marukai Living, which is sort of like Target; and Marukai Daiso, which is like the best dollar store in the entire world (my daughter came away with a Barbie like doll, with higher quality hair than the spider-web like material used in the Mattel Barbies, for $1.65. And they had bowls and other tableware that looked suspiciously Crate-and-Barrel-like for, yes, $1.65.). I hyperlink Daiso only because it is really worth making a trip if you have party favor needs for a birthday party, need plastic storage containers, or happen to be in the market for an afro wig. They pretty much have everything, addressing needs ranging from fake nail appliques to Hello Kitty toilet seat covers.

But the real score I got today was from Marukai Living. I used to have the MIU Stainless-Steel Professional Mandoline Slicer, which, despite its fancy name, carrying case and price tag (retail value: $119.99), delivered only on being stainless steel. It included a set of instructions warning me to be careful of the ultra-sharp blade, but in reality, I would have been at greater risk with a butter knife. Needless to say, it did a poor job of making perfectly even slices, and required quite a bit of elbow grease to get things cut. It didn't handle things with tougher outer skins like bell peppers, eggplant or tomatoes well at all.

Cue "Dreamweaver" music. I spotted at Marukai Living the simple plastic mandoline pictured here. No fancy carrying case, but clearly a very sharp blade. On the back, and adjustable knob that allows you to vary the thickness of the slices. I recalled reading reviews of slicers and hearing that the simple Japanese varieties were the best. Eager to test it, I went home and tried a variety of veggies: cabbage -- no problem. Red bell pepper -- it sliced so easily I wasn't even sure the slicing was happening. Then I tried making paper-thin slices of scallion. I used a back-and-forth motion, akin to the type you would use if you were gently painting a watercolor onto paper -- and with equal (non) effort. Unbelievable. With no effort, beautiful even slices were flying off of the blade. I was consciously careful to avoid adding even slices of fingertip to the salad.

So run out to an Asian market and find yourself a Japanese mandoline slicer. $16 bucks later you'll want to chuck out all the expensive stuff you registered for at Williams-Sonoma.

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