Oroshigane, traditional Japanese graters, come in all shapes and sizes. From orosu (to grate or cut) and kane (metal or metal tool), this kitchen essential was originally made exclusively of copper or steel. Now stainless steel, aluminum and plastic predominate, but one can still find graters made of copper (or tinned copper) as well as ceramic, bamboo and even wood. A small, specialty grater made of sharkskin stretched over a wooden paddle is used in top-end restaurants and by sushi chefs to finely grate fresh wasabi root.

Koimo oroshi kake is a simple dish, enjoyed any time of the year.
Rick LaPointe photos

The most commonly grated items in Japan are vegetables — daikon, ginger root, carrots — that are used as garnishes (yakumi) in sauces such as tempura dipping sauce. Some starchy potatoes — yamaimo or nagaimo — are grated raw to a rather slimy (I should refrain from calling it snotty, but that is the best word) consistency and served alone with soy sauce (tororo imo) or as a garnish for cold soba noodles. Finally the oroshigane is occasionally used to grate some proteins, semifrozen fish for example, to make them easier to pass through a sieve. As for Western applications, there are many — I use an oroshigane to make quick work of very dry, aged Parmesan cheese.