Kamaboko: The Must-Try Fish Cake of Japan

Among the many countries in Asia that boast several tourist attractions and delicious cuisines to try is Japan. Considered as among the top destinations in the world due to its beautiful mountains and scenery, there are many things to do and to try in Japan. Also known as the Land of the Sun, this country is brimming with a rich culture and heritage. Furthermore, there are various scrumptious dishes that Japan has to offer to visitors. One of the many must-try foods when in Japan is none other than kamaboko.

Kamaboko: History, Facts, Dips, Nutrition, and Calories

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Kamaboko is basically a form of cured surimi, which is a food product made of seafood. Generally known as the Japanese fish cake, kamaboko can be cooked in many ways, such as fried, steamed, baked, and even poached. Kamaboko usually comes in a smooth but chewy texture, which is quite unique, to say the least. Various ingredients that composed kamaboko include filleted white fish, sugar, salt, egg whites, fish sauce, and Japanese sake. Just from knowing the compositions that make up kamaboko, one can already deduce how simple but special this Japanese fish cake is.

Composed of all natural ingredients, kamaboko generally comes in white. This is due to the interaction of the white fish, salt, and water during the process of making it. One of the great things about kamaboko is that it does not contain any artificial coloring, seasoning, or preservatives. Hence, kamaboko may be safe to ingest even by people who are sensitive to anything artificial.

There is also a history behind as to how kamaboko was first made. It is said that it began in the 8th century, during the Heian period. A well-known story states that kamaboko was first served at a celebration dinner dedicated to a minister of Japan. Since it was only the beginning of making kamaboko, it was initially just fish meat that was grounded and molded into a bamboo stick prior to cooking. As the shape was likened to that of the top of a cattail plant known as gama-no-ho in Japanese, the dish was coined as kamaboko.

As the country of Japan is surrounded by bodies of water, it was only natural that one of the country’s main food sources is the ocean. Because fish is a staple dish in Japan, the Japanese tried to improve and innovate various food products that incorporated fish, as it was what the country was abundant of. Among the many techniques that they tried to incorporate the use of fish was how to preserve the longevity of fish products. Still, because kamaboko is not only a traditional Japanese food but also utilizes natural ingredients, the Japanese made sure to use a preservation process that is also natural.

It was in the year 1865 that a retailing seafood company by the name of Suzuhiro started producing kamaboko. It was the fourth owner of the company, known as Gon-emon Murataya, who began the production and selling of kamaboko but only as a side business. The business of making and selling kamaboko grew through the years, specifically from the last part of the 19th century to the first half of the 20th century. While the market initially only served Odawara, the sixth owner of the company decided to expand the market to the capital of the country, Tokyo.

On the other hand, it was during the Second World War that the business of making and selling kamaboko faltered. Due to the ration system administered by the government at the time, it was found to be difficult to maintain the business. Furthermore, fresh fish was scarce and the use of wooden boards was prohibited.

Fortunately, the economy of Japan picked up and grew rapidly after the Second World War. This enabled various business, including the kamaboko business, to expand and take off. During this time, the primary consumers of kamaboko were travelers to Hakone, which is a town quite famous for its hot springs. It was said that the seventh owner of Suzuhiro even peddled kamaboko from Odawara to the peak of the Hakone Mountains.

Presently, Suzuhiro is among the top producers of the healthiest and most delicious kamaboko in the world. The company also recognizes the importance of conserving the ocean along with its inhabitants and other international social issues. Furthermore, sustainability is one of the key factors that Suzuhiro considers important while producing the most delicious kamaboko there is.

Not only does kamaboko have a great taste with a chewy texture but is also healthy and full of vitamins. Each steamed kamaboko contains about five to seven fishes. Composed of very little fat, kamaboko is rich in well-balanced proteins and minerals. Proteins are comprised of substances known as amino acids, which are essential to the human body. While the human body, in general, can produce certain types of amino acids, there are actually nine kinds that the body considers essential but still cannot produce. These types of amino acids can be found in and obtained from certain types of food, one of them being kamaboko, which has all those nine types of amino acids.

How Kamaboko Is Made

By Tail furry (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Making kamaboko can be done at home though most people prefer to purchase them because of how tedious it can get. Nonetheless, if one has the patience and enough experience to make one, then that would be great as well. There are specific steps in making a great kamaboko that would enable one to achieve not just the tastiness but also the right texture to it.

The first step is to fillet the fish. This means that one would need to remove both the skin and the bones of the fish. Next step would be to wash the fish meat with clean water. Suzuhiro washes their fish meat with pure natural water that comes from the Hakone Mountains. This step is essential so as to wash away the fat and blood from the fish meat. It also enables kamaboko to last longer in comparison to normal fish meat.

After the fish meat has been thoroughly cleaned, then it is time to pound the fish meat. Add a little bit of salt and seasoning and start pounding the fish meat until it becomes a sticky paste. The sea salt put on the fish ensures the coagulation of the fish protein, which is among the most essential steps in making kamaboko. While it may sound so simple, many people find this step pretty difficult as it takes years of experience for one to be able to do this perfectly well.

This method also lets the kamaboko have that unique, chewy texture to it. Furthermore, it also let the kamaboko have that delicious taste. Generally, only veterans would try making kamaboko, as the desired result can be a bit difficult to achieve without the right experience. This is because the amount of salt to be put on the fish and the amount of time that the fish has to be pounded are relative depending on certain characteristics of the fish. Each fish would need different amounts of salt and may take either a shorter or a longer time. All of these affect the resulting texture and taste of kamaboko.

After all the pounding is done and the texture of the paste has been achieved, it would then be time to shape the fish paste to the customary shape of kamaboko. While this step may also sound quite simple, it is also an important step in producing kamaboko. The amount of time taken to finish this step also determines the shape, taste, and overall texture of the kamaboko. Usually, makers of kamaboko who go through this process have more than 20 years of experience, so as to be able to create kamaboko with the perfect taste, texture, and shape.

When all of this is done, it is then time to cook the kamaboko. One can steam, fry, grill, or even poach the kamaboko depending on one’s liking. After the cooking process, one would then chill the kamaboko. Traditionally in Odawara, kamaboko is cooked by steaming it on wooden boards. Wooden boards are utilized as they help control the level of moisture that gets into the kamaboko so that it can maintain its taste for a longer period of time.

Different Kinds of Japanese Fish Cakes: Red, White, Naruto in Noodles like Ramen

By jetalone from Udon, soba, donburi restaurant Shichibe in Ome, Tokyo (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Kamaboko also comes in many varieties. It can also be consumed with other foods such as rice. The first type would be the red kamaboko. It is among the most basic types of Japanese fish cakes. Generally used as a topping for soups, this kamaboko can be seen in bowls of soba, udon, and ramen. While the name suggests that it has a red hue, this type of kamaboko actually is pink. Called aka kamaboko in Japanese, this type of kamaboko is cooked by steaming on a small wooden board.

Another type of kamaboko that has a color in its name is the white kamaboko. Following the footsteps of red kamaboko, the white kamaboko is the most basic and also the most popular Japanese fish cakes in the country. As the name suggests, this type of kamaboko is white in color and is also typically steamed. Another variation for this type of kamaboko is steaming the whole thing but grilling the top portion of the cylindrical kamaboko until the part attains a golden brown exterior.

Many may refer to naruto as the main characters from the anime series called Naruto and Naruto Shippuden. However, naruto is actually also a type of kamaboko. It is quite well-known for its cute look, which is a white and pink swirl and small ridges on the edges. It is also utilized as a topping for soups as it adds a pretty pattern to the dish. These are also best consumed hot during the colder season, like in the month of November. It is often also used in chirashi or scattered sushi.

For a more different look, another type of kamaboko is the chikuwa. It is long and cylindrical in shape but the inside portion is hollow. Unlike the regular steamed Japanese fish cake, chikuwa is often grilled so as to attain that toasty flavor. Typically added to Japanese stew, chikuwa is also often utilized as an ingredient in Japanese dishes like chikuwa tempura and sautéed chikuwa in kabayaki sauce. Other types of Japanese fish cakes that one can look into are satuma age, hanpen, konbumaki kamaboko, sasa kamaboko, and kani kamaboko.

Kamaboko Chijimi: A Recipe with Colorful Ingredients

A recipe that one can try using kamaboko is kamaboko chijimi. The first step is to slice a half-block of white kamaboko and then another half-block of red kamaboko into 5 millimeters. Then, rub salt into okra, which should amount to just one package. After rubbing, rinse the okra with clean water and remove the stem end. Cut the okra lengthwise and put together with the kamaboko. In a plastic bag of cake flour, put into it the kamaboko and okra then shake until all the pieces are coated evenly.

The next step would be to combine one egg, one tablespoon of katakuriko, one grated potato, and 30 grams of chopped Chinese chives together to create the chijimi batter. Mix them all together until an even consistency is achieved. After which, it is time to make the sauce. Simply combine 60 grams of chopped kimchi, one tablespoon of soy sauce, a half-tablespoon of vinegar, a half-tablespoon of lemon juice, a half-tablespoon of mayonnaise, one teaspoon of honey, and one tablespoon of ground white sesame seeds. Chopped kimchi or honey can be further added depending on one’s taste.

Dredge kamaboko and okra in chijimi batter. After which, fry them on both sides with sesame oil over medium heat. Wait until the kamaboko and okra are crispy before removing them from the pan. Serve the kamaboko and the okra along with the sauce for a good snack.

There are definitely many ways to cook kamaboko. Even eating them just on their own would already provide a great taste and serve as a great treat. When one visits the Land of the Sun, whether it is in June or December, one should definitely try these Japanese fish cakes so one can fully understand what the craze is all about.