What are narutomaki & kamaboko? + top 10 fish cake ramen

                by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  October 7, 2021

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When you eat at a ramen restaurant, you might come across some interesting (though odd) toppings on your noodles.

You’ll probably encounter the world-famous narutomaki, also known as surimi fish cakes.

Narutomaki in ramen

Then, you’ll wonder, “what is that white and pink swirly thing in my ramen bowl?” It has an interesting chewy texture and a pink spiral in the center.

It’s hard to imagine the taste, texture, and appeal of this food until you try it. But once you do, you’ll understand why it’s the perfect savory topping for ramen.

Here, I’ll discuss kamaboko (Japanese fish cakes) and specifically narutomaki, a common variation used as a topping on ramen noodles and soba noodles.

Kamaboko: what are they?

The word “kamaboko” means fish cakes. These are made out of cured surimi, which is ground, deboned, and pureed white fish meat.

This processed seafood product is a popular Japanese side dish or garnish.

In Japanese cuisine, fish cakes are added to ramen, soba noodles, salads, and soups. Each fish cake type is tailored to match whatever dish it’s used for (usually ramen or soba noodles).

There’s a wide variety in different shapes, colors, and flavors. But what they all have in common is the mild umami (savory) fishy taste and the unique appearance.

The fish paste is also cooked in different ways. Depending on the dish, it’s steamed, boiled, grilled, and even fried.

Kamaboko is a versatile dish because it has a particularly strong fish flavor, adding a lot of umami to any dish.

The fish cake has an outer light pink layer and is sliced into small semi-circular pieces. It’s quite a chewy food, but has a soft texture.

Also read: how to eat jakoten fish cakes

Narutomaki: what is it?

Narutomaki, or naruto, is a popular type of kamaboko, mostly used as the fish cake topping in ramen dishes.

It looks like a slice of white and pink swirly flat cake, and it’s usually placed on top of the noodles as a topping or garnish.

It’s cut into a long cross-section or a circular shape.

Cut open narutomaki fish cake

The pink swirl has a wavelike pattern, which resembles the Naruto whirlpools, located between Shikoku and Awaji Island. According to legends, the whirlpools are the inspiration behind the famous fish cakes.

The best fish cake narutomaki is manufactured in the Yaizu, Shizuoka region of Japan. In fact, Yaizu produces more than 90% of all naruto!

However, not all fish cakes are created equal, and some brands taste better than others.

What’s the fish cake narutomaki made of?

This particular fish cake is also made out of deboned and pureed white fish (surimi) and has a mild, subtle flavor. It’s slightly less chewy than kamaboko.

Usually, Japanese chefs make kamaboko and narutomaki from the following fish:

The starch also makes it powdery and similar in texture to pasta. So it matches the texture of the noodles!

First, the fish is deboned, pureed, and mixed with egg whites and salt. At home, this is done with the help of a blender or food processor.

The surimi mix contains starch, which acts as a binding agent and makes the texture doughy. It’s similar to calamari because it’s rubbery.

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The resulting surimi is molded into the desired shape and steamed so that it keeps its form. Half of the paste is colored with red food coloring to give it that beautiful pink swirl.

Depending on the type of fish cake, it may be fried or grilled instead of steamed. But the steaming process helps it maintain the log form required for narutomaki.

The fish cake is not added to the food while it cooks. Instead, you add it to a dish at the end as a garnish.

What’s a fish cake in Japanese?

A fish cake is an Asian dish made up of fish and other seafood and the Japanese call it “kamaboko”. It’s crushed, minced, and mixed with flavors and starchy food, and then fried.

While codfish is traditionally used, it’s scarce, so haddock and whitefish are now used, as well as sleek fish and salmon for more extraordinary tastes!

Narutomaki vs kamaboko

Narutomaki (鳴門巻き/なると巻き) is actually a type of kamaboko. “Kamaboko” is the Japanese word for fish cakes and narutomaki is the specific one with a pink swirl and zig-zag edge.

Kamaboko is made of cured fish surimi, which is a term for fish paste.

So you shouldn’t compare naruto to kamaboko. Instead, you need to compare naruto to other types of fish cakes, like red or white kamaboko!

Narutomaki is most commonly served as a decorative snack on ramen. It adds a pop of color and it has a light and pleasant fish taste.

But many other types of kamaboko can be eaten on their own or served with a dash of savory soy sauce. You can also have it in salads, noodle dishes, soups, and even casseroles.

Categories of fish cake

Fish cakes are made without breadcrumbs and consist of a blend of cooked fish, potatoes, and often eggs. They’re formed into patties and are sometimes fried.

As fish has primarily been a significant part of the diet of people living close to oceans, streams, and lakes, numerous local categories of fish cake have emerged.

Varieties can depend upon what sort of fish is used, how finely cleaved the fish is, the utilization of milk or water, the use of flour or potatoes, as well as the use of eggs or egg whites, and the cooking strategy.

Depending upon regional preferences and choices, fish cake ingredients have been classified into 2 categories: Asian and European style.

Categories of fish cakes

Asian style fish cake

In Asia, fish cakes generally contain fish with salt, water, flour, and eggs.

They can be the mix of a paste made of ground-up fish and surimi. The resulting mixture is then molded into shape and left to cool.

They’re then battered and breaded by utilizing a machine for that process.

At that point, they’re normally seared with oil. After the cooking procedure, they’re solidified and bundled, and are kept that way until consumption.

European style fish cake

In Europe, fish cakes are like croquettes and are made out of filleted fish or other seafood with a potato patty.

In some cases, it’s covered in breadcrumbs. These fish cakes are made of slashed or minced fish, potato, egg, and flour, with seasonings of onions, pepper, and herbs.

What’s Japanese fish cake?

Japanese fish cake is a type of Asian fish cake that the Japanese call “kamaboko”. There are several types, but the most common ones are red kamaboko and narutomaki.

Most Japanese fish cake is produced using the meat of a few sorts of fresh fish or processed white fish called surimi.

History of Japanese fish cake

Although there’s no concrete evidence of how kamaboko came to be, it’s said that it started being made in the 8th century during the Heian period.

An outstanding story says that kamaboko was first served at a festive dinner for a Japanese priest.

Since it was just the start of making kamaboko, it was at first simply fish meat that was ground and shaped into a bamboo stick before cooking. As the shape was compared to that of the highest point of a cattail plant known as “gama-no-ho” in Japanese, the dish was named “kamaboko”.

It was in 1865 that the retailing fish organization Suzuhiro began delivering kamaboko.

While the market at first just served Odawara city, the 6th proprietor of the organization chose to grow the market in the capital of the nation: Tokyo.

What are the benefits of Japanese fish cake?

In addition to its wonderful taste, Japanese fish cake is loaded with several medical advantages:

Texture of fish cake

Although there are different kinds of kamaboko, most of them have a pinkish and white color.

Kamaboko is typically chewy. However, the advanced kind is substantially more delicate, which is enjoyed with delicate noodles.

Red Japanese fish cake (just like the white one) is regularly offered at memorials and for special seasons, as in the Japanese culture, the two basic colors are considered to bring good luck.

10 types of Japanese fish cake

10 types of japanese fish cakes

1. Red kamaboko

Red kamaboko fishcake

This Japanese fish cake is one of the most famous. It’s enjoyed with soups like ramen noodles and soba.

Even though it’s called “red”, it actually is more pink than red.

This kind of kamaboko is steamed on a little wood board. It often comes together with white kamaboko, often even in the same roll.

2. White kamaboko

White japanese kamaboko fish cake

This fish cake is second in popularity to red kamaboko.

It’s all white in color and is steamed. The outer part of the tube-shaped fish cake is broiled to give that brilliant dark colored look on the outside.

Also read: anchovy sauce vs fish sauce: are they the same?

3. Kani kamaboko

Kani kamaboko imitation crab surimi

This Japanese fish cake is famously referred to as imitation crab. But it’s actually made of white fish and prepared with the fluids of crabs!

Kani kamaboko is prominently used in westernized sushi, such as a filling in California sushi rolls.

4. Naruto kamaboko

naruto kamaboko fish cakes

Naruto kamaboko is famous for its lovely pink and white spirals and twirls, and its outer curved edges.

When narutomaki is cut, it makes a colorful addition that adds to the presentation of any dish.

Narutomaki is frequently utilized as a garnish in soup for ramen noodles or sushi.

5. Sasa kamaboko

Sasa kamaboko grilled fishcakes

Sasa kamaboko is the Miyagi region’s claim to fame! It’s normally appreciated on its own.

The fish cakes are molded like the leaves of bamboo and are frequently served toasted to give a warm cooked flavor.

6. Konbumaki kamaboko

Japanese new year konbumaki kamaboko

These are fresh cakes that have an extremely thin layer of kelp inside. To make this extravagant structure, the fish cake blend is moved with the kelp to make a swirl when the fish cake is sliced.

This sort of konbumaki fish cake is marginally more expensive than red or white fish cake and is regularly served during special events like New Year as a major aspect of the osechi ryori feast.

7. Decorated kamaboko

decorated kamaboko

This is a steamed cylindrical-shaped fish cake. When it’s cut open, a beautiful pattern emerges with, for example, trees, blossoms, many-sided kanji, or other creative art.

Special kamaboko is frequently served as part of Japanese New Year’s food.

8. Chikuwa

Chikuwa kamaboko fish cake

This is a flame-broiled fish cake with a grilled taste to it.

It’s molded into a long, tube-shaped cylinder that’s hollow inside. Chikuwa is frequently added to Japanese stew (namely oden) and is used as a topping in dishes.

Chikuwa grilled fish cake

9. Hanpen

Fluffy or fried Japanese Hanpen fish cake

Hanpen is a white, triangular fish cake that’s a blend of white fish and Nagaimo Japanese mountain yam, making it lighter and fluffier.

What makes the remarkable fleecy surface of hanpen? This fish cake is boiled rather than steamed! It’s also often fried (after already being pre-prepared and boiled) to be served as a side dish.

Hanpen can also be square or even round in shape and may incorporate added seasoning to change its flavor, like ginger or shiso perilla leaf.

10. Satsuma-age

Satsuma age japanese deep-fried fish cakes

Satsuma-age is enjoyed in the southern part of Japan. It’s a plain cake made with white fish, or it’s blended with different ingredients; for example, vegetables or fish to make various kinds of cakes.

The deep-fried fish cake is regularly added to pan-fried food, hot noodles, and Japanese stew.

How do you eat kamaboko?

According to Japanese people, you should be conscious of the temperature, as well as the thickness of the cuts, as they’ll decide how much you’ll enjoy the snacks.

If you plan on eating the fish cake as it ought to be, you should aim for a thickness of 12 mm, as this will help take in a lot of the flavors.

If you don’t think you’re going to eat them as a standalone dish or snack, you might want to match them with different ingredients from the meal and maybe go for a thinner piece. You could even take a piece that’s 3 mm thick. With a cut this thin, you can substitute kamaboko instead of bacon and get some great results!

And if you’re hoping to appreciate the flavor while eating the cakes by themselves, go for a thick cut, such as 15 mm. You could then add them to a plate of mixed greens without losing any of the flavors!

As for the temperature, you have to remember that these cakes contain plenty of proteins. So using an excessive amount of heat to cook kamaboko won’t just denature the proteins, but it’ll also ruin its crusty surface. The cakes you’d get will be hard and also tough to chew.

So it’s necessary to keep them at room temperature.

Fish cake in ramen

Ramen is a Japanese dish that’s Chinese wheat noodles served in a meat or fish-based broth, often enhanced with sauce or miso, and other ingredients; for example, cut pork, nori, menma, and scallions.

Narutomaki is a kind of fish cake that’s an exemplary addition to ramen. So when you think of fish cake ramen, it’s probably this type!

Fish cake recipe

Kamaboko can be very easily made! The ingredients required are basically fish blend with a small amount of finely chopped vegetables, flavoring, and cornflour to bind the fish meat together. Unlike regular western-style fish cakes, Japanese ones don’t use flour or pureed potatoes for binding.

The vegetables blended into the fish paste can differ and you can use whatever you have in your home. You can also use peas, green beans, mushrooms, shallots, and lotus roots. They all should be chopped and grounded.

At times, not even vegetables are incorporated, so you can also leave them out.

If you’d like to try raw fish, I’ve written this post on the types of sushi fish, which are best for raw consumption, and which have the best taste.

Variations of Japanese fish cakes

Did you know that there are two types of naruto kamaboko?

The most common variety you see is the classic white exterior with a pink swirl interior. The Japanese consider this to be the “regular” and “traditional” narutomaki.

On the other hand, narutomaki refers to the inverted color version of this dish. The exterior or base layer is all pink colored, and the inside swirl is white. This variety is less common and almost exclusive to 3 Japanese regions: Hokkaido, Tohoku, and Kyushu.

Some experimental chefs like to play around with the colors. You may see a white exterior with a green swirl inside.

Some even replace the swirl with symbols and other patterns! For example, the Sho Chiku Bai is a plum, pine, and bamboo pattern representing the Japanese icon of happiness.

How to make Narutomaki

The naruto recipe is similar to most other fish cakes, but it has a log shape and a pink swirly center with textured edges.

This is a simple recipe, so it’s great to use, even for those who’ve never attempted to make fish cakes before!

Shoyu ramen with narutomaki

Narutomaki Japanese Fish Cake Recipe

Joost Nusselder
Narutomaki is a Japanese fish cake shaped like a small log with a rubbery and chewy texture. The cake has a pink swirl in the middle, which is its defining characteristic. It tastes like fish and it's made of minced fish (surimi). This easy recipe only takes about 30 minutes to make.
No ratings yet
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Total Time 30 mins
Course Snack
Cuisine Japanese
Servings 1 log

Ingredients
  

Ingredients for one log

  • 7 ounces fresh white fish Alaska pollock or blue whiting
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tsp mirin
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • pink food coloring

Instructions
 

  • Grab a large pot and fill it about halfway with water.
  • Bring it to a simmer, then place a steamer basket over it.
  • To prepare the fish, remove, skin and debone the fish.
  • Wash the fish in a colander and also remove any fat and remaining bones.
  • Squeeze out excess water by using your hands.
  • Now chop the fish into smaller pieces, then place them in a food processor.
  • Add egg white, sugar, salt, and mirin, and blend until you get a smooth fish paste.
  • Place half of the paste into a smaller bowl. Add several drops of pink food coloring and mix until the paste is pink or light red. Set aside.
  • Line your counter with plastic wrap and spread out the remaining white paste in a rectangle shape.
  • Now measure half an inch from the border of the white rectangle and then place the pink paste on top of the white one.
  • Using the plastic wrap, start rolling the fish cake into a log shape, making sure to roll tightly. The roll should be pretty thin.
  • Now put the fish cake roll into the steamer and let it steam for 15 minutes.
  • Once ready, let it cool. Then, remove the plastic wrap.
  • Use a knife with a serrated edge to cut the fish cake and give it those zig-zag edges.

Notes

For the best results, use a non-oily white fish, preferably Alaska pollock.
Also, make sure to remove the fatty bits of the fish, or else your paste will be greasy.
If you have a bamboo mat with triangular pieces, roll the plastic-covered cake on the mat and you'll achieve the zig-zag edge. 
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

History of narutomaki

You might be wondering: why is naruto such a common ramen topping?

It has a long tradition in Japanese cuisine, but its primary role is not to enhance flavor, but to add visual contrast to the soup’s brownish colors.

The naruto cake has a ridged exterior edge and a pretty pink center, so it enhances any dish’s presentation!

Initially, Japanese chefs used naruto as a topping for soba noodles in the Edo period (about 150 years ago).

At the time, ramen wasn’t even invented yet. Ramen was popularized sometime in the early 1900s when it was brought over from China.

Since narutomaki was a popular topping for soba, people quickly adapted it for ramen since it was also a noodle dish.

Learn all about these 8 different types of Japanese noodles (with recipes)

FAQ on narutomaki Japanese fish cake

Below, I’ll answer some more questions you might have about Japanese fish cake!

Is narutomaki Japanese fish cake healthy?

As with any fish dish, the health and nutritional benefits depend on the fish’s quality and the preparation methods.

In general, well-made kamaboko is full of health benefits. It’s low in fat, full of good nutrients, and has lots of protein.

Also, this dish is low in calories, so it’s not a source of dangerous fats. It also has antioxidant properties, helping the body neutralize free radicals.

However, there’s one disadvantage.

Most of the cheaper store-bought kamaboko and narutomaki are high in sodium and contain MSG.

If you want healthier options, look for higher-priced products that are produced using high-quality white fish. Also, check the list of ingredients and avoid anything with too many additives and preservatives.

Where can I buy narutomaki?

So, you’re wondering where to find kamaboko and narutomaki?

The best place to go is Asian grocery stores. Or you can eat it at ramen restaurants.

Can you make narutomaki at home?

It’s uncommon for Japanese people to make narutomaki at home because it’s an elaborate dish. Making it requires many steps and specialized tools.

The ingredients are often hard to get, and it’s a time-consuming cooking process too.

So most people buy this dish at the supermarket or eat it while dining at a ramen restaurant.

Enjoy these tasty fish cake ramen

Now, if you’re feeling hungry and curious, you can go check out a local Asian grocery shop, as you might find kamaboko and narutomaki there. If not, Asian restaurants are sure to serve it alongside tasty noodle dishes.

What I can tell you for sure is that it’s one of the most unique fishy toppings you’ll come across!

Next, read all about Japanese udon noodles: how to use these thick noodles.

Ever had trouble finding Japanese recipes that were easy to make?

We now have "cooking Japanese with ease", our full recipe book and video course with step-by-step tutorials on your favorite recipes.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.