Ramen Fish Cake Narutomaki & Kamaboko: What is it exactly?

                by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  July 19, 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 are probably going to encounter the world-famous Narutomaki, also known as surimi fish cakes.

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.

Narutomaki in ramen

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.

This post discusses Kamaboko (Japanese fish cakes) and specifically Narutomaki, a common variation used as a topping on ramen noodle soup and soba noodles.

Kamaboko fishcakes: what are they?

The word Kamaboko means fish cakes.

The fish cakes 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 of fish cakes 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 is steamed, boiled, grilled, and even fried.

Kamaboko is a versatile dish because it has a particularly strong fish flavor, adding a lot of umami taste 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 it has a soft texture.

Narutomaki is the most popular type of fish cake because it’s so common in ramen.

We’ll soon get into the details of this delicate dish and share a tasty ramen and fish cake recipe you can try at home.

Also read: how to eat Jakoten fish cakes

What are narutomaki fish cakes made of?

The surimi fish paste is made out of deboned white fish.

Usually, Japanese chefs make Kamaboko and Narutomaki from the following fish:

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.

Then, 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.

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

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

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.

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

The pink swirl has a wavelike pattern, which resembles the Naruto whirlpools, located between Shikoku and Awaji Island.

According to legend, the whirlpools are the inspiration behind the famous fish cakes.

The best 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 is a fish cake in Japanese?

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

Generally, fishcakes utilize codfish as a filling but because of the scarcity of codfish, haddock or whitefish are now utilized as a replacement.

Fish cakes are made of non-oily white fish paste. It’s minced and called Surimi.

Other types of fish such as sleek fish and salmon are also used for an extraordinary taste.

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.

Thus, you shouldn’t compare Naruto to the Kamaboko and rather 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.

Then, you can also have it in salads, noodle dishes, soups, and even casseroles.

Top 10 types of fish cakes

10 types of japanese fish cakes

These are arranged without breadcrumbs or hitters and are made with a blend of cooked fish, potatoes, and often eggs framed into patties or sometimes fried.

As fish has primarily been a significant dietary part of individuals living close to oceans, streams, and lakes, numerous local categories of fishcake have emerged.

Varieties can rely upon what sort of fish is utilized, how finely cleaved the fish is, the utilization of milk or water, the use of flour or potatoes, the deployment of eggs, egg whites, and the cooking strategy.

Categories of fish cake

Depending upon regional preferences and choices, fishcake ingredients have been classified into two categories such as:

Categories of fish cakes

Asian Style Fish cake

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

Fishcakes can be the mix of a paste made of grounded fish and surimi. The resulting mixture is then molded into shape and left to cool.

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

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

European Style Fish cake

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

In some cases, it is covered in breadcrumbs or hitter. These fishcakes are slashed or minced fish, blended in with potato, egg, and flour with seasonings of onions, pepper, and herbs.

What is Japanese Fishcake?

The common name for a fishcake in Japan is Kamaboko. Kamaboko is a kind of Japanese fishcake produced using the meat of a few sorts of fresh fish or processed white fish called surimi.

It is simple and convenient to make and is enjoyed by almost every Japanese individual.

Fresh fish is squashed into a blend, some flavoring is included, and afterward, it is molded and cooked.

It is normally framed into a cube-like shape or cylindrical type shape like the naruto kamaboko and afterward steamed in wooden baskets until completely cooked and firm.

It can be framed into numerous different shapes and sizes too and can likewise be cooked by boiling, searing, or deep-frying it.

It tends to be served chilled, in a noodle dish, in a hot soup, or an assortment of different ways.

History of Japanese fishcake

There is a history behind how Kamaboko was made. Although there is no concrete evidence of that, it is said that it started in the eighth century during the Heian period.

An outstanding story expresses that Kamaboko was first served at a festive dinner committed to a Japanese priest.

Since it was just the start of making Kamaboko, it was at first simply fish meat that was grounded 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 as Kamaboko.

It was in the year 1865 that the retailing fish organization by the name of Suzuhiro began delivering Kamaboko.

While the market at first just served in 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 fishcake?

Despite its wonderful taste, it is loaded with several medical advantages which are listed below.

Texture of fishcake

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 fishcake just as the white one is regularly offered at a memorial and for special seasons, as in the Japanese culture, the two basic colors are considered to bring good luck.

10 types of Japanese fishcake

Red Kamaboko

Red kamaboko fishcake

It is one of the most fundamental Japanese fishcakes and is enjoyed with soups like ramen and soba.

Even though it is alluded to as red, it has pinkish shade. This kind of kamaboko is steamed on a little wood board.

They often come together with white kamaboko, often even in the same roll.

White Kamaboko

White japanese kamaboko fish cake

It is second in prominence to red kamaboko; it is all white in shading and is steamed.

Different varieties of this kamaboko are correspondingly steamed.

However, then the highest point of the tube-shaped fishcake is broiled to make marginally brilliant dark colored outside.

Also read: is anchovy sauce the same as fish sauce and can I replace them?

Kani Kamaboko

Kani kamaboko imitation crab surimi

It is famously alluded to as imitation crab yet seems to be, a kind of fishcake that is made of white fish and prepared with the fluids of crabs.

Kani Kamaboko is prominently used in westernized sushi as a filling in California Sushi Rolls.

Naruto Kamaboko

naruto kamaboko fish cakes

It is acclaimed for its lovely pink and white spirals and twirls and the outside that has minor edges.

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

Narutomaki Fishcake is frequently utilized as a garnish in soup, like ramen, or sushi.

Naruto refers to the Naruto Strait on Awaji Island.

Sasa Kamaboko

Sasa kamaboko grilled fishcakes

It is viewed as a claim to fame of the area. The fishcakes are molded like the leaves of bamboo and are frequently served toasted to give a warm cooked flavor.

Sasa kamaboko is normally appreciated alone and is a well-known dish when people visit the Miyagi region.

Konbumaki Kamaboko

Japanese new year konbumaki kamaboko

These are fresh cakes that have an extremely slight layer of Kelp inside. To make the extravagant structure, the fishcake blend is moved with the kelp to make a whirl when the fishcake is sliced.

This sort of Konbumaki fishcake is marginally more expensive than red or white fishcake and is regularly served on special events like New Year as a major aspect of the Osechi Ryori feast.

Decorated Kamaboko

decorated kamaboko

It is a steamed cylindrical-shaped fish cake, and when cut open, a beautiful pattern emerges with, for example, trees, blossoms, many-sided kanji or other creative creatures.

Special Kamaboko is frequently filled in as a feature of Osechi, Ryori, or Japanese New Year’s food.

Chikuwa

Chikuwa kamaboko fish cake

It is a flame-broiled fishcake with a grilled fish taste to it.

It is molded into a long, tube-shaped cylinder that is hollow within. Chikuwa is frequently added to Japanese stew namely oden and utilized as a fixing in dishes.

Chikuwa grilled fish cake

Hanpen

Fluffy or fried Japanese Hanpen fish cake

It is a white, triangular fishcake that is a blend of white fish and Nagaimo Japanese mountain yam, making it lighter and fluffier.

What adds to the remarkable fleecy surface of Hanpen is that this fishcake is boiled rather than steamed.

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.

It’s also often fried (after already being pre-prepared and boiled) to be served as a side dish.

Satsuma-age

Satsuma age japanese deep-fried fish cakes

It is enjoyed in the southern part of Japan. It is like a plain cake made with straightforward white fish or blended in with different fixings, for example, vegetables or fish to make various kinds of Satsuma-age.

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

How do you eat Kamaboko fishcakes?

According to Japanese people, if you want to enjoy your fishcakes, it is basic knowledge that you observe the temperature just as the thickness of the cuts as this will decide how much you’ll enjoy the snacks.

If you plan on eating the fishcake as it ought to be, you should focus on a thickness of twelve millimeters as this will help take in a lot of the flavors that can be enjoyed by eating the right type of cakes.

If you don’t think you’re going to eat them as a stand-alone dish or snack, you might want to match them with different ingredients from the meal while and maybe go for a thin piece.

You could even take a piece that’s three millimeters thick. With a cut this thin, you can without much of a stretch use Kamaboko instead of, say, bacon, and you get great results.

And if you are hoping to appreciate the flavor while eating the cakes by themselves, go for a thick cut i.e. fifteen millimeters. You could then be able to add them to a plate of mixed greens without losing any of the flavors.

Concerning the temperature, you have to remember that the fishcakes contain plenty of proteins.

So adding an excessive amount of heat to cooking the Kamaboko won’t just denature the proteins but it will also ruin its crusty surface, and the cakes you’d get will be hard and also tough to chew.

Therefore, it is somehow necessary to keep the fishcakes at room temperature.

Fishcake in Ramen

Ramen is a Japanese dish that comprises 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 fishcake that is an exemplary addition to ramen.

It is made by wrapping white fish paste hued with red food coloring with underlying fish paste into a compressed paste.

The fish paste is then cooked with a seam so it cements and can be sliced into thin cuts.

Fishcake recipe

Kamaboko can be very easily made.

The ingredients required are essentially fish blend with a limited quantity of finely chopped vegetables, flavoring, and cornflour to tie the fish meat together.

At times, not even vegetables are incorporated. The vegetables blended into the fish paste can differ and you can utilize whatever you have in your home.

Unlike regular western-style fishcakes, Japanese fishcakes don’t utilize flour or pureed potatoes to tie the fish together.

Other than these vegetables, you can also use peas, green beans, mushrooms, shallots, and additionally lotus roots. They all should be chopped and grounded.

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

Variations of Japanese fishcakes

Did you know that there are two types of Naruto?

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.

Aka Naruto Maki 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 three 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 – recipe

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 fitting even for those who’ve never attempted to make fish cakes.

Shoyu ramen with narutomaki

Narutomaki Japanese Fish Cake Recipe

Joost Nusselder
Narutomaki is a Japanese fish cake with a rubbery and chewy texture, shaped like a small log. 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, called 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 with water about halfway.
  • Bring it to a simmer then place a steamer basket over it.
  • To prepare the fish, remove and skin and de-bone the fish.
  • Wash the fish in a colander and also remove any fat and remaining bones.
  • Squeeze out excess water using your hands.
  • Now chop the fish into smaller pieces then place them in a food processor.
  • Add the 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. Place aside.
  • Line your counter with plastic cling 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 the pretty thin.
  • Now put the fish cake roll into the steamer and let it steam for 15 minutes.
  • Once ready, let it cool, and 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 the Naruto is 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 has a ridged exterior edge and a pretty pink center; thus, 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 narutomaki Japanese fish cake

Is narutomaki Japanese fish cake healthy?

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

In general, a well-made Kamaboko is full of health benefits. It is 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 is one disadvantage.

Most of the cheaper store-bought Kamaboko and Narutomaki is high in sodium and contains MSG.

If you want healthy options, look for higher-priced fish cakes 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 buy it from is Asian grocery stores or eat it at ramen restaurants.

Can you make Narutomaki at home?

It is uncommon for Japanese people to make Narutomaki at home because it’s an elaborate dish.

Making it requires many steps and specialty tools.

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

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

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.