Kamaboko Vs Naruto: What Are These Japanese Fish Cakes?

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  September 1, 2022

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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, or you’ll have just plain pink ones.

Let’s look at how they differ.

Narutomaki in ramen
Favorite Asian Recipes
Favorite Asian Recipes

You’ll probably 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:

  • Alaska pollock
  • Silver white croaker
  • Splendid alfonsino
  • Southern blue whiting

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.

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 vs kamaboko

Narutomaki (鳴門巻き/なると巻き) is 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, 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.

Conclusion

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.

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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.