What are the swirly things in ramen? Explaining Uzumaki food

                by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  September 19, 2021

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In ramen, a Japanese-based dish using soup broth, udon noodles, vegetables, and a meat/fish of your choice, there is often a small, white swirling thing that goes along with it.

It looks like a whirlpool and is often placed at the side of the dish. What is this swirly thing and what is it doing there?

What are the swirly things in ramen? Explaining Uzumaki food

Its name and function are pretty simple, it is a fish cake called Narutomaki, or Uzumaki if that’s what you prefer. The name, Narutomaki, has no direct English translation, but it is believed to have come from the Naruto whirlpools. Uzumaki comes from Naruto Uzumaki, the star of the Japanese anime Naruto. 

Why are narutomaki called Uzumaki food?

The Naruto whirlpools form off the coast of the Naruto Strait and often have a swirling pattern to them like those found on the Narutomaki.

And for those of you familiar with Japanese anime, yes, the main character from Naruto is named after these whirlpools.

Naruto’s last name is Uzumaki, and his favorite food, as the real fans know, is miso ramen. This is the reason the narutomaki on ramen has become associated with Naruto Uzumaki.

Uzumaki literally means “spiral” in Japanese, which might explain why Naruto likes Narutomaki so much.

However, some say that the reason the anime character is actually called Naruto, because the creator of the series, Masashi Kishimoto, really likes a bowl of ramen with narutomaki on top.

So there. The narutomaki fish cakes are so popular in Japan, that they made it deep into its pop culture, which in turn has made narutomaki even more popular.

Why are narutomaki on ramen?

But, enough about that, why do these little things go on ramen?

Well, this Uzumaki food is like the milkshake to the American Cheeseburger. It’s there as a treat to enjoy or to compliment the ramen as you eat them.

Narutomaki tastes like cured fish, as that’s what it’s made from. It is well known for its fishy taste, texture, and is mainly there to serve as a bright contrast to the otherwise green/brown ramen soup.

Believe it or not, many Japanese dishes also serve as works of art, so that might be one possible reason why they were introduced to ramen in the first place.

Another possible reason is that someone may have just well decided that narutomaki goes good with noodle soup, and it picked up from there.

Naruto, the fish cake, has been served on ramen ever since the end of the Edo period (think the late 1800s to early 1900s) and was also introduced to Chinese soba around the same time.

Also read: is ramen the same as rice noodles? Here’s how ramen’s made

Do you want narutomaki on your ramen?

Now, that raises the question, do you want it on your ramen?

Well, it mostly boils down to personal preference and your taste in fish.

But, let’s go over a few reasons as to whether or not you do, or do not, want narutomaki on your ramen.

Why you wouldn’t

Why you would

Also read: can I eat ramen after a wisdom tooth removal?

Conclusion

As said, narutomaki’s placement in your dish boils down mostly to personal preference. It can be good, it can be bad, or it can be non-existent in any ramen soup.

The best advice that can be given is that, if it is to your liking, then feel free to add it. If not, then don’t worry about it. So, yeah, what goes well for you, may not be so great for another person.

Narutomaki is something of a strange addition to the meal if only because while it’s not a bad thing to have, you’re not missing it if you don’t want it.

It’s a bit like a heated seat in a car, nice to have, but it can be annoying if you don’t want to have it.

Narutomaki, or Uzumaki as we now know, are well known for their bright color, taste, and their namesake in pop culture. Which probably boosted sales once the connection was made.

If you’re interested or pleased by its history, then go give it a try. If it is not to your liking, then don’t worry about it.

Read next: this is how you can reduce the amount of sodium in ramen

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.