For seafood lovers, there is a Japanese delicacy that comes in many forms and must not be missed.
Fish cake, fish loaves, fish paste or fish sausages. Baked, fried, poached or steamed. No matter what you call it or how you prepare it, there’s no denying that kamaboko is one of Japan’s favourite fishy snacks. Well-known and loved across the country, kamaboko is highly regarded for its taste, texture, nutritional value and versatility. Dating back to the 14th century and originating as a minced catfish delicacy, kamaboko has evolved into a delicious addition to both everyday meals and special occasions. From street food stalls to holiday dinner tables, kamaboko is a staple in Japan and neighbouring regions like South Korea and Hawaii.
Kamaboko, or surimi (literally “ground meat”) as it is commonly called, consists of various kinds of fresh white fish that are filleted and pounded or puréed into a paste before being combined with egg whites, fish sauce, salt, sugar and sake. Shaped into medium-sized, often D-shaped loaves, the paste can then be baked, deep-fried, poached, steamed or added as an ingredient to hot soups and noodle dishes. Low in fat but high in protein, minerals and essential amino acids, kamaboko is a welcome addition to any diet and has even been shown to have anti-oxidative effects.
If you’re planning a trip to Japan and have yet to try kamaboko, there’s no shortage of places and ways to taste it. Kamaboko is commonly found in Japanese supermarkets and restaurants. As an added bonus, it’s often artfully decorated with unique and intricate patterns. Red and white kamaboko are common in the setting of a holiday or celebratory meal, since red has long been considered a lucky colour according to samurai custom.
Outside Japan, kamaboko has been adopted as well. In South Korea, it’s called eomuk and you’ll find it sold from street carts, boiled or deep-fried on a skewer and served with ketchup or mustard as a late-night snack. In Hawaii, pink kamaboko is popular and readily available in grocery stores. It’s also a key ingredient in saimin, an Asian fusion noodle soup native to Hawaii.
Finally, no education in kamaboko would be complete without a visit to the Suzuhiro Kamaboko Museum in Odawara, just outside of Tokyo in Kanagawa Prefecture. Plan a day trip and explore the museum, restaurants and shops (featuring adorable kamaboko-themed children’s books and toys) before diving into a hands-on kamaboko cooking class taught by masters of the craft.
Kamaboko can be enjoyed any day of the year but particularly on November 15, the date officially designated as Kamaboko Day. Go the traditional route and steam your loaves on wooden planks before gathering with family and friends and serving kamaboko chilled with savoury dipping sauces. There’s no other fish quite like it.