Hanpen (a white, square shaped fish paste) (半片)
Hanpen is kneaded fish cake made of fish such as suketo cod (Alaska Pollock) mixed with grated yam with seasonings, which is then made into thin squares or half moon shapes and boiled.
Often shark such as yoshikiri-zame (blue shark), ao-zame (Shortfin mako shark), onaga-zame (Thresher shark) or Billfish are used for Hanpen. However, hanpen made from shark is considered the best quality since it is hard to obtain fresh shark nowadays.
It has soft smooth texture and it absorbs sauce very well. It is used for stew, deep fry, grilled dish with butter, ingredients for oden (a Japanese dish containing all kinds of ingredients cooked in a special broth of soy sauce, sugar, sake, etc.) or cooked with soup.
How to cook Hanpen
A popular cooking method is to mix 400g fish paste, 100g yam, one teaspoon of salt and kobu seaweed stock all together, make the mixture into a flat shape, then boil it for ten minutes.
The origin of the name
The name came from the person who first made hanpen, who was a chef in Suruga Province named Hanpei, or there is another theory that it was called Hanpen since it was shaped into half moon shape with the top of Japanese soup bowl.
It was originally eaten only in Kanto and other surrounding area and had strong local influence, however after Kibun Food Inc of Tokyo started selling it as 'Kibun's Hanpen' to all other areas in Japan, this white Hanpen became well known as Hanpen.
In Shizuoka, blue/gray colored Hanpen, commonly called 'black Hanpen,' made of sardines or other fish is recognized as 'Hanpen' and white Hanpen is called 'white Hanpen' to distinguish them from each other. The origin of 'Hanpen' reminds us of this black Hanpen, whether the origin of the name is from Suruga Province or from the half moon shape.
In Aichi and Hiroshima Prefectures, deep fried fish paste in general is called 'Hanpen.'
This is often confused with what it is called Satsuma-age (fried fish cake) by people from other prefectures. The aforementioned white Hanpen is called 'Kibun's Hanpen' to distinguish it from the others. On a related note, Kibun Food Co., Ltd Inc was the first company to make bulk production of 'Hanpen' possible, and no other company was selling Hanpen until Kibun Food's patent expired.
In the Kansai area, there is a kneaded fish paste product made of white fish such as conger pike, and it is called Anpei. Since it looks similar, it is often confused with Hanpen, but this is rather close to shinjo (a kind of kamaboko, steamed white fish cake, mixed with yam) and is a type of steamed Kamaboko.
In Kanji characters Hanpen is written 半片, 半平, 半弁, or 鱧餅.