Kamaboko, whose main ingredient is pasted whitefish such as codfish or walleye pollack, is made by mincing whitefish meat, adding salt, heating and turning it into a gel on a wooden board (wood types such as fir or Abies veitchii, which have no odor, are preferred). The kamaboko like kanikama (crab-flavored kamaboko), which is made by imitating real foods in forms and textures, etc., is called 'fumi kamaboko' (flavored kamaboko).
How to eat it
Kamaboko is a cooked food that is usually sliced and eaten on its own. Some people eat it by dipping it in soy sauce and wasabi (green horseradish paste). This is called 'ita-wasa' (kamaboko with wasabi) and is served in an izakaya (Japanese-style pub) or a sobaya (buckwheat-noodle restaurant). As it simply requires slicing and is fuss-free, it's often served for breakfast. Kamaboko, slightly toasted and browned, has a slightly different flavor than the raw form; it tastes good together with beverages and is sometimes put into a chawan-musi (steamed-egg hotchpotch) as an embellishment.
How to make it
For its ingredients, kamaboko uses walleye pollack, drum, Nibe croaker, chicken grunt, big smelt-whiting, sablefish, pike conger, shark, golden thread and so on.
The kamaboko with a wooden board uses only the white-meat part of whitefish, eschewing the red-meat part or the meat that's rust-colored due to blood. The fish fillet is washed with running water, and the blood and fat are removed. This fish fillet is ground with a millstone, and sugar, salt, mirin (sweet cooking rice wine) and egg white are added to it and then kneaded together (adding salt causes it to become sticky by itself, but sometimes food additives such as thickening agents are added for easier molding).
In making the kamaboko with a wooden board, spatular-shaped instruments called 'tetsuki-boucho' (a kind of kitchen knife) are used in order to put the fish-meat paste on the 'kamaboko-ita' (the wooden board for kamaboko) in the form of a semicircle. Today, most of the kamaboko sold at mass retailers is automatically molded on conveyor-belt machinery. It is then heated by steaming or roasting.
It is given one of various names according to the way it's heated, as follows:
Musi kamaboko (steamed kamaboko)
The fish-meat paste is heated by steaming.
Yakinuki kamaboko (roasted kamaboko)
The fish-meat paste is roasted from under the wooden board without being steamed.
In some areas it's called 'yakitoshi kamaboko.'
Some kamaboko, which is molded without putting its fish-meat paste on the wooden board, is heated by boiling or frying as well as steaming and roasting. Boiled kamaboko is called 'hanpen' or 'tsumire,' and the fried version is called 'Satsuma-age' (in western Japan it's 'tenpura'). In the broad sense, these are categorized as kamaboko.
The texture of kamaboko, called 'ashi' (foot), determines its commercial value. This 'ashi' relates to the S-S bond (disulfide bond) in myosin, which makes up the muscle fiber in fish meat.
Generally, kamaboko is made by putting the fish-meat paste on the wooden board ('ita,' 'kamaboko- ita' or 'kara-ita') in the form of a semicircle, but the products vary from one province to another.
Saiku kamaboko (ornamental kamanoko)
This type of kamaboko is the one that is molded in the form of 'tai' (sea bream) or 'mizuhiki' (ornamental strings) and so on. It is made as a 'hikidemono' (a gift given at a ceremonial function such as a wedding).
The authentic ones are full-sized in the form of 'tai.'
Additionally, they're made in the form of 'sho-tiku-bai' (pine, bamboo and plum) as auspicious objects. Saiku kamoboko in the Oyashiro region of Shimane Prefecture has a long tradition and is famous for the 'hikidemono' used for weddings. The ones in Toyama Prefecture and Maizuru City are also famous.
It is a general term for the kamaboko made in Toyama Prefecture. This type of kamoboko is made by rolling the fish-meat paste in the form of a sheet like a 'dasimaki-tamago' (soup-flavored rolled egg), but the one with a wooden board is very rare. There are varieties such as the one that rolls 'konbu or kobu' (kelp) into the product called 'kobu-maki' (kelp roll) or the one called 'aka-maki' (red roll) similar to 'naruto-maki' (naruto roll).
Sasa kamoboko (bamboo-grass kamaboko)
Originally, it was called 'konoha kamoboko' (leaf kamaboko), 'te-no-hira kamaboko' (palm kamaboko), 'hira kamaboko' (flat kamaboko) or 'sita kamaboko' (tongue kamaboko) according to its shape. The Abe Kamaboko Company, which had started a business in Ichiban-cho, Sendai City in 1935, called it 'sasa kamaboko' after the family crest 'take ni suzume' (sparrows with bamboo) of the Date clan, the former lord of the Sendai Domain; subsequently, the name was gradually unified in the area of the former Sendai Domain. Today, the shortened form 'sasa kama' is also comprehensible.
As it achieved a considerable market position as a souvenir sold at Sendai Station in Sendai City, which was a Shiten-Keizai toshi (an economically developed city where the branch firms or subsidiary firms converge), it is regarded nationally as a 'local product in Sendai City'; however, when considering the origin of the name (see 'Sendai') it's a 'local product of the former Sendai Domain.'
Thus the level of production is also high in Kesennuma City, Ishinomaki City, Shiogama City, which has Tokutei Daisanshu Gyoko (a specific third-kind fishing port or nationally important fishing port), or the seaports on the Pacific side in Miyagi Prefecture. Some companies now also use the trade name 'te-no-hira kamaboko' in order to differentiate themselves from Abe Kamaboko.
In the current production process, fish-meat paste is roughly molded in the wooden or iron frame in the form of a bamboo leaf, placed on a bamboo skewer and roasted; however, as a gift item the paste is delicately molded by hand.
Yaki kamaboko (roasted kamaboko)
This type of kamaboko is common in the Kansai region. It's a kind of musi kamaboko (steamed kamaboko), which isn't as thick but has a browned surface. It's sometimes called a 'yaki-ita kamaboko' (roasted kamaboko with a wooden board). This is different from the previously mentioned 'yakinuki kamaboko' (roasted kamaboko).
Kezuri kamaboko (scraped kamaboko)
This type of kamaboko is eaten in the south Iyo region around Yawatahama City. Originally, in the prewar era, because the kamaboko didn't keep well, people dried it as a means of preservation and would scrape off portions of it to eat.
It used to be made by rolling the paste around the bamboo stick in a tubular form.
As the shape was similar to the ear of 'gama' (cattail), it is said to have been called 'kamaboko.'
Removing the bamboo stick from the paste, one can see the current form of chikuwa (fish sausage in the form of a bamboo cylinder).
Because the 'ita kamaboko' molded on the wooden board appeared later, it was distinctly called 'chikuwa kamaboko.'
However, while the original one lost the name 'kamaboko' and came to be called simply 'chikuwa,' 'ita kamaboko' lost the 'ita' and came to be called 'kamaboko.'
There is the description of the kamaboko placed on a bamboo skewer, which was served when FUJIWARA no Tadazane held a feast to celebrate his move to a new house in 1115 in 'Ruijuzatsuyosho' (the tome that dealt with traditional ceremonies, costumes and so on), written in the Heian period. The industry group designates November 15 (1115) as Kamaboko Day because, currently, the date is regarded as the oldest date on which kamaboko appeared in the literature.
Whitefish was expensive, so kamaboko was considered a delicacy. Sometimes it is used as a gift item or in 'osechi ryori' (New Year's dishes). Allegedly, it was a great favorite of Hideyori TOYOTOMI and was served at Nobunaga ODA's last supper in Honno-ji Temple. It is said that kamaboko was first sold as a commercial product during the Edo period or later.
Miyagi Prefecture produces the largest amount of kamaboko in Japan, accounting for ten percent of the market share nationwide (according to the Promotion Department of Food Industry in Miyagi Prefecture). Miyagi Prefecture also leads the nation in the production of 'yaki chikuwa' (roasted chikuwa) and 'age kamaboko' (fried kamaboko). Moreover, Miyagi Prefecture leads Japan in the consumption of kamaboko. This is due to the cultural influence of the specialty food 'sasa kamaboko' in Miyagi Prefecture. From an industrial viewpoint, as in the list of fishing ports in Japan, there is the influence of the large-scale Tokutei Daisansyu Gyoko such as the fishing ports of Kesennuma, Ishinomaki and Shiogama, as well as the development of related marine-product processing industries.
The company that produces the largest amount of kamaboko is Kibun Foods, Inc., located in Tokyo City.
Walleye pollack is used in the production of fish-meat paste.
Age kamaboko (fried kamaboko)
Nigata City or Joetsu City, Nigata Prefecture
Sendai City, Ishinomaki City, Natori City, Shiogama City, Kesennuma City, Watari-cho or Onagawa-cho, Miyagi Prefecture
Age kamaboko and sasa kamaboko
Onahama, Iwaki City, is Japan's top producer of ita kamaboko.
Odawara City, Kanagawa Prefecture
Yaizu City, Shizuoka Prefecture
Naruto-maki (Naruto roll), etc.
Maki kamaboko (rolled kamaboko)
Suruga City, Fukui Prefecture
Maizuru City, Kyoto Prefecture
Anago kamaboko (sea-eel kamaboko)
Kurashiki City, Okayama Prefecture
Fukuyama City, Hiroshima Prefecture
Hiroshima City, Hiroshima Prefecture
Anago chikuwa (see-eel chikuwa) and kani-flavored kamaboko (crab-flavored kamaboko)
Onomichi City, Hiroshima Prefecture
Tobiuo chikuwa (flying-fish chikuwa)
Nagato City and Hagi City, Yamaguchi Prefecture
Yawatahama City, Ehime Prefecture
Jakoten (a kind of fried kamaboko)
Uwajima City, Ehime Prefecture
Ita kamaboko and Jakoten
Yatsushiro City, Kumamoto Prefecture
Unzen City, Nagasaki Prefecture
Satsuma-age (a kind of fried kamaboko)
So-called 'kamatoto' (kamatoto-buri, or feigning kamatoto) refers to the person (especially a woman) who tries to look cute by pretending to be ignorant or naïve, where he/she sees kamaboko and asks, 'Is this fish (toto)?'
It is said to originate from the prostitutes in the Edo period, pointing at kamaboko, who would ask whether it was fish, pretending to be naive.
The railroad crossing in which the rail tracks are placed at a higher or lower level than the surrounding area, is called a 'kamaboko-gata (style) railroad crossing,' because the shapes are extremely swollen or depressed.
The arch-like barracks set up in military garrisons and so on are sometimes called 'kamaboko barracks' due to their resemblance to kamaboko.
Audio components that emphasize the midrange frequencies over high or low frequencies in their designs are called 'kamaboko-gata' (kamaboko style). Their sound design is opposite to that of so-called 'Don Shari' ('don' refers to low-pitched sound and 'shari' refers to high-pitched sound).
It also refers to the security vehicles of riot police. That is because the early vehicles were shaped like ita kamaboko.
In bowling, when the lane oil is spread thickly on the central lane (slippery) and thinly toward the edges of the lane (not slippery), it's called 'kamaboko-gata' (kamaboko style).