Narutomaki A Most Unusual Ramen Ingredient

Narutomaki is a type of cured and minced fish paste, also known as surimi, which is a type of kamaboko. Narutomaki, also called Naruto, is immediately identifiable by its swirling pink center and jagged edges. This cake goes on top of a ramen dish, but it’s a very healthy, delicious snack used in a variety of unconventional ways.

Where Narutomaki Comes From

The food takes its name after the whirlpools of the Naruto Strait in southern Japan. These sit between Shikoku and Awaji Island, which rest in the Seto Inland Sea. The food takes on the appearance of these pools, symbolizing their power and beauty.

Naruto whirlpools Naruto no Uzushio in the Naruto Strait, Tokushima, Japan

The Naruto Strait is very narrow, about 1.3 kilometers. Because of this, when the tide moves water from the Pacific into the Seto Inland, it produces an incredibly swift current. These currents form large whirlpools, the largest of which has a diameter of 20 meters. This phenomenon occurs twice a day.

The History of Narutomaki

Although a frequent topping for ramen dishes, Narutomaki was popular well before the introduction of ramen to Japanese culture by the Chinese in the 19th and 20th centuries. Since the Japanese already used Naruto in soba dishes, it seemed natural to include it on ramen.

Ramen with Narutomaki

No one really knows where this food began. Documented evidence of Naruto’s invention appears in the late 19th century. But even here, the text mentions it as an already-established style of kamaboko. Therefore, it came about at some unknown, earlier time.

Today’s Narutomaki

Today, 90% of Japan’s Narutomaki comes from the town of Yaizu in Shizuoka Prefecture. It’s the most delicious and sought-after in the world. It adds a splash of color which makes the contrast visually appealing. But Naruto can top other noodles like udon and soba or as an accompaniment for other dishes like dashi broth.

Udon noodles

Some people prefer it as deep-fried tempura or used as a protein-rich additive for salads and soups. You can even eat it alone on its own as a snack. Here, when paired with Siracha or other zesty sauce, it complements the flavor.

The Flavor and Texture of Narutomaki

They have a chewy, rubbery texture due to the fine paste after steaming. But it doesn’t have a fishy taste because of the thorough washing it undergoes. Many of the sauces and spices of ramen or other broth dishes mask any fishiness from the Naruto.

Narutomaki’s Nutritional Value

One cake is less than 70 calories with zero fat. The calories come from the proteins of the fish while a minuscule amount comes from carbohydrates. However, the sodium content is quite high, sitting at 165 mg. But it has 40 mg of potassium and a bit of calcium, about 2 mg.

Narutomaki’s Components

As with most other kamaboko, Naruto comprises white fish puree and egg whites. They blend together into a paste along with other seasonings. The paste is then separated into two halves. The first half flattens out into a rough rectangle on a sheet of bamboo or plastic wrap.

This is the white part of the roll. Then, the second half mixes with egg yolk or red food coloring to produce a distinct pink color. This pink paste layers over the white base, but the outermost edges remain uncovered.

These roll up into one cohesive log so that the pink layer spirals in the center. The roll sits in a steaming basket to solidify the shape.

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Where to Find Narutomaki

Any Japanese supermarket or Asian grocer will sell Narutomaki. They come pre-sliced in ready-to-make ramen kits with other ingredients like roasted pork, green onion and etc. But, if you can’t get to such a store, you can make your own.

Making Narutomaki at Home

As a matter of fact, it’s advisable to make it fresh and eat it immediately. Use the recipe below to make your own Narutomaki at home.

Japanese grocery store in Tokyo

Fresh White Fish

But, before delving into the details of making Narutomaki ensure you consider the ingredients. First and most important, the base protein will be fish. It should be white, non-fat filets that are not oily in any way. Wash the fish repeatedly to remove the odor along with bones, skin, and additional fat.

Always buy fresh fish, don’t use frozen. Frozen fish creates a texture that becomes dry and crumbly rather than the desired smooth and cream-like.

Getting the Jelly-Like Cake

Then you have to consider binders and seasonings for the Narutomaki. These will not only produce the jelly-like cake form but also lengthens its shelf life. Because the invention of this food occurred before refrigeration, it can keep for a little while.

Salt, Sugar and White Pepper

The only seasoning used in Naruto is salt and sugar with the option for a dash of white pepper. Anything else may cause the roll to expire more quickly.

Then, egg whites and mirin are the binders and add flavor. This gives the roll a sort of sour and sweet taste, characteristic of Japanese cuisine. The egg also develops the cake’s attractive sheen.

Mirin

Mirin is a type of rice wine popular in Japanese cooking. Because the ingredients are quite specific, it’s difficult to substitute them, especially the Mirin. Changing any of the ingredients will alter the basic nature and outcome of the dish.

The Recipe

Items Needed

  • Steamer
  • Plastic Cling Wrap
  • Food Processor
  • Flat Surface
  • Large Boiling Pot with a Steamer Basket
  • Mixing Bowl
  • Large Spoon

Ingredients

  • 7 oz white fish fillets
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp mirin
  • ½ tsp white pepper (optional)
  • 1 egg yolk OR red food coloring OR beet juice powder/liquid

Instructions

  1. Clean and cut the fish. Remove bones, skin, fat and cut into small chunks.
  2. Ensure the fish is dry before moving on.
  3. Put the egg white, salt, sugar, mirin and pepper (if using) into the food processor. Blend until well smooth.
  4. Boil water in the large boiling pot and put the steamer basket inside.
  5. Take ½ the paste and put it in the mixing bowl.
  6. Add a few drops of beet juice or red food coloring and blend well. It should have a medium to light pink appearance.
  7. On a large sheet of plastic wrap, spread the remainder of the paste to form a rectangle.
  8. Then spread the dyed paste over the top of that but leave a margin of white around the edges.
  9. Roll up lengthwise so the colored part swirls in the center of the log. Using a bamboo mat gives the jagged edges characteristic of Naruto, but this is optional.
  10. Wrap the log in yet another piece of plastic cling wrap and put it in the steamer basket.
  11. Allow this to cook for 15 minutes or until the roll is firm.
  12. Let this cool before removing the plastic wrap and slice into individual pieces.

Conclusion

Naruto has a long and mysterious history. Its shape and appearance symbolize the power of the Pacific Ocean and the whirlpools found in the Naruto Strait.

For an interesting variation and to liven up your next ramen dish, try a little Narutomaki with it. It’s delicious, nutritious, and provides a wonderful texture while giving you a direct experience with the sea.

MT Lee
My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.