Kamaboko is a delicious Japanese fish cake made from various kinds of fish. It is one of the most famous souvenirs of Sendai (capital city of the Tohoku region) and is often sold in beautiful packaging easily found at various stores around the city and Sendai station. The price of these packages varies from around 1,000-1,500 yen each (~8 pieces). Kamaboko can be eaten either on its own as a snack or cooked in other dishes, like Oden (but we usually eat it as a snack).
How is Kamaboko made?
The first time that I was introduced to and tried tasting Kamaboko, I was a little worried that it must be made from borax as the texture is unique, soft and bounced like a meat ball! However, the Kamaboko of Tohoku are made from all natural ingredients including fresh white fish, egg whites, salt, sugar, fish sauce and Japanese sake. Although no artificial colorings, seasonings or preservatives are used, Kamaboko last for a long time due to their unique production method. Now, let’s see how it is made:
The first process is to fillet the fish (remove skin and bones). Then, clean the fish meat to remove fat and blood to aid the preservation period of the Kamaboko. After that, pound the cleaned fish meat with salt and add seasonings. The length of time taken to pound the fish meat depends on the kinds of fish used and needs to be determined by well-experienced craftsmen (same goes for the judgement of how much salt should be added). This process is highly important since it is the key to giving Kamaboko its unique texture and delicious taste. The next process is to shape the fish paste into wooded boards for steaming. This process is also important for the taste and texture and, like the pounding process, can only be perfected by specialised craftsmen with over 20 years of experience.
After learning how Kamaboko is made, I had a deeper appreciation for the elaborated process and almost felt guilty about my initial skepticism that they were composed of chemical agents. In addition to its delicious taste and unique texture, Kamaboko is actually really good for your health because it consists of five to seven types of steamed fish meat containing high levels of protein and minerals. Although there is a little fat included, it is outweighed by the benefits of the protein and minerals.
Recommended Kamaboko shops in Sendai:
There are 3 main places to buy and eat Kamaboko in Sendai.
1. Sendai station: There are a large number of souvenir shops which sell not only Kamaboko but many other famous souvenirs and local delicacies of Sendai. So you are free to choose and buy all the souvenirs you need in just one location – the 2nd floor of Sendai station. Each shop also has tasting samples (just to be sure)!!
2. Abe Kamabokoten at Clis Road (Ichibancho): Ichibancho shopping arcade is the largest shopping arcade in Sendai (and Tohoku) comprised of tons of shops, varying from cheap 100 yen shops to high-end fashion, an Apple store, countless Japanese restaurants and run of the mill shoes and clothing stores. Abe Kamabokoten shop is located inside the arcade at Ichibancho near AEON shopping mall and on the opposite of the road from the GUCCI shop. Here, you can not only buy Kamaboko, but you can also eat Hyotan-age, a Kamaboko fritter ball, for only 200 yen.
Although the ball looks thick and heavy, the fried batter is crispy outside, and soft inside. Combined with Kamaboko and sauce, it’s a delicious combination – one is simply never enough! Near this shop, you can also visit the largest Adidas shop in Sendai, drug stores, Kaldi foreign-food store, 100-yen shops and Aeon shopping mall.
3. Matsushima: Matsushima is a famous city in the Tohoku area where you can enjoy a lot of fresh seafood, including oysters, sashimi, scallops and so on, and a 50-minute boat cruise around Matsushima bay (one of the top 3 scenic view of Japan). Here, there are about 2 or 3 Kamaboko shops where you can enjoy grilling Kamaboko by yourself at the shop.
4. Sendai Airport: You can also buy Kamaboko at Sendai airport, but there are less choices available, in only two or three shops that are located there. Anyway, one thing that you can buy at Sendai airport, but not at Sendai station is the souvenirs from Mt.Zao. I personally recommend you to try Zao creamy spread which have various tastes, like blueberry, strawberry and kiwi. It’s delicious that I can’t explain the taste and texture in words and I confirm that it’s definitely worth trying!