Free U.S Shipping on Orders Over $50


narutomaki header image

Ever since ramen became popular around the world as a mainstream meal, people have been arguing about the most signature topping. Some say it’s chashu and some call ajitsuke the essential topping. If you ask us, narutomaki is a super contender for the position!

To back that claim up, we took a deep dive into the history of narutomaki, what makes it so good, plus how we can make the best of those delicious ramen fish cakes in delicious immi ramen

Let’s jump right in. 

History of the topping

Japanese cuisine has several varieties of fish cakes, some of which have existed for 1,000 years or so. What we know as narutomaki is a bit more recent though. 

According to some sources, narutomaki was invented in the 1800’s and named after the whirlpools in the Naruto Strait. A detailed description of the ramen fish cakes is in the Edo period text “Konnyaku Hyaku chin”. 


According to the text, people ate narutomaki wrapped in a variety of wrappings, including tofu skin and kelp. 

There is some reason to believe that narutomaki is even older than that. There’s a mention of “naruto” in a book from the Heian period of 794 to 1185. While it’s not clear whether the book was referring to narutomaki as we know it today, it might just be an older variant. 

Narutomaki is basically a type of kamaboko (Japanese for “fish cake”). The classic kamaboko is also common today with its signature arched semicircle shape (the precursor to the narutomaki spiral). 

There are multiple types of kamaboko including:

  • Steamed: Narutomaki and ita kamaboko
  • Boiled: Tsumire, hanpen
  • Fried: Jakoten, tsuke age, and gansu

Imitation crab and fish sausage are also popular kamaboko alternatives but narutomaki is easily the most recognizable of all. 

Why narutomaki pairs well with ramen

Ramen is just as big a cultural icon as it is a culinary one! However, at the center of the dish is a distinct savory umami flavor that’s become synonymous with all kinds of ramen around the world. 

Considering the flavor roots of ramen, it makes sense for narutomaki to be a natural pairing. 

If we dive deeper though, we find that there are 3 major reasons why narutomaki tastes so great with ramen. These are:

Texture: A huge part of the narutomaki experience is the firm, bouncy, almost springy texture. Most steamed fish cakes have a tendency to firm up during the steaming process. Plus, narutomaki is made by compressing tightly to form the signature rolls. This results in a chewy texture that complements other toppings such as kikurage and tofu. 

Flavor: The flavor of narutomaki is typical of steamed kamaboko, in that it’s just the right amount of fishy with an umami kick throughout. The flavor experience starts with the aroma of flaky white fish, followed by a mild umami that remains till the end of the chew. The aftertaste is not significant, which is great because it lets you taste the other elements of ramen. 

Narutomaki is also an amazing flavor-carry, meaning it takes on some of the flavor of the dish it’s served in. Depending on how you cook your ramen, you can infuse some of the broth into your narutomaki for even tastier results. 

Visuals: Let’s face it, narutomaki is cute! That look of the pink spiral surrounded by the ridged white circle is highly recognizable! Plus, the Naruto anime series has made it all the more popular in other parts of the world outside of Japan. In fact, if you search for “Naruto food”, you’ll find tons of images and references to this delicious topping. 

In addition to the above, narutomaki provides a nice balance to the dish in terms of mouth feel. If you’re using toppings that break apart easily (chashu, ajitsuke tamago, etc.), narutomaki feels great during the chew due to its bouncy, longer-lasting nature. 

What is narutomaki made out of

The basic ingredients in narutomaki are white fish meat and egg whites. 

The fish has to have a firm texture when raw and should flake easily when cooked. Examples of this include cod, Alaskan haddock, blue whiting, and silver white croaker. That said, because it’s made on a larger scale, commercially available narutomaki may have meat from several different species mixed together. 

The main binders used are cornstarch and egg white. This creates an almost doughy texture that’s easy to mold into various shapes. 

What does narutomaki taste like

Most narutomaki tastes like the fish it’s made out of. However, adding salt, sugar, mirin, and sake gives it a very savory taste that’s easily detectable when eaten on its own. 

Because it’s steamed, narutomaki retains most of the original flavors of the ingredients. Homemade narutomaki may taste different from the store bought version though. 

This is due to proprietary ingredient blends being different in store bought and homemade varieties. They’re all equally delicious though, especially as a topping for delicious immi ramen!

Which ramen broth pairs best with narutomaki

Because it’s made of seafood, narutomaki pairs best with either mild seafood-based ramen or simpler flavors such as the singular saltiness of shio ramen.

That’s not to say it’s any less good with other ramen flavors. Much like other toppings, narutomaki pairs with different flavors for different reasons. 

For example, the tanginess of soy sauce in shoyu ramen complements the umami depth of the white fish paste in narutomaki. On the other hand, the salt in shio broth simply intensifies the existing fishy flavor. 

Tonkotsu ramen is interesting because it has a distinct meaty flavor base which offsets the taste of fish. We found that adding toppings such as enoki mushrooms and green onions acts as a palette cleanser during the chew. This lets us separate both flavors while chewing and enjoy each one individually. 

Lastly, miso ramen is a complex mix of earthy and umami which, when paired with narutomaki, creates a wonderful multi-layered flavor experience. This one’s ideal for fancy meals with lots of topping choices. 

If we talk about which immi ramen flavor pairs best with narutomaki, it’s a three-way tie! 

This is because the most natural narutomaki pairing would be with the tangy goodness of Tom Yum “Shrimp” flavored immi ramen

However, the bold yet complex heat of Spicy “Beef” flavored immi ramen really benefits from a chewy texture with milder flavor.  

But then we have to talk about how narutomaki adds a lovely meat-based umami to the existing earthy umami of Black Garlic “Chicken” flavored immi ramen

What is the difference between narutomaki and kamaboko

Narutomaki is actually a type of kamaboko (steamed fish cake). Both have been consumed as a topping, ingredient, and snack. Plus, back in the day they would have been interchangeable. 

Japanese fish cakes have come a long way since then and today there are around a dozen varieties, all of which are slightly different. 

The main differences between narutomaki and kamaboko fall into two areas. 


Narutomaki has more binding agent (cornstarch) in it than kamaboko. This results in a more doughy and powdery mouthfeel and milder flavor than kamaboko. 

Depending on the brand of narutomaki and where you buy it from, the fish flavor may be stronger or it may be offset by the umami of the sugar, salt, mirin, and sake combo. 

Kamaboko focuses more on the fish meat and is not as springy as narutomaki. This is why it’s more common as a snack or the primary aspect in a meal. 


The shape is the biggest differentiator between kamaboko and narutomaki. 

While the former usually comes in a semicircular arch shape, narutomaki resembles cogs or gears with crimped edges. This shape gives off a more whimsical vibe and often looks better in a bowl with other different colored toppings. 

Preparation style and region where they’re more common

Niigata prefecture is the biggest producer of kamaboko in Japan. It’s commonly eaten there as a snack alongside alcoholic beverages and other finger-food. 

The majority of narutomaki production happens in Shizuoka prefecture from where it’s exported around Japan and the rest of the world. 

clock clock iconcutlery cutlery iconflag flag iconfolder folder iconinstagram instagram iconpinterest pinterest iconfacebook facebook iconprint print iconsquares squares iconheart heart iconheart solid heart solid icon


  • Author: Kevin Lee


  • 6 oz of white fish meat (boneless and skinless)
  • 1 teaspoon mirin
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sake
  • 3 grams cornstarch
  • 3 grams salt
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 drop of red food coloring


  1. Wash and towel-dry the fish meat at least half an hour prior to cooking
  2. Put all ingredients except food coloring into a food processor and make a fine paste
  3. Cool the mixture in the fridge for 10-15 minutes
  4. Separate ⅓ and ⅔ of the mixture so that you end up with two parts
  5. Mix the food coloring into the smaller portion of the fish mixture
  6. Put the remaining two thirds of the mixture onto plastic wrap (on top of a bamboo bind), creating an 8×6 inch sheet
  7. Layer the colored fish paste on top of it, creating an 8×5 inch sheet (the white fish paste sheet should stick out from two sides)
  8. Roll the sheets into each other while peeling the plastic wrap away as you roll
  9. Wrap the rolled mix in the bamboo bind at the bottom
  10. Steam the roll inside the bamboo bind for 18-20 minutes
  11. Let the roll cool down completely before serving