History of Kamaboko

Empress Jingū and Kamaboko

Although kamaboko has been around for a long time, its precise date of origin is not really known. However, it is considered that the recipe of making kamaboko from fish meat is almost as old as the history of the Japanese race. There is even a legend crediting Empress Jingū as the inventor of kamaboko. According to the legend, she spread fish paste on a pike, grilled and ate it at Ikuta Shrine in Kobe.

First Mention in Writing - the Muromachi Period

The word kamaboko first appeared in writings in the mid-Muromachi era. According to the writings, there is a phrase stating that, “kamaboko is made to resemble the hoko of gama (cattail),” and it is considered that the name kamaboko was inspired by the image of gama (cattail) spikes (or ho in Japanese) that grow by the riverside. Furthermore, as the word kamaboko appears in different writings from around that time, we can say that kamaboko had already been produced back then.

Yakichikuwa, the Origin of Kamaboko

Judging from the old writings stating that kamaboko was made to resemble the spike of cattail, we can imagine that kamaboko in the olden times resembled modern day yakichikuwa (grilled fish cake). That is, in early times, people spread fish paste on a wooden or bamboo stick and grilled it, making it look like a spike of the cattail plant.

Invention of Planked Kamaboko - the Muromachi Period

The origin of the ita-kamaboko, or planked kamaboko, is not really known. However, in literature dating from the Muromachi period, there is a statement saying, “Spread (fish paste) thick on a plank, ... grill slightly over the plank,” and although it maybe slightly different from the existing steamed Odawara kamaboko, it proves to us that grilled planked kamaboko had already been invented during that period.

Invention of Steamed Kamaboko – End of the Edo Period

Steamed kamaboko made its first appearance at the end of the Edo era. Writings dating from then note that, “In the three major cities of Kyoto, Osaka and Edo, kamaboko is made by steaming fish paste placed on a cedar plank. In Kyoto and Osaka, the steamed ones are called shira-ita (white plank), and they are often sold after being grilled. In Edo, however, shira-ita are never grilled and sold as they are.” As mentioned here, yaki-ita, or grilled kamaboko became obsolete in the Edo area while mushi-ita, or steamed kamaboko took its place. In particular, the Odawara-style shiro-kamaboko (white kamaboko) gained in popularity and became one of the delicacies loved by the Edo people. Interestingly, Ninomiya Sontoku, an Odawara-born agricultural leader and philosopher, wrote in his diary at the end of the Edo period that he had given Odawara kamaboko to someone as a souvenir.


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