Chikuwa is baked or steamed fishcake, in which fish paste is wrapped around stick or bamboo stick. It is one of the boiled fish-paste products. There is a hole in the middle once the stick is taken out, it is called Chikuwa (the edge of the cut bamboo tree) since the shape looks similar to it.
The origin of Chikuwa is said to be the Yayoi period or Heian period but there is some uncertainty, however there are written records of Chikuwa after the Muromachi period. In the Edo period it was called 'Kamaboko' (cattail) because the shape was similar to the cattail plant.
Later on when Itakamaboko (current Kamaboko), in which fishcake was put on top of a piece of wood came to the market, Chikuwa was called Chikuwa Kamaboko to distinguish it from Chikuwa, after which the name was shortened to Chikuwa. It was a high class food until the Edo period.
Manufacturing Method, Types
Mix fish meat of suketo cod (Alaska Pollock, or Theragra chalcogramma), shark, flying fish and Atka mackerel with salt, sugar, starch and egg white and knead, then put on thick bamboo or metal sticks to be baked or steamed. The baked kind are called Yakichikuwa and the steamed ones are called Mushichikuwa or white Chikuwa. The main Chikuwa at present is Yakichikuwa and most of them are made by machine and automatically baked. The ones which are kept in the freezer are called frozen baked Chikuwa and the other fresh ones are called fresh Chikuwa. The type of fish used, the shape and taste of the Chikuwa vary from place to place.
Chikuwa in Various Places
There are many Chikuwa made in Japan such as noyaki chikuwa (chikuwa grilled in the field, made from flying fish) in Shimane Prefecture, tofu chikuwa of Tottori Prefecture, bean chikuwa of Hiroshima and Okayama Prefectures, tenigiri chikuwa (chikuwa shaped by hand) of Sanin region, Hinagu chikuwa (chikuwa made in Hinagu region of Kumamoto) of Kumamoto Prefecture, Toyohashi Chikuwa of Aichi Prefecture, Chikuwa in Tokushima Prefecture and so on.
In Aichi and Nagano Prefectures, there are 'Vitamin Chikuwa' for sale, which contain fish oil with vitamin A E added.
Kawa Chikuwa in Yawatahama City, Ehime Prefecture, has only ten Chikuwa skin, which are left after taking fish cakes away from Chikuwa, wrapped around the stick and baked, it has different taste compared to ordinary Chikuwa.
The Kanji characters for Chikuwa (竹輪) can also be written like 魚◎ (fish on the left with a ring on the right) and pronounce as chikuwa. Kokuji (Japanese Kanji). This character is listed the one hundred thousand character version of Konjaku Mojikyo.
Chikuwa with cheese in the hole is called 'cheese Chikuwa.'
The Chikuwa with cheese in the chikuwa skin is called 'Chee Chiku' (It is only made and sold by Kibun Foods Inc, Co., Ltd. 'Chee Chiku' is a brand name.).
Since Chikuwa has a hole to let air through, people who tend to miss other people's speech are said to have 'Chikuwa ears.'
There is a food called chikuwabu (a tube-shaped cake of flour paste) which is similar to Chikuwa, however chikuwabu is type of fu (cake of flour paste) which is made out of wheat flour, and is not kneaded fish cake.