Sendai's Flagship Street Food: Hyotan-age

Fried fish balls on a stick inside the shopping arcades

By Justin Velgus    - 2 min read

Without a doubt, Sendai's most famous food is gyutan (grilled beef tongue). That's followed by zunda, crushed edamame used to make various desserts and even shakes. These two must-try foods might be the most popular, however, Sendai has nearly two-dozen local specialties worth seeking out. The most popular "street food" of Sendai could very well be "hyotan-age".

Hyotan-age is made of minced fish meat, called kamaboko. While kamaboko is eaten throughout Japan, Sendai generally serves it in bamboo shapes ("sasa-kamaboko"), a nod to city founder Date Masamune's family crest of sparrows and bamboo leaves. Kamaboko can be filled with various ingredients such as cheese, seaweed, or wasabi, but that fish taste is very noticeable. This can be a turn-off for some people. In order to create a new product to sell to locals and tourists that is fun to eat that still uses the base ingredient, the 80-year old Sendai-based Abe Kamaboko company created "hyotan-age". The minced fish is made into balls then deep-fried ("age" in Japanese) then skewered on a stick. The two balls have an appearance of a "hyotan" or gourd, thus the naming. The warm crispy dough with soft fish ball is complimented by the slightly tangy optional ketchup. The texture is similar to an American corndog and the fish smell and taste is noticeable, though pleasant--not overpowering.

The ketchup is always served in a swirl
The ketchup is always served in a swirl

While there are many Abe Kamaboko fish shops in Miyagi and beyond, there are very few that sell hyotan-age. Find hyotan-age on the 2nd floor of Sendai Station near the tourism information center, or better yet, visit the original location (阿部蒲鉾店 本店) at the end of the CLIS Road shopping arcade. Step up to the walk-up window, pay your ¥250 and enjoy! You can either sit on the provided benches to take a rest from shopping, or take the portable snack on your walk downtown. Before you throw away the trash, make sure to check the stick! If you find the word "あたり" you are a "winner!" Show the staff at window to receive another hyotan-age for free!

The front of Aba Kamaboko Main Shop
The front of Aba Kamaboko Main Shop

Inside the store you'll find various kamaboko for sale, as well as a kamaboko hand-grilling experience you can try without reservations.

Getting there

Located a 10-minute walk from Sendai Station, inside the CLIS Road shopping arcade.

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Justin Velgus

Justin Velgus @justin.velgus

Justin Velgus (ジャスティン ベルガス) is the Miyagi Prefecture Partner for Japan Travel and a longterm contributor since 2012 with a focus on the Tohoku region.  Justin has written extensively for JT, and other publications such as VisitMiyagi and Sake Today, amassing over 350 published articles introducing the travel and culture of the region. Justin's wealth of experience and knowledge comes from studying in Akita, teaching English in Miyagi through the JET Program, and promoting sake overseas for the government of Fukushima. Now Justin helps with inbound tourism and regional promotion while also enjoying his role as a volunteer tour guide in Sendai, the gyutan capital of the world.

Join the discussion

Elizabeth S a month ago
Hyotan-age is a winner for me, no matter if it says atari on the stick or not. Great find!
Elena Lisina a month ago
I tried kamaboko in Matsushima, where I could grill it myself. I liked kamaboko, but didn't expect it was a bit sweet.
Bonson Lam a month ago
This reminds me of the fish balls and other fried and seasoned squid on a stick varieties I had at the street markets after school as a kid. It is the flavours and aromas that capture a memory forever.
Kim a month ago
Always fun to learn about regional food specialties! I hadn't heard of these before!