Stuffed Pan Fried Hanpen, 'foxy' light fish cakes

There are many kinds of fish cakes in Japan, and most of them are available readymade. One of my favorites is hanpen (はんぺん). Hanpen usually comes in single packs. Here’s one I bought at a Japanese grocery store.


The hanpen itself looks like this.


Hanpen is made of ground up white fish (surimi), grated yamaimo (a type of yam, the same one that’s used to give a light texture to okonomiyaki, egg white and sals. The best way I can describe it is that it’s sort like a fish marshmallow, but savory of course. Each hanpen is about 100-120 calories, depending on the size.

You can find hanpen in the refrigerated or frozen food section of a Japanese grocery store (you probably can’t find it at a general Asian/Chinese store; you might find it at a Korean store.) I keep mine in the freezer until ready to use. They defrost very fast, so I can just microwave them for a few seconds so they are soft enough to cut, or just transfer to the refrigerator the night before.

Hanpen can be used for many things. They are great in soups and stews (they are a standard item in oden, a classic stewed dish of various fish cakes, tofu cakes, and vegetables). You can cut them up small and use in miso soup. You could even use as a garnish in Western style soups.

For bento purposes, they are very nice sautéed or fried, especially with a stuffing.

Recipe: Stuffed pan-fried hanpen

These are sometimes called hanpen on kitsune age (Fox-fried hanpen). ‘Fox’ (kitsune) because they become a golden brown in color, and anything with that color with often called ‘kitsune’ something, and ‘age’ (pronounced ah-GEH) because they’re usually deep-fried. I’ve panfried them instead for a bit less fat and ease of cooking.

This makes enough for 2 or 3 bentos. Each triangle is about 40-50 calories.

  • About 100g / 3 oz of meat and tofu burger mixture or chicken tsukune mixture
  • 1 large hanpen (about 6 inches / 15cm square), or use the equvalent amount of smaller hanpen
  • Oil or butter or a mixture (Butter tastes better, and goes very well with the flavor of the hanpen, but oil is healthier)

Cut the hanpen into quarters, then cut each quarter into half diagonally, to end up with 8 little triangles. Cut a slit into the long edge of the triangle to form a pocket. Stuff the meat mixture into the pocket.


Heat up some oil, butter or a mixture in a frying pan. Start cooking the triangles with the meat side down, until the meat is browned. Lower the heat and cook for 2-3 minutes more, to cook the meat through. Turn the heat up again, and fry the hanpen on each side until golden brown and puffy.

Let cool before putting into a bento box. (The hanpen will shrink down a bit while cooling.)


Variation: Fried cheese hanpen

Stuff the hanpen with cheese, coat with egg and flour and panko, and deep fry. This is good hot or cold, but not exactly low in calories.

Hanpen may not become an everyday bento favorite unless you live right near a Japanese grocery store, but I hope you do try these as a change of pace. It’s real homely Japanese cooking.

Make your own hanpen?

Theoretically it should be possible to make your own hanpen, with ground up white fish like cod, yamaimo or nagaimo and egg white. In practice, so far I’ve failed miserably. If I ever figure it out I’ll be sure to post it.

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Re: Stuffed Pan Fried Hanpen, 'foxy' light fish cakes

I love that you posted this recipe as it looks like something my family would enjoy. I've seen this at the market but I never knew what it was or how to make it. Can't wait to give it a try!

Re: Stuffed Pan Fried Hanpen, 'foxy' light fish cakes

Thanks for explaining the "fox" description of this fish cake. There is an anime/manga called XXX Holic that I've seen where Japanese food playes into the story often. In a few episodes there is a fox who owns sort of a magical oden stand and he makes "fox oden." I assumed that there was some connection between the talking fox and the dish he was famous for, but I never expected to find out what it was. Now it makes sense. I enjoy reading your blog because you always tell a little about the dish beyond just how to cook it.

Now I need to find a place to buy the hanpen.

Re: Stuffed Pan Fried Hanpen, 'foxy' light fish cakes

How did you get yours that lovely golden brown all over? Mine come out browned only in the middle where the hanpen touches the pan, and even there it doesn't look like that; more like a grilled cheese sandwich. Admittedly, I use a different filling, but I wouldn't think that would make a difference.

Re: Stuffed Pan Fried Hanpen, 'foxy' light fish cakes

I did use a mixture of butter and oil to fry them (butter goes so well with hanpen ^_^), and also turned them over a few times until they turned brown all over. Maybe that makes a difference. What did you use?

Re: Stuffed Pan Fried Hanpen, 'foxy' light fish cakes

You're right. I got a much prettier color with butter. Still not all-over golden, but I imagine that would have come if I used a bit more fat and moved them around as they cooked. Thanks!

Re: Stuffed Pan Fried Hanpen, 'foxy' light fish cakes

I've never seen this stuff before, it looks really good. I'll detour past the Asian Grocery while running errands today. Yummy!

Re: Stuffed Pan Fried Hanpen, 'foxy' light fish cakes

Thanks for explaining the meaning of Kitsune when it comes to food! I knew it meant fox and after seeing it on the menu so often whilst in Japan I had no idea what it was refering to!

Great blog btw - I plan on making alot of these recipes for my bento lunches that I take to work.

Re: Stuffed Pan Fried Hanpen, 'foxy' light fish cakes

I absolutely love hanpen, it's really the only fish cake I'll eat. Unfortunately, it's impossible to find at the Asian supermarket near my house, unless in frozen oden sets. Maybe this will warrant the trip downtown to find some.

Re: Stuffed Pan Fried Hanpen, 'foxy' light fish cakes

Thank you for posting this. I bought an Oden package at a Korean market and only the Hapen comes individualy wrapped. without knowing what it is I almost thought it's part of the soup base! You are the only english translation on this hanpen mystery, thanks!

Re: Stuffed Pan Fried Hanpen, 'foxy' light fish cakes

what kind of cheese is used for the hanpen stuffing?

Re: Stuffed Pan Fried Hanpen, 'foxy' light fish cakes

Are there any fish cakes that are msg free? I checked every package at japanese market with no cake, fish balls, etc.

Re: Stuffed Pan Fried Hanpen, 'foxy' light fish cakes

The thing is, most Japanese groceries outside of Japan tend to carry the most popular, and often the cheapest, mass-market brands of various foods, so most such products have a bit of MSG in them. However, I must say that I have softened my stance on MSG over the years; unless you have a particular sensitivity to glutamates in most cases you should not have a problem. You'd need to try one of the fish-paste products to see how it suits you individually really.


I have a question about your initial description of hanpen itself. You list the ingredients of hanpen, but I am unfamiliar with the last one: sals. Is this a typo error? What is this ingredient?

Oh, and **THANK YOU**!!!! for this website and all these wonderful, delicious recipes!! My wife and I are huge fans of Japanese cuisine, but we don't know the language, so we can't read any of the packages we see at the local world market where we look for the really interesting foods. As a result, we have not been very successful at trying new things, because we have no idea how something is supposed to be cooked (or not cooked!), what it tastes like, what goes with it, or anything! Your website goes beyond words in being helpful to us poor, uncivilized Westerners who have discovered the amazing taste of Japanese cooking!

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