California’s Roll in the Sushi World

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There’s a reason that America’s favorite iteration of sushi (makizushi to be exact) is called the California Roll. Ding. It’s from California.

The California Roll is widely regarded as the form of makizushi that made the Japanese edible art form so popular in the United States, and for good reason. California was the geographical entry point for Japanese immigrants into the United States. Likewise, the California roll was the culinary entry point for sushi into the hearts and minds of Americans.

In the 1960’s there was a large wave of Japanese immigrants (chefs included) who headed to America’s left coast seeking fortune, fame and those gold-paved streets everyone talked about. With them they brought their cuisine, and the hope that Americans would take to it.

During that decade, the Tokyo Kaikan Restaurant is believed to have set up the first sushi bar in the USA, in the humble town of Los Angeles. Though many already had a taste for some Japanese dishes, sushi posed a more significant challenge to the uninitiated American tongue. Cold, raw meat? Why is this thing all covered in seaweed? No thanks.

Ichiro Mashita (chef at the aforementioned Tokyo Kaikan Restaurant) took notice of sushi-fear and did Americans the favor of dumbing down makizushi for them so they would eat and buy tons of it.

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The three traditional forms of sushi.

First, he noticed that avocado had the same oily, fatty characteristics that expensive tuna meat did. So out came the tuna, and in went avocado. He did not to replace the seaweed (nori) that is traditionally wrapped around the rice. Instead, he just hid it by putting it inside of the rice layer.

Everyone who was once turned off by nori seemed to agree that moving it half-an-inch closer to the core of the roll made it delicious. Finally, he added some toasted sesame seeds to the outside of the roll so that it looked like something fried, making it 80% more likely to be consumed by an American. (Or at least that’s my theory.)

Thus, the California Roll was born! Southern California fell in love with Mashita’s “west-coastified” makizushi, then the United States… eventually the world.

Nowadays, within sushi there is a style known specifically as “US Style makizushi.” As you may have guessed, this category is comprised of all the non-traditional and westernized rolls that followed the California Roll’s lead.

There are Alaska Rolls, Boston Rolls, Hawaiian Rolls, Philadelphia Rolls (oh god, really?) Seattle Rolls and the good ‘ole Michigan Roll, which is just a mitten filled with snow.

But, however you roll, it is California where sushi assimilated… a fact that gives just a bit more backing to the claim that the USA’s west coast is also its best coast.

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