My first encounter with “real” American style sushi was probably Crazy Fish in Los Angeles back in the 90’s.
On my way back from work, I kept seeing this long line of people, waiting outside of a corner shopping mall like a shop. It was small and appeared to be a restaurant. Every evening, I passed this ordinary establishment with no special decor except the sign says “Sushi Cafe.” The restaurant was on Pico Blvd. and located in the neighborhood where no retail stores were around, mostly houses and apartments. It was, rather an unusual place to have a restaurant and to see a long line of people waiting.
Humans tend to think and believe if there is a line at a restaurant, meaning if others think the food there is worth waiting for, there is a good chance for me to like the food as well.
So one day, I decided to go in.
The inside of this place, “Crazy Fish” was even nothing extraordinary. Just like it says on the outside, “Sushi Cafe,” the inside of the restaurant very casual with handwritten menus on the wall, some counter seats, and sushi chefs and waitresses wearing T-shirt. It’s as casual as dinner just around the corner, except, they serve sushi?
Beyond my expectation, the sushi was nothing like I’ve ever seen and tasted. Glancing at the menu, aside from Nigiri of tuna, salmon, hamachi and other standard fair, there were rolls with names like, Caterpillar Roll, Spider Roll, Jewish Roll (aka: Philadelphia Roll), Alaska and Crazy Fish Roll, Yum Yum Roll and Beverly Hills Roll. I’ve never heard of most of those rolls before.
The place was packed. As we sat down the table, the waitress gave us an order sheet: a list of sushi and rolls. We were asked to mark the ones we wanted and handed to the waiter. That was how the order was taken. Very casual, just the sign says: a sushi cafe.
I looked around to see what other people were eating and also, asked the wait staff to find out what Caterpillar roll had inside.
I still remember the very first time I tried Caterpillar Roll, Spicy Tuna Roll, Spider Roll and Shrimp Tempura Roll. As shocking as how non-traditional they looked, what was more shocking was the fact that I liked them. I kept going back there for more. Since them, I like their sushi so much so that crazy fish became my to-go place for sushi. I took many of my American friends as well as Japanese friends and they all liked the sushi as much as I did.
Just because I liked American Style Sushi like Crazy Fish that did not mean I abandoned more traditional Japanese style sushi like Nigiri.
I see American style sushi as just another form or variation of sushi. They look different, and use different ingredients, because, they were invented in a place 5,000 miles away from Japan, so naturally, it would and should look and taste different.
While, some traditional Japanese sushi chefs and Japanese may consider Caterpillar Roll as “disgraceful” or “not sushi at all,” by definition, they are unquestionably sushi because they use sushi rice, as the word “Sushi” refers to the seasoned rice.
If you look back twenty to thirty years ago in Japan, Salmon sushi was not popular at all and look at Kaiten Zushi chains like Kura•Zushi and Sushi•Ro now. At many of their restaurants, Salmon is the No.1 nigiri neta/fish. They even serve “Banana” sushi and “Corn and Mayo” sushi.