California Roll


photo by Albert Law :
Photo by Albert Law, Porkbelly Studios


After one week of standing behind the sushi bar and watching Toshi, Kai, and Jun, I was told that I could start learning how to make rolls. By then, I thought I looked at enough to know how to make a roll, only to realize doing was different from watching.

Here is what you do, Toshi started to explain.

“Put nori on the cutting board, inside facing up,” as Toshi reached one sheet of dried black seaweed from a tin can, sitting on top of the sushi refrigerator case.

“Nori has inside which is rough and dull surface, and outside is smooth and shiny. Can you see the difference?” Toshi showed me the nori, and I looked at it, but unable to tell the difference.

“Why won’t you touch is and feel?”

I touched the both sides and this time could fee the difference: one side was smooth and the other, rough.

“Place your nori, rough side up. Rice always goes on the rough side no matter what. Always. California Roll is Uramaki, inside out roll.”

Many of the Inside Out Rolls we see in the US and many parts of the world except Japan are American inventions.

As to who invented the original California Roll, one of the most popular stories goes to Ichiro Mashita of Tokyo Kaikan in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, circa 1970.

It is said that Mr. Mashita substituted avocado in place of Toro for its rich oily flavor. When asked by one of his regulars, he made sushi for Caucasians. At that time, most Americans never heard of sushi, let alone eat raw fish. So, Mr. Mashita thought of Avocado for its low cost and never ending abundant year supply. Traditional Japanese roll is seaweed out and Americans disliked the taste of chewing and texture of nori, which led to the invention of “Uramaki,” Inside Out Roll.

The second story of who invented California Roll came out in 2012. According to The Globe and Mail, a Japanese Sushi Chef, living in Canada named Hidekazu Tojo claimed he is the inventor of California Roll.

According to Mr. Tojo, he thought of using crab for sushi because fresh fish suitable for sushi was unavailable in Vancouver when he arrived in 1971.

Also, most Westerners disliked eating seaweed, so, he made Inside Out Roll to hide the flavor. Though against the Japanese tradition of nori out roll, many of his customers liked it.

Many of Mr. Tojo’s customers were from Los Angeles. They loved his crab and avocado roll, hence the name California Roll.


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