Why Sushi Fans Can't Order California Rolls In Japan

Sushi fans aren't likely to forget their first bite of a California roll, the inside-out uramaki sushi that features avocado, cucumber, imitation crab, and tobiko (flying fish roe), all wrapped in the embrace of seaweed and sushi rice. If you were a bit wary of consuming raw fish, a California roll might have been the sushi that started your lifelong love affair with this delectable representative of Japanese cuisine. And while California rolls remain one of the most popular types of sushi in the United States, you'd be hard pressed to find it at any sushi bars in Japan ... because it wasn't invented there. Simply put, California rolls are generally considered as American as apple pie.

California rolls were said to have been invented sometime during the 1970s by a sushi chef who was looking to make something that could entice westerners to try something way outside of their comfort zones. Constructing the uramaki this way dealt with the concern that diners would shy away from what is essentially a small bite made with raw seafood, vinegared rice, and seaweed. The invention proved to be so successful that it is believed to have sparked America's sushi craze, one that continues to persist today.

A Canadian sushi chef is credited with inventing the California roll

To believe that the California roll is Japanese in origin is just one misconception, because it appears that the roll wasn't actually invented in the Golden State either, but in Vancouver, British Columbia, home to Japanese-Canadian sushi chef Hidekazu Tojo. He told The Globe and Mail that when he first arrived in Canada, people weren't interested in eating raw fish, nor did they care for seaweed. As a result, truly fresh fish could not be purchased at any fishmonger because any available stock had likely been caught several days prior.

To get around this, Tojo appears to have dispensed with the raw fish and instead created a roll where the seaweed would remain hidden. "I made the roll inside out," he said. "People loved it. A lot of people from out of town came to my restaurant — lots from Los Angeles — and they loved it. That's how it got called the California roll." Tojo's story contradicts an earlier narrative that credits a Los Angeles chef, Ichiro Mashita of Tokyo Kaikan, with the creation of the popular dish. Mashita is said to have first made the roll in the 1960s by subbing avocado for tuna. Still, Tojo eventually got full credit from the Japanese government for the California roll, and in 2016, he was named a goodwill ambassador for Japanese cuisine.