For sushi novices, it's the gateway dish.
The California roll can be found everywhere from grocery-store fresh-food aisles to cafeteria menus in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Typically packed with crab or imitation crab, avocado and cucumber, then rolled “inside out,” the nonthreatening staple helped introduce America to more exotic–and much more exciting–sushi options.
But who invented the now-ubiquitous roll?
Canadian chef Hidekazu Tojo proclaims he did, and recently told his story to The Globe and Mail. Raised in southern Japan and trained as a chef in Osaka, the 62-year-old claims he created the dish after moving to Vancouver in 1971.
When I came to Vancouver, most Western people did not eat raw fish. When I went shopping for fish at stores back then, the fish was very fishy, very old. So I went to the fisherman wharf to get the very freshest. But even there, they would say, “Oh, I have fresh fish that I caught three or four days ago.” I explained that I needed fish caught that morning so I could serve it that afternoon.Another thing Western people did not eat was seaweed, so I tried to hide it. I made the roll inside out. 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. I was against Japanese tradition with the inside-out roll, but I liked it, and my customers liked it. And so it spread all over – even into Japan.
This story, however, conflicts with other accounts of how the roll was born. Food historians believe that the first California roll was served during the late 1960s at Tokyo Kaikan, a restaurant in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo. Some believe that chef Ichiro Mashita was lacking toro, or fatty tuna belly, so he used avocado as a substitute.
Who's right? It's a great sushi mystery.
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