Ah, the humble California roll. While I often refer to this as the “Big Mac” of rolls, it is actually quite tasty, given its lack of any real historical precedents. California rolls are far from traditional sushi, but they aren’t as far from the norm as you might expect. All it took was a little innovation and something was created that now dominates the sushi world.
The style of sushi we know and love originates in Japan, and the Japanese are known for their adoption and innovation of western ideas. As sushi moved westward into the U.S., it became more and more popular. California was a natural inception point for many things Japanese, and sushi was a big hit on the west coast from the start. Back in the 1960’s, though, food transportation was not as efficient as it is now, so acquiring certain types of fish was not always easy. Supply didn’t often meet demand, and in a particular sushi bar called Tokyo Kaikan in Los Angeles, a sushi chef named Ichiro Mashita found himself lacking in toro, the fatty tuna belly, which was much in demand. So he began substituting avocado for the toro, and having a creamy, fatty consistency, this worked out well. After a little more experimentation, Ichiro devised the roll that we today call the California Roll.
From a simple substitution came a roll that that is one of the most popular today. While it is very American in terms of it’s constituents (avocado was never used in Japan in sushi until it became popular in the U.S.), one might argue that this is a great example of the Japanese concept of urawaza (translated as secret trick), where a person experiments to find a simple solution to a common or simple problem. No toro? Try something similar… And it eventually transformed into something new and interesting. While It is not a perfect analogy, it is a perfect example of gastronomic creativity. While it is not something always on my plate, I certainly enjoy ordering a California roll on occasion, and it is a reminder of how food can evolve as local adaptations are accepted.
If you love California rolls but are unsure of how healthy they are, check out the California roll calories and nutrition information entry in our sushi calories and nutrition information page. Or make one at home, with the California roll entry on our recipes page!