WTF (What The Food) Wednesday: The California Roll

Updated: Aug 24, 2021

I LOVE sushi! 10/10 would eat it every single day, given the option. That being said, I'm not too fond of California rolls. However, that's alright by me because it is the most generic roll in the business (plus, cucumbers are gross). If that's the case, how did it come to saturate so much of the sushi show? Let's check it out on WTF Wednesday!


Funa-Zushi to California Roll

Let's back it on up a little over 1000 years ago near the Lake Biwa region of Japan. See, they have this type of golden carp they call funa. See where this is going? They caught the fish, dispatched the fish, packed the fish in salted rice, and then pressed it with weights to speed up the fermentation process. So, in six months (no, you read that right), the completely decomposed (yet preserved) fish would be eaten. Admittedly, this practice comes from southwest Asia. However, as you'll see in the next paragraph, we get closer to what we know as sushi in Japan.

It makes a California roll actually sound pretty good. However, this stuff was a delicacy that only royalty could enjoy. Japan's civil war in the 15th century led to the discovery that greater weight sped up the fermentation process, and the fish didn't have to decompose completely to be enjoyed. Thus, mama-nare zushi (raw nare-zushi) came about, leading to...

Chef Hidekazu Tojo, a Japanese chef, turned Canadian, is credited with the creation of the California roll. In 1971 chef Tojo moved to Vancouver to work in a restaurant called Maneki. He noticed that folks there turned their noses up at raw fish and seaweed, being unusual ingredients in those days. So, going against tradition, Tojo turned the roll inside out, hiding the crab (difficult to get good quality raw fish) and seaweed.

Tojo had many guests from the Los Angeles area, credited with being the city that started America's sushi surge, and it may be due to those guests that the roll is named after California. Another thought is that avocados were prevalent throughout California kitchens, which could be responsible for the name.


Fun Facts

To this day, in Tojo's restaurant, the California roll is simply called the Tojo Roll.

Tojo is also famous for introducing smoked salmon into Japanese cuisine since it was hard for him to obtain saltwater eel, Tojo improvised. Because of this, we can thank him for the salmon skin roll as well.

Don't let chopstick snobs get you down. It's perfectly fine to grab that sushi with your fingers. It's actually traditional to do so! One of my personal chef heroes, Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, even says, "There is beauty in the process of the sushi experience where it's made by hands, served by hands, and eaten by hands. So, go ahead and use your hands." You got it, chef!

Oh, offer your sushi chef a shot of sake! It's common practice to offer to buy your sushi chef a shot of sake in appreciation of your meal. If they take you up on it, take one with them!

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