Tojo says the name “California Roll” came from the out-of-towners, many from Los Angeles, who gave the roll rave reviews that led to its surging popularity in the late 1970s. While other chefs lay claim to inventing differing versions of the roll (including a handful in L.A.), in 2016 Tojo received recognition from the Japanese government for inventing the roll and his role in promoting Japanese cuisine.
The Lowly, Disrespected California Roll
First, some history: Sushi chef Hidekazu Tojo studied culinary arts in Japan, but his relocation from Osaka to Vancouver, Canada in 1971 put sushi — and the now-ubiquitous California roll — on the map. The chef took the principles of sushi from Japan and tweaked them slightly for Western palates, which were not used to raw fish. This also included flipping the sushi rice from the outside to the inside to mask the seaweed.
But I think the lowly, often scorned California roll serves a purpose. For many people, it is their first experience with both sushi and Japanese food. While certainly not a traditional Japanese food, the California roll provides a taste of seaweed, and sushi rice. The avocado and crab (or some “fake” seafood) provides some familiarity.
From here, the sushi neophyte can slowly, like a snail, move on to other “cooked” food placed on rice. This would include shrimp, egg, eel, or vegetarian items, like pickled seaweed, and soy.
Once the taste of seafood hits the palate, our beginner can move into raw fish, or sashimi. I have taken a cowboy from Montana, who swore he would never eat raw fish, and made him a believer!!! Yes, peanut gallery, it can be done.
So, don’t laugh at the lowly California roll. In fact, why does every sushi joint on the planet, rename the California roll to their own location? I have eaten the Escondido roll, the Emerald City roll, the desert roll, the Gotham roll, the Scarlet O’Hara roll. Yes, all California rolls by a different name!!!