The California Roll has become the iconic Sushi item in the US and the rest of the world. As far as I know from working at about ten different Japanese/Sushi Restaurants in the US, it is the most popular item on the menu. Even at stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, it is one of the most visible Sushi items next to Spicy Tuna and Rainbow Roll.
So, who invented the California Roll and how did it become so popular?
The story I heard was that one day, a Sushi chef at a Sushi bar in Los Angeles (Little Tokyo) was asked about the special of the day by a regular customer. Since the chef had no special on that day, after thinking for a while, he added avocado, which was an "unusual" item at that time, to the crab hand roll. The customer liked it so much that it became a regular item on the menu.
So I did some research, and it turns out that there are now, two stories as to who invented the California Roll.
The most popular story goes to Ichiro Mashita of Tokyo Kaikan in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, circa 1970.
It is said that Mr. Mashita substituted the avocado in place of Toro for its rich oily flavor. Traditional Japanese roll is seaweed out and Americans disliked the taste of chewing and texture of nori seaweed, which led to the invention of "Uramaki": The inside-out roll.
How did Mr. Mashita think of adding avocado? One story says that one of his regulars asked him to make Sushi for Caucasians. At that time, most Americans never heard of Sushi, let alone eating raw fish. So, Mr. Mashita thought of avocado for its low cost and never-ending abundant yearly supply, and most of all, it's fat content - a great substitute for Toro, the tuna belly.
Now, this came as a shocker to many Sushi fans.
This second story broke out in 2012: An article by The Globe and Mail, "Meet the man behind the California roll" - a Canadian Sushi Chef (he is a Japanese chef living in Canada), Hidekazu Tojo claimed HE is the inventor of California Roll.
According to Mr. Tojo, he thought of using crab for Sushi because fresh fish suitable for Sushi was unavailable in Vancouver when he arrived in 1971.
Also, most Westerners disliked eating seaweed, so, he made the inside-out roll to hide the flavor. Though against the Japanese tradition of seaweed out roll, many of his customers liked it.
Many of Mr. Tojo's customers were from Los Angeles. They loved his crab and avocado roll, hence the name California Roll.
Frankly, because I heard story #1 first, I always thought that was the truth, and it's difficult for me to think Mr. Tojo's story to be true, especially the fact that the story came about in 2012?
Regardless of who invented the California Roll, I think it's a great invention.