Ooh Baby We Like It Raw

Will The Real Inventor of The California Roll Please Stand Up?

The plot thickens...
The plot thickens… Photo: Kmohman/Flickr

These days the California roll plays a big role as both supermarket staple and the bane of “serious” sushi chefs. Regardless of your position, you can hardly deny its dominance in the wider U.S. acceptance of sushi. Today, a Vancouver-based chef lays claim to its invention, as Southern Japan-bred Hidekazu Tojo tells The Globe and Mail just what he was thinking when he supposedly first wrapped his rice around nori and crab. Upon arriving in Canada in the seventies, Tojo notes, “most Western people did not eat raw fish,” and the seafood he found there was far from fresh. As his customers, many of whom came from L.A., were hardly clamoring for seaweed just yet (even if today they’ll pay $5.99 for three sheets of nori at Whole Foods), the chef says, “I tried to hide it. I made the roll inside out…I was against Japanese tradition… but I liked it, and my customers liked it. And so it spread all over - even into Japan.” Tojo credits his Californian clientele for influencing the name of his uramaki variation, but is he really stealing the claim to the roll’s invention from one of our own sushi chefs?

Ichiro Mashita of Downtown L.A.’s former Tokyo Kaikan, has long been largely credited with inventing and naming the dish, after the chef substituted avocado for toro in a similar uramaki construction in the late sixties.

In a controversial forum that attempts to clear up vindictive and widespread slander that Mashita died of AIDS in Folsom Prison while serving time on child molestation charges, a woman also claims her own father invented the California roll in the fifties, while another commenter dispels talk that the roll came of age in the seventies, as claimed in various sources. Hmm, this whole California roll origin story is starting to feel like The Da Vinci Code.

But clearly the plot thickens beyond Hidekazu Tojo’s claims. And considering the Canadian sushi chef doesn’t even touch on the addition of avocado, essential to both California and the California roll, we have no choice but to cast a little suspicion on his story until the dark corners of the true tale are further ironed out.

Meet the man behind the California roll [The Globe & Mail]

Will The Real Inventor of The California Roll Please Stand Up?