Ode to the California Roll

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By Jessica Wong

Amid Toronto’s cosmopolitan mix of foods from around the world, the California roll is as common as a hamburger. Sushi, a deathly and nutritious alternative, has popped up everywhere—from food courts in malls to pre-cooke (or uncooked as the case may be), prepared dinner aisles of local supermarkets. Most sushi seller offer morsels wrapped in rice and nori (did seaweed) to lure suspicious but curious  novices into the wonderful world of sushi.

A staple of North American sushi bars, the California roll, created in—you guessed it—the U.S., is a typical blending of eastern-style food with Western preferences. Sushi is traditionally considered the marriage of vinegary rice with raw fish. Because of our queasiness about anything well-done (otherwise known as dry and tasteless), the typical raw fish is used in many types of sushi has scared away many Western Palates.

Enter the California roll, a different take on sushi where strips of fish and vegetables are placed on a beg of vinegary rice and nori, rolled a sliced into bite-sized pieces.

The Westernized hybrid of features ingredients more in tune with timid North American taste buds: julienne cucumber, thin strips of (Californian) avocado, and much to the dismay of the Japanese sushi aficionados, imitation crab meat. Depending on the chef, pieces of maki may either be embellished with sesame seeds or bright and crisp bubbles of salmon roe. If it is a reverse roll, with rice on the outside, the outer layer may be rolled with either.

Fusion seekers should note, since the dawn of the California roll, nouvelle cuisine sushi technicians have busied themselves with creating new variations of this now-classic roll. Sushi bars everywhere create local favourites, from the dragon roll (a modified Californian, with the addition of eel), the Philadelphia roll (smoked salmon, cucumber and cream cheese), the pizza roll (don’t even ask) to the dynamite or rock and roll (a tempura-battered prawn rolled in rice and nori). Notwithstanding all the hype and hoopla, the humble California roll is still the most well-known and popular type of sushi in North America.


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