The California Roll is the most popular sushi roll in America, yet it remains virtually nonexistent in Japan. The main reason for this is because the California Roll is essentially an American take on the now highly popular culinary delight. The roll serves as the quintessential introduction to sushi for those who have never tried it.
In the 1970s, sushi was not quite as popular as it is today. Americans were not very adventurous when it came to trying ethnic cuisines. They were especially not when notable ingredients consisted of raw fish and seaweed. But something changed American attitudes towards sushi in the mid-70s—it was the introduction of the California roll, supposedly invented in Los Angeles by sushi chef at Tokyo Kaikan.
The chefs realized that Americans needed to be presented with a “safer” and more appealing maki rolls. Otherwise, they were not going to get over their initial aversion to sushi. Thus, the first step was disguising the seaweed by reversing the construction of the roll. By keeping the rice on the outside rather than within, they effectively hid the seaweed from view. Next, he used cooked imitation crab instead of raw fish. Also, instead of toro (raw tuna), California roll used avocado and cucumber.
This new dish helped to introduce the sushi concept to many Californians. Then, over the years it began to make appearances in other sushi restaurants across the United States. Its popularity also led to the proliferation of many other sushi rolls containing cooked, rather than raw ingredients, satisfying those who enjoyed sushi but were still wary of raw fish.
And while such rolls were a hit in America, it never caught on in Japan, where the residents obviously had no aversion to raw fish and had been consuming authentic sushi and sashimi for generations.
Nowadays, the California and other American sushi roll creations have managed to infiltrate a few establishments in Japan. However, they are definitely not as commonplace as they are here. Indeed, if you do visit Japan and happen to find the California roll on a menu, you might garner a few strange looks from the sushi chef and other patrons if you choose to order it!