Monday, January 7, 2008
Disapproving California Roll as Sushi
I'm from Japan, and I'm entitled to be anal about it. I don't approve California roll as sushi. California roll is, well, California roll.
Some people say "oh I love sushi" and only eat California roll, Caterpillar roll or the like. Let me say this to all you people, California roll is not "sushi," at least from Japanese point of view. It is a fusion cuisine that is based on traditional maki-zushi or rolls just happened to be served at second-rate sushi restaurants. They are invented by Japanese but in California, specifically in LA in the 70's so that these sushi chefs can make something that American people don't say "ew, raw fish."
When Japanese say a roll or maki-zushi, it's usually (99% of the time, I say) referred to rice in cylindrical form wrapped in nori or seaweed. There are different forms of makizushi and its ingredients. There are thick ones (futo-maki), thin ones (hoso-maki) and ura-maki (this one looks like a California roll) and handroll (temaki). Inside maki-zushi are tuna roll (tekka-maki), cucumber roll (kappa-maki) and so on. Actual "food" is used in maki-zushi.
Let's take a look at a California roll. California roll is usually made inside-out (ura-maki), containing cucumber (so far so good, uh huh), imitation crab stick (what? imitation?), and avocado (avo- what?). Ok, let me recap. The main "seafood" in this roll is machine-processed "crab" also known as finely pulverized white fish flesh. And, avocado? What is that fruit doing in sushi? It's like you're eating a burger with veggie burger patty with a slice of pineapple. Of course, there are types of sushi that don't contain seafood. But the last time I checked, they don't put anything fake...
Don't get me wrong, I love avocado and I do like California roll. But I think it's more appropriate to name it "inside-out rice wrap featuring avocado and fake crab meat formally known as California roll" or something. If you go to a first-rate sushi restaurant and order California roll, I'm fairly sure the sushi chef with 20-plus-years of experience will look at you with a dubious look on his face. They will make one for you because they can, but probably unwillingly. I've heard it happened from my friend who ate at this sushi restaurant in Little Tokyo. Why? I wonder.
Spicy tuna (sesame oil < not a Japanese seasoning), Spider roll, Rainbow roll, dragon roll, etc etc... They are all fusion sushi-like food. They taste good in some places, distasteful in some others. In some places they make it so bad that I feel offended that they call it Japanese food, let alone sushi. But I can let is slide. What matters most is that they are ripping you off with these cheap dishes in the name of "Japanese" cuisine.
Think about what's in a California roll. Typically the cost of cucumber is 3 for $1 to $1.50. They use probably half or less of one cucumber (about $0.15 - $0.25). One stick of fake crab costs about $1. They use about a half of a stick, so let's say it's $0.50. The price of an avocado range from $1 to $2 (I'm sure they get a wholesale price but let's drop that for sake of argument). Half or whole avocado is used, so $0.50 to $2 is in the roll. Sushi rice costs about $10 for 10kg or 22lbs. 1 cup weighs about 150g and about 2 cups or rice or 300g is used for a roll. That's about $0.30.
Here's the recap for the cost breakdown in one 6-piece California roll:
Cucumber: $0.15 - $0.25
Fake crab: $0.50
Avodado: $0.50 - $2
It's most likely not accurate but these figures should remain in the safe range. So, ladies and gentlemen, how much does one roll of California roll cost at the lowest end?
*drums please dodododododododododo*
Considering the high end (around $3), typical cost of California roll (about $8.50 I'd say) doesn't sound too bad, IF only it's made by a trained skilled professional chef using good quality ingredients. But if you look at the low end, they are charging 500% of the cost. What a sweet deal... for them! In many non-Japanese sushi places I've been, the taste isn't even "good." They just taste like California roll.
Ok, I have to apologize to you. Carmen came to my place when I was writing this and I had a bottle of wine and I'm feeling good now. I shall stop now. I started writing this around 7pm but now it's past midnight.
What I wanted to say was that California roll may taste good and it's a good deal in some places but I just don't think it's sushi. It's California roll.