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I like the occasional California roll ...

Not much of a thread topic, I know.

But I read a lot of threads about sushi experiences that brag that such and such a restaurant won't make a California roll.

And I just wanted to say that, while I have an appreciation of the finer things to eat during sushi meal -- well, some of them, anyway -- I do enjoy the occasional California roll and, quite frankly, many other non-traditional sushi concoctions. (Hamasaku, in Los Angeles, is really enjoyable to me and they seem to feature a lot of different rolls and that sort of thing).

Anyways, I'm not asserting that California rolls are the height of sushi dining nor am I claiming they are an essential element in a top sushi meal.

But I do like them, once in a while.

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  1. And I like grilled peanut butter and cheese sandwiches, and who is to say me nay?

    This here online community contains Chowhounds of many stripes. Most of us are bonafide purists about SOMETHING, whether it's barbecue or Hawaiian shave ice, but aside from that we just like to eat. And some of us frequent restaurants whose chefs cook whatever sells, and others whose personnel see themselves as the guardians of a sacred, incorruptible cuisine. And both of those things, from the small-"c" catholic Chowish standpoint, are perfectly OK.

    Short version: if you like California rolls, go where the good ones are made and tell us about them. If you don't, then go to the places that refuse to make'em and tell us about that.

    3 Replies
      1. re: Will Owen

        Very well said. Sometimes we loose sight of the ultimate goal of this board-good food in all forms.

        1. re: Will Owen

          okay, I'll bite.

          Sushi Boat Town, south San Jose/Blossom Hill/101 area.

          They make killer Rock 'n Rolls with jalepeno alongside the traditional fillings. Outrageously good. and HOT. I dream about these things.

        2. i like the occasional california roll too.

          sometimes it's difficult to discern the difference between bad taste and personal taste. to me it seems like it's an issue that shouldn't really be judged by others in the first place.

          1 Reply
          1. re: bijoux16

            I don't think there is a difference between bad taste and personal taste. My tastes have changed over the years, but I still find myself with a hankering for a McDonald's cheeseburger every few months. There's no objective standard we have to meet here, and really, the only one tasting your food is you, so you might as well figure out what you like.

          2. A place near me makes "surf and turf" sushi, being rare filet mignon and cooked lobster. Don't know if it's "sushi", but I LOVE it! (Although I usually get some more authentic rolls at the same time).

            1. This is not a commentary on you or anybody else liking anything that they want to like. Of course, we're all entitled to our own palates without judgement from others, and what you like is what you like. This is just an attempt to describe the view from the other side of the mirror - please take it with a large grain of Kosher salt...

              But my perspective is from one that was born and raised in Japan. I presume that some others that grew up in other countries or enclaves and familes where their eating habits revolved around specific ethnic foods, will say the same kind of thing.

              Watching others "pervert" the foods you grew up with so that it may be more palatable to them, is insulting - not dearly, and not so that it can't be understood or forgiven, but nevertheless, it is a shock to your system and a slap in the face of your culture. The thing I wonder about the most, is why someone would even bother to try something extraordinary, if they're not willing to take the time to learn to enjoy the depths and nuances of the actual item? Is this some "chic" thing that all the "in" people must show their lock-step concurrence with?

              So what's my beef? Why should I care if someplace serves philadelphia and california rolls? Well - for one - there are now Sushi places on every street corner. The very meaning of real sushi and the real sushi experience is now watered down or just plain gone. These Chinese restaurant sushi places have taken over to the point that even the real sushi places have to do the Americanized sushi bit to stay in business. Might as well go to Hong Kong Sails and have a pu-pu platter and some chop suey with "crispy noodles", and call it Chinese - and get that wonderful california roll on the side.

              Yes - I'm aware that food changes. All foods evolve over time, and thank goodness - without that evolution, we'd still all be eating berries and raw beast. But not all change is good, and some change should not be tolerated. California roll: some sort of local futomaki experiment gone bad, to include the truly wonderful fattiness of avocado and the supreme innocuousness of surimi...

              If you're from Mexico, and all you hear about is that wonderful Mexican food at Taco Bell, you feel ill. If someone comes up to me and says, oh their 6-year old just loves sushi, and especially that funny roll with the CRAB MEAT and the rice on the outside (how do they do that?!)... EEH! EEH! EEH! EEH!

              12 Replies
              1. re: applehome

                I feel the same way. Even though I was born and raised in the U.S., my father's family moved here from Italy in the 40's. That means they were not part of the wave that Americanized Italian food into cheese steaks, chicken parm, italian heros, etc. not to mention a million other offenses. I hated that stuff being forced upon me growing up (from friends, neighbors etc.) as "italian" food. It was gross, and nothing like what my family made, except that back then I couldn't articulate how it was different.

                1. re: applehome

                  I get how you feel, but I think people need something they relate to in order to understand. I'm from Buffalo, and what passes for Buffalo wings in most of the country -- breaded, or baked, or with some pasty barbecue sauce on it and served with ranch dressing, not blue cheese -- is an insult to a very simple yet in many ways perfect dish. I suppose the same goes for Katsu curry -- Japanese style curry is a thing unto itself, with little relationship to Indian or SE Asian curry (but at least it tastes good). On the other hand, you can't stop the dumbing down of these foods -- but you can make it a point to search out the real deal. That's not a chowhound snob thing -- you can like the taste of inauthentic foods. But as folks who think good food is worth preserving, we shouldn't let the authentic places die out. Otherwise, the only place you'll see certain dishes is in a history book.

                  1. re: applehome

                    First off, I perfer traditional sushi to California Rolls and their ilk, but I still find them tasty. :)

                    Anyway, I know where you are coming from. I often feel the same way about the mexican food I grew up eating. However, I would never say that that a "Mission Burrito" is insulting to my heritage (I'd just say that it's gross ;))because it is being called what it is... a burrito done in the Mission (SF)Style. Yes, people consider it mexican food, but by virtue of it's unique name, people also consider it as a subset of it.

                    The same thing with a California roll, it's a subset of Sushi. I doubt that even the most uncultured americans (And I worked with and fed them for six years) would consider it the DEFINITION of Sushi. It's a California Roll... and is known as such... Now, if people were calling it a "Toro Roll", then THAT would be insulting (To everyone!) and "WRONG".


                    1. re: Dommy

                      Burritos and wheat tortillas came from the north anyway (what is now US), so although they are now available in Mexico, it's wrong to call them Mexican food. So if we could keep california rolls from being called sushi, that would be fine with me. Maybe we can start using the term cal-sushi to differentiate it from the real thing.

                      The evolution of food through migration has always been a general factor. But the real concern is the much more recent mass marketing and fast food movement in the US - which creates Macdonalds from hamburgers, Olive Gardens from American/Italian, PF Chang from American/Chinese, and of course, Taco Bell from Tejano or Tex-mex.

                      Trolley says, below: "i don't think california rolls are taking over and replacing traditional sushi. now that would be a very big problem..."

                      In fact, this is what is happening. I'm using california roll as the symbol of the phenomenon - but the problem is that a lousy version, americanized in the worst way, (price, ease of manufacture, removal of difficult to understand cultural aspects - ie, commoditized), is being accepted as the norm for what we as Americans call the sushi experience.

                      Foods and cultures that are alien to us ought to be be difficult to understand. They ought to force us to do some work, to comprehend the real differences, to appreciate the food as it is appreciated by the originators with the respect it deserves.

                      Globalization means accessibility - but it doesn't have to mean simplification or adaptation to the point where the original experience is lost or disrespected. The one california roll isn't so terrible. But it certainly opened up the slippery slopes, which we've now progressed way down upon, where substances like tuna from a can, spicy mayo, and cream cheese, all lurk - in places with big signs flashing sushi - come get your wonderful sushi!

                      1. re: applehome

                        we are all entitled to our opinions. but i truly don't think the california roll is taking over sushi since there happens to be so many purists especially when it comes to sushi. i understand the commoditization issues and changing form or rather getting diluted to appeal to the masses is happening to some of most beloved treasures. it happens in apparel and pretty much most industries which offer a consumed product.

                        certain foods are now much more accessible because of growth. and i find that to be a good thing, especially for sushi. when i first used to visit the US from japan in the late 70's there were barely any sushi restaurants. even in the best of them the fish was sometimes sub par b/c most of the fish was flown in from japan. there were the "good days" when my family would go to our local japanese restaurant where it catered to mainly japanese people. when i moved here to come to school people treated me like i was an alien for eating raw fish. that was then...

                        as a native japanese person i'm ok with americans and other non-japanese people having a california roll and thinking it's a sublime experience b/c 20 yrs ago that wouldn't have been possible. those people would have laughed at me. also b/c of competition all the really good sushi restaurants have to truly be on their p's and q's otherwise they can potentially lose customers. i have many friends who tried a california roll at first then eventually moved on to "real sushi" now many of them are total sushi snobs.
                        so long response, but i believe as long as there are purists who preserve the traditions, like the chef at nozawa and sushi gen here in LA, the real thing won't be lost. just as couture in apparel still exists and hasn't been taken over by old navy, i think sushi and other forms of food will be just fine.

                        oh, btw, in japan, for many of us, sushi is like party food. when it's your birthday you might get a big tray and everyone will eat it with their fingers. it can be pretty casual affair. we're not all bowing and declaring to commit seppuku if the sushi is not up to standard ;) relax! it's just food after all.

                        1. re: trolley

                          "relax! it's just food after all"

                          Whoo hoo! Agreed! :)


                          1. re: trolley

                            I do definitely think that where you are (in the US) makes a difference. CA, and especially LA, where there is competition for good sushi, where there are izakaya's and plenty of Japanese salaryman around to keep them going, is one thing. NYC has a lot of americanized junk, but there are plenty of authentic Japanese places and people that know the difference. There are still a lot of Japanese salaryman around - although certainly not like in the heyday of the 80's and early 90's.

                            Unfortunately, here in the burbs of Boston, we have sushi served in every American/Chinese restaurant - it's pretty much all junk, and it's very popular.

                            We moved here in the early 60's. My mother had to have her sisters in Yokosuka send her everything from ocha to wakame. I'm most certainly much happier now that all these ingredients are readily available, and that decent Japanese food, sushi and otherwise, is available in the major metropolitan areas. Nevertheless, I'm afraid that the popularization of sushi (outside of LA and NYC) could be it's downfall - and I definitely do feel that the comparison to Taco Bell is apt - that's the level that the local burb sushi has sunk to.

                            Sushi is party food sometimes. Order a big plate and everybody dig in. But for going out, it's more formal. For some it is about the local after work izakaya for some really unique items and sake (generically). One item that is important for me is to speak the language of sushi with the sushiya - it ought to be Japanese, but doesn't have to be. I know at least one outstanding American sushi chef who learned his stuff from years of apprenticing with a Japanese master - and as time goes on there will be more and more gaijin able to make good sushi. The issue, to me, is that the personal relationship with the sushiya is part of the best sushi experiences. I've walked into American/Chinese places where generic asians, who speak neither Japanese nor English, are busy laying pre-cut fish on pre-made nigiri rice balls, and where your only choice is to use the now-ubiquitous pencil and form. If that's not Taco Bell, I don't know what is. And if we shouldn't worry about that form of sushi overwhelming the real thing, then why are we chowhounds? Is it our stated goal to enjoy party sushi, and as long as we have that, we should be happy? If the general American public is happy with Olive Garden and American/Chinese sushi, what chance does a real chef have to open up a place that charges more and offers items that are more difficult to understand and like?

                            I know that there are plenty of fast food sushi places in Japan, as well. I went to one of those "train" places on my last trip. But my foodie uncle took me to a special place that specializes in lobster and crab sashimi, and some really intricate and unique sushi. This wasn't in Tokyo or within the metropolis, but out in the country. As long as these places exist, and people who value what they represent are around, great sushi is safe - obviously, in Japan it's safe. I only hope that keeping great sushi going in LA and NYC is going to be good enough for us, because the rest of America is running as fast as it can to their local mcsushi.

                            1. re: applehome

                              Since we're being a bit serious here - I appreciate your comments but please don't assume that LA and NYC are the only places to get "real" sushi (or anything else for that matter). Believe it or not, here in Atlanta we have at least a few places that serve very traditional, very well regarded sushi.

                          2. re: applehome

                            I don't thinkk anyone who eats sushi would think of a California Roll as sushi. Sushi is a pat of seasoned rice with a piece of sashimi on it. California Roll maki (nori maki or whatever it get gets called) is like calzone instead of pizza. Maki is vinegared rice and veggies or fish, California Roll is usually a white fleshed fish, and seaweed paper.
                            The few places that serve Dungeness Cailifornia Roll in season are good but i personally don't want to waste my sushi restaurant experience with King Crab or Krab.

                          3. re: Dommy

                            woo hoo dommy! now let's meet and go to the taco bell drive -thru...or maybe not. ok, i'm now going overboard ;)

                            1. re: trolley

                              LOL! Actually, I'm still fighting the craving for that darn crunch wrap EVERYDAY...



                          4. re: applehome

                            My short response to that would be that there are two classes of food (1) the real thing and (2) the other, sometimes satisfying alternative. They are usually completely unrelated and shouldn't be compared. For example, if I want really good Italian food, I go to my local family owned Trattoria where I know they know what they are doing. If I am hung over and I feel like something to satisfy my craving, I might open a can of Spaghetti-Os. Key here is that the Spaghetti-Os are not the same class of food as the Italian Trattoria and shouldn't be compared to each other. But every once in a while the Spaghetti-Os serve their purpose. You can use the same analogy with "authentic sushi" and california rolls. Shouldn't be compared.

                          5. My 2 cents:

                            Being from Hong Kong, I have a high expectation of Cantonese food should be. However, I'm not above indulging in sesame chicken or lemon chicken ocassionally. I think I have come to term with people often mislabeling food, be it from any culture. Eliza's for example, claims to be Mandarin cuisine. I love the place and have taken friends there. But I would always tell them that the food is really more Chinese/Califorian fusion.

                            I understand people from different regions like things a certain way and want to keep things pure. However, one needs to understand that not everyone would like what's authentic. I don't like wasabi, but love sushi (no, I don't really care for California roll, sorry....). Does that mean I shouldn't eat sushi at all? Also, even though California roll isn't authentic, it does help introduce a cuisine to someone who are not familiar with sushi. The 6 year old who loves California roll today may grow up really enjoying the fatty tuna or sea urchin.

                            No matter which country you're in, there are restaurant that serves food from other countries. Many of those restaurants would change a traditional recipe to fit the palate of that country. Frankly, it's extrememly difficult to exactly produce the same recipe at different parts of the world, due to factors like difference in produce, weather and even water. Chinese vegetables available here often taste different than the ones in Chinese due to soil.

                            Just think about this, is Chinese food in Japan really authentic? Italian food in Australia? Soul food in California? Life is short. Eat what you enjoy.

                            1. All ethnic foods will have their loyalists, their traditionalists and their inventors. Like many posters on this thread I cringe at some of the changes people make to food that should just be left alone, but that is probably a topic for another thread.

                              With respect to California rolls, I personally do not like them. If I want a roll, and yes I love the inventiveness of new rolls being developed and served, I would much rather try some new combination of roll that the sushi chef would like me to try.

                              I also think the California roll serves a positive purpose. It is a great way to introduce young non-Asian raised children to the greatness of sushi. My two children (17 & 21) started on California rolls and then moved to Philadelphia roll (that's the worst). To my surprise, on my older girl's last visit home she is now eating tuna and salmon sushi and for rolls are also trying new varieties. Looking to get her to Unagi soon.

                              If it weren't for this "bridge" of flavor and consistency I do not believe my kids would be eating sushi at all. For others that like California, Phialdelphia or any other roll, just eat and enjoy. More power to you.

                                1. i was born and raised in tokyo and i actually like the california roll. i regard the calif roll and other bastardized versions of sushi for what they are. these crazy rolls will never take the place of real sushi but if done well with good rice and good quality fish they can be pretty good. there are mutations of food that seems to happen when food travels from one place to another but that's the beauty of it. i think comparing taco bell to real mexican food is not really the same thing. perhaps comparing yoshinoya to real japanese cooking might equal to that comparison.

                                  i personally like japanese style italian or the american spaghetti and meatballs. but in no way do i find the mutated off shoot of the original version an evolution of the food. i don't think california rolls are taking over and replacing traditional sushi. now that would be a very big problem...

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: trolley

                                    i love japanese-style italian too...picked up some uni and natto spaghetti sauce today, and got an idea to use shiso live in place of basil for baked egpplant.

                                    In a way, japanese curry in japan is like the california roll in america, nothing like the original --but sublime in its own form.

                                    (See Eric Eto's post on Japanese Curry from Scratch, a bastardized dish from india by way of england has its own great -although short- culinary tradition)

                                    1. re: kare_raisu

                                      funny you should mention uni spaghetti...coincidentally, the italians love their pasta with sea urchin too. the new york times magazine food section had an article on this several years ago. the same year that was published, my friend came back from italy raving about the hot pasta tossed with sea urchin, olive oil, basil and sea salt. hmmm...i really wonder which came first? i love my pasta with mentaiko and a sprinkle of shiso. yum!

                                      1. re: kare_raisu

                                        Where do you get uni and natto spaghetti sauce?!

                                        1. re: Pei

                                          well, i don't. i make it at home. buy a tray of uni and mix it in with natto. i see that you're from LA or the area. there is a place in Gardena called Spoons which does all japanese pasta. so does curry house but not as good as spoons. Blue Marlin on Sawtelle makes japaense pasta as well...

                                          1. re: trolley

                                            You might be thinking of Spoon House, which, oddly enough, also makes a baguette that some of my friends and relatives swear by

                                          2. re: Pei

                                            Try Mitsuwa Pei, I bought mine from the SD branch. You can also make it with Uni-neri (uni paste in the seafood case) if you are so inclined or even with the real deal. They come in little packet with kizami nori, and make a nice meal when time is an issue. (also salmon/cream and cod roe flavors).

                                      2. Thanks for the responses. I think the responses were more profound than my original post, which is one of the things I like about this board. Very smart people here -- even when I'm not feeling very ...

                                        1. I think bastardized food is all right as long as people don't think of it as a true [insert ethnicity] food, in this case, Japanese. The problem is, people will say stupid things like, "oh I loooove sushi, my favorite is the California roll." I admit a weakness for the California roll, but in no way would I think of it as really Japanese. You can enjoy it for what it is, but way too many people think a dish like chop suey (what is that anyway??) is the height of Chinese cuisine.

                                          4 Replies
                                          1. re: janethepain

                                            Chop Suey in Chinese translate to stirfry mixed bits.

                                            1. re: anna

                                              Uhm, are you sure about that? I keep trying to pronounce 'Chop Suey' in such a manner that it translates to 'stir-fried mixed bits', but I can't.

                                              1. re: DingoWallaby

                                                I didn't get the translation from the pronouncation of chop suey in Chinese. I really didn't have a clue what chop suey was until I went to a restaurant (forgot which one) and the Chinese translation to choy suey was "stir-fried mixed bits."

                                                1. re: anna

                                                  I'd always thought 'Chop Suey' was one of those made up 'Chinese' words, and not an actual Chinese phrase. So while 'Chop suey' may indeed be stir fried mixed bits, it may not be actually Chinese.

                                          2. basically california rolls are great "sushi rolls" if your main objective is to get hammered on beer and sake and eat some comfort-style food.

                                            but i do that often, so I'll get that.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Xericx

                                              But... have you ever been to a great izakaya with some Japanese salarymen, where the chef/owner knows you well.. where you keep a bottle or two of shochu with your name... Where you tell him about how long you plan to be there, and he starts to roll out items, timed to fit into your drinking and conversation - these creations are sushi, sashimi, whatever Iron-Chef-like item the crazy, talented guy has invented or perfected... Finishing the evening off with a perfect little bowl of ramen or maybe chahan.

                                              Now - that's what I call getting hammered on beer and sake. That's the real thing... not california rolls. Of course, it costs big bucks (which used to be all written off as business expenses, back in the day). But even in this context, california rolls are a cheap and sad imitation of the real thing.

                                            2. While I don't particularly like it when people consider a "modified" or even a terrible version of an ethnic dish to be great, I figure it takes people a step further in getting them out of their meat-and-potatoes/rice-and-nori/insert-"typical"-combination lifestyle. It teaches them that foreign food doesn't have to be too unfamiliar and lets them explore a bit.

                                              My elementary-school-self wouldn't have been too thrilled about trying an Indian curry at a friend's if it hadn't been for kare, you know?

                                              What I love is food. So what if I prefer Korean/Japanese-French sweets to most traditional dduk/wagashi?

                                              By the way, PaulF, have you tried the rolls at Nagao in Brentwood? They also have really fresh ankimo most days.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. There's a place called Piranha Killer Sushi


                                                that does the most wonderful take on California Rolls. It takes amazingly fresh ingredients and puts things like mango and lobster and ginger cream on the rolls and then scatters Cajun spices and a bloody mary type cocktail sauce over it.


                                                1. For me, I have a couple of simple rules. One is to each his own. If you like California rolls (or want to be legally married in a same sex union), it's no skin off my back, whatever makes you happy without harming others is fine with me. I may not agree with it, but I believe that each person has their right to pursue happiness.

                                                  The other is if I put something in my mouth and it taste good, that's good enough for me. So if I put a california roll in my mouth, I'm not so much concerned how "authentic" it is, what really matters is if I like it.

                                                  Now with that said, I do want to try to eat authentic whenever possible. I am use to most Americanized flavors and tastes and I want to expand my palate and try the flavors of the world, so I do try to find what's out there.

                                                  As a side note, I do have one huge pet peeve. I love Chinese Pan Fried Noodles (leon mein whawn). I love it when they use the thin yellow noodles and pour the stir fry on top. You get the crunchy noodles around the side and the noodles in the middle soften from the sauce of the stir fry, yum. However, it really annoys me when in place of serving the thing yellow noodles, a restaurant serves the thicker spaghetti type noodles. I usually find out before I order if this is the case and I have left restaurants once I find out that is how they serve their dish.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: rcheng

                                                    I know what you mean about the noodles from numerous midnight runs to Oakland's Chinatown during college. We called it "Hong Kong style" and/or "with gravy" but these phrases didn't always mean the same thing from place to place. Nowadays I guess you could carry a photo. :-)

                                                    (Actually, maybe the gravy option was for chow fun. Hmmm, hard to remember through the hazy, carb addled recesses of my mind.)

                                                  2. Twenty years ago, a California roll contained crab meat and the nori was properly toasted so that it crackled when you bit into it.

                                                    Today a California roll often is a soggy, oversweetened mess in a retail package, and simply is not suitable for any purpose. The substitution of "krab" for crab, and the latex-like texture of the nori bear no relation to "the real thing." Restaurants often make it in advance and refrigerate it, resulting in hard, parched rice. Pathetic.

                                                    Any sushi, wherever invented, that is not created and served with care from fresh, delicious ingredients, just isn't true to the spirit of sushi.

                                                    1. Well said.
                                                      And just to enforce this point from the other side... my husband and I just got married in Hawaii, and his family came from Japan for the wedding.
                                                      He wanted them to feel somewhat at home and so we looked up the most close to a traditional sort of dining experience to be had in Waikiki, and went to that restaurant.

                                                      His sister and mother can both be pretty traditional about dining, but when we got there, they both ordered... teriyaki beef steak. And they loved it, kept raving about it. Jun's sister's husband got a set dinner, as did Jun and I, and they came with enough spicy tuna hand rolls to go around. And in the end of the night, his mom basically said, "All the foods are good... but the real outstanding things were the teriyaki steak and the spicy tuna. I had never imagined using spicy sauce on tuna in sushi but it is SO good."
                                                      And that made me laugh. Because it stands with my feeling that "authentic" can be good, but ultimately "delicious" is more important.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: linlinchan

                                                        Remember that globlization, or in this case, the mutation of "authentic" foods is nothing new. Let us not forget that there was no Tempura in Japan before the Portaguese introduced frying to the Japanese in the 17th century. Certainly, frying in Japan has mutated to something very different and very special. There are obviously endless examples of this (after all there where no tomatoes or pasta in Italy before they we introduced). This is not to say our lowly California roll will become a great culinary staple but you never know.

                                                      2. There's nothing wrong with a well made California roll. Even Nobu has them!


                                                        1 Reply