If you had told our ancestors 80 years ago that there would be stacks of raw fish wrapped in nori and rice at every mall strip and at nearly every restaurant and grocery store, they would have stared at you with mouths hung open (hopefully drooling if they truly realized what a delicious combination that is). 80 years ago, most Americans didn’t even know about this Japanese delight, due in part to the animosity between the two countries. It wasn’t until 1966, after some of that mutual hate had cooled, that sushi waltzed its way into mini Tokyo, the microcosm of Japan tucked away in the hubbub of LA. Enter our star of the American story of Sushi (drum roll, please!): Noritoshi Kanai, a spry Japanese businessman who brought his wife and a chef across the ocean to America. He named his restaurant, the first sushi restaurant in all of America, Kawafuku.
As expected, Noritoshi’s restaurant was only frequented by Japanese immigrants at first. It wasn’t until the 1970’s rolled around and brought with them brand new sushi chefs, itching for adventure and innovation, that Americans began to think outside of their limited Japanese taste palates of fried tempura and chicken teriyaki. Still, the embers of discord between the two nations lingered, which may explain the possible hesitation towards Japanese cuisine. It was in the mid 1970’s that sushi restaurants and bars began reeling in high-class celebrity guests. Sushi was quickly gaining ground. Enter Sh?gun, a 1980’s historical fiction TV show filmed mostly in Japan with real Japanese actors. Thanks to Sh?gun, interest in everything Japan caught like wildfire among Americans. Anime, manga, Japanese cuisine, it spread everywhere.
The American love of sushi also gave Japanese chefs chafing to break out of the traditional sushi mindset an opportunity to be creative. A few decades ago, seaweed wasn’t really very popular with Americans, so the clever Chef Hidekazu Tojo decided to do what sneaky parents have been doing with vegetables for decades: he disguised the seaweed. Traditional, authentic sushi is wrapped in nori. He inverted the order to make what is called ‘The California Roll’, and wrapped the nori and filling in rice. Interestingly enough, Chef Hidekazu actually invented the California Roll in Canada; its name is due to the Los Angeles’ obsessive love of that particular roll, not to its actual origin.
Sushi in America is very often a crossover between the two cuisines now, instead of being traditional Japanese sushi. Chefs began using avocado as a less expensive replacement for raw tuna and incorporating distinctly American ingredients like cream cheese and cooked meats. Innovative inventions like the barbeque beef rolls and dessert sushi rolls are both loved and hated: loved for their creativity, hated by those who disdain such inventions as imposters and prefer to dine on traditional Japanese sushi. It’s really up to you. We just love our sushi, American, Japanese, whatever it is.
Christopher is a food lover and always seeking new healthy ways to live stronger and better both physically and mentally. Sushi has become a delicious weapon in his current fight for a healthier mind and body.