Was the California Roll Invented in Vancouver?

Sushi is an integral part of Vancouver culture. The first sushi restaurant in the city opened in 1963!

No matter which neighbourhood you are in, you’ll be sure to find a sushi restaurant on the nearest corner (and you’ll argue with your friend about which one is the best). There are more than 600 sushi restaurants in Vancouver; that’s about 10% of all the restaurants in the city! And it makes sense that Sushi is so popular in this city, given that some of the most famous rolls were invented here!

Undoubtedly the most well-known type of sushi in North America is the California roll, which is made with cooked crab, avocado, and sometimes cucumber wrapped in seaweed and rice. You would think the name gives it all away, but there are actually conflicting accounts as to where it was invented. Some claim it was invented in Los Angeles, but others credit Hidekazu Tojo, a sushi chef from Vancouver who claimed he first started making it in the 1970’s.

He initially named the roll Tojo-maki, and said he came up with this role as he observed the eating habits of Vancouverites. Compared to Japanese culture, westerners don’t eat very much seaweed, so he “hid” the seaweed on the inside of the roll, unlike traditional sushi that has the seaweed wrapped outside.

California Roll

But if Hidekazu really invented it in Vancouver, why is it predominantly called the California roll and not a Tojo-maki, as he named it?

Well, his explanation for this is that a lot of foreigners, especially from California, were coming to try his sushi, and they loved it. So, he eventually decided to re-name it the California roll.

Sounds reasonable; however, Ken suesa, a sushi chef from LA, claims he invented this roll in the 60’s – a whole decade before chef Tojo in Vancouver.

So, who is telling the truth? Maybe both are.

It seems that Ken Suesa may have been the inventor of this particular combination of ingredients, but Hidekazu Tojo pioneered the new style of making sushi with seaweed on the inside, which is now synonymous with the California roll.

Well, if there are doubts as to the origins of the California roll, there are no doubts as to where the BC roll was invented. The BC roll was invented in Vancouver in 1974 by… drum roll please… Chef Hidekazu Tojo. Does this guy ever take a break?

The main component of the BC roll is Barbecued salmon, both the flesh and the skin. It is similar to the California roll in that it also has the seaweed on the inside. Since its inception, this roll has become very popular not only in the province, but all over the world!


So, what’s your favourite between these two iconic Vancouver sushi rolls?

Both have been a staple in the diet of a Vancouverite for many years, and will be for many more years to come.

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