It's commonly acknowledged that classic American sushi includes the California Roll, which is made with rice, roasted seaweed, avocado, crab meat and cucumber. This roll played a vital part of my high school years, however I try to stay away from it nowadays because I'm not sure if it counts as "real" sushi. The line is blurred — is a California Roll actually real sushi? 

What Exactly is Sushi?

sushi, avocado, seafood, rice, wasabi, fish, shrimp, salmon, tuna, cucumber, eel, nori, crab, roll, sushi roll, California roll
Caroline Ingalls

Sure, Merriam-Webster defines sushi as "cold rice dressed with vinegar, formed into any of various shapes and garnished especially with bits of raw seafood or vegetables." This sounds like a description for California rolls, right? 

According to GrubStreet, it's not completely clear who exactly invented the California roll, but as legend has it, it was first created in the 1970s by a Japanese chef working in Vancouver. He wanted to design a form of sushi for customers that didn't feel comfortable eating raw seaweed or raw fish (and raw fish was hardly available to him at the time).   

But you see, while an American considers California rolls to be sushi, it's different from the traditional Japanese types. Inside out rolls (with rice on the outside of the seaweed) are relatively new compared to those of old traditional Japanese culture. This is usually why people don't consider California Rolls as "real" sushi — they weren't originally popular in Japan.

The Verdict

sushi, avocado, tuna, rice, salmon, wasabi, cucumber, eel, seafood, crab, fish, nori
Brittany Cutler

It's complicated. Honestly, it depends on how serious of a sushi-eater you are. If you consider the word "sushi" to be restricted to traditionally Japanese types, California rolls may not exactly be considered sushi in your mind. But, if you're letting the word include the American types as well, then there's your answer. 

You could note, American sushi typically stuffs as many types of fish as possible into a roll — inside, on top, around it — and includes many types of sauces and toppings. But traditional Japanese sushi is simple, usually consisting of seaweed, sushi rice, one type of fish, and sometimes some vegetables inside. That sounds a lot like a California roll to me. 

So, is California roll actually real sushi? Whatever you think it is, I think we can all agree that a California roll still tastes good. I guess it's up to you (and your stomach) to decide if it's true sushi. 

#SpoonTip: If you want to try to make your own, here's a recipe you can try at home. Spend the summer perfecting your sushi-making skills.