Revenge of the ROLLS

Eel Roll

This cool looking roll is an abstract representation of the EEL which adorns the outside of the roll

Sushi rolls are big in America, really big! They seem to have displaced so many other forms of sushi, and certainly dominate the menus at most American sushi bars.

While bemoaned by coastal dwelling purists, the emergence of sushi rolls has been both neccessary and inevitable. Sushi rolls enabled sushi to penetrate rural America. But the American heartland changed sushi rolls too, in ways that are not always very appealing to say the least.

Such a colorful sushi roll

This sushi chef really has an eye for color and balance. Or else a volcano erupted inside a paint factory.

We all know the classic sushi rolls which are still enjoyed in great quantities in Japan. These are typically smallish, no nonsense rolls wrapped in nori. They usually have a single featured ingredient, perhaps paired up with a complementary veggie, sometimes a simple solo vegetable filling!

People living in the American heartland did not have access to fresh seafood until very recently. So it naturally followed that sushi enthusiasts in the 70’s and again in the 90’s would gravitate toward rolls. For American sushi, the tipping point was really the California innovation of making inside-out rolls.

Crazy Spider Roll

This beautiful but ill-conceived spider roll features soft-shell crab. They applied masago on the outer surface as a twist. Then tuna was applied, and nobody thought to question how well raw tuna and fried crab go together. But just in case they've piled on various other flavors until you have to wonder - where's the crab?

Inside out rolls, with the nori on the inside and rice on the outside opened up opportunities to feature ingredients both inside and outside the roll. It also allows modern sushi chefs to take a page from the old “pressed sushi” playbook and artistically decorate the outsides of sushi rolls.

Thus the natural progression from simple California roll to rainbow roll to caterpillar rolls to some truly freakish creations. The roll shown to the right appears to have started life as a spider roll variant but just didn’t know when to stop adding ingredients and say enough is enough.

Thousand Island Roll

What is it, and why did they pour thousand island dressing over it? Is it lobster bisque? Some sort of spicy mayo with cheeze whiz dressing?

And therein lies the dark insidious downside to the American sushi roll explosion. The archetypal “Fat Slob Roll” has six different kinds of incompatible seafood, tempura batter fried, then drown in a kimchi-chocolate-peptobismol-wasabi sauce. Nothing wrong with enjoying kimchi sauce or smothering your food in eel sauce; just don’t call it sushi.

Before you call us old fashioned innovation haters, you should know that we love to see innovation. We’ve often admired rolls that use traditional sushi ingredients in non-traditional ways. Doraku Sushi effectively uses shredded shiso leaf for a topping, and Sozo Sushi brilliantly uses crushed wasabi peas on one of their rolls. We also admire those that use seasonal, local non-traditional ingredients to create sushi, like using local fish and plants. Marisa Baggett will likely post recipes for sushi using dove, catfish, deer and possum during the course of her career. But the mega-rolls offered in some places today are a defiant rejection of the core values that sushi tradition holds dear. Enjoyment of fresh seafood you can actually taste being the most obvious victim.

Baked Alaska Roll

WTF is this really a sushi roll? At first glance I wonder what's in the roll, but quickly realize it doesn't matter.

Now some may say, “Why do you care what we eat, as long as you have your fancy sushi restaurants on the coast. And there is some truth to the criticism that coastal dwellers unfairly look down on the sushi of inland sushibars with an air of condescension. But fresh frozen seafood is available to all these days, including top quality sustainable seafood that can be shipped to the smallest, dustiest town you can think of.

So don’t expect us to rave about your restaurant if you’re serving us rolls drowning in multiple sauces that obliterate the taste of your insane mix of ingredients contained within. Go with the simple tuna roll or nigiri and you’ll impress!

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  • I’ll let the great Leonardo da Vinci speak for me. “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” People should apply that to sushi.

  • Patti says:

    Respect to Japanese food,Japanese roll should be simple with rice and fresh fish. Overwhelmiing with these sauces, how can you taste the fish? Maybe they don’t want to eat the fish….

  • […] following up on our recent Sushi Roll Rant, we decided to carry on bravely in spite of the outrage from tens of kitchen sink sushi roll […]


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