Sushi, a traditional Japanese dish of prepared vinegared rice accompanying a variety of ingredients such as seafood, vegetables, and sometimes tropical fruits, has a rich history in the United States.
Early Beginnings (Late 19th and Early 20th Century)
The history of sushi in America can be traced back to the late 19th and early 20th century with the influx of Japanese immigrants during the Meiji era, which was a time period during which Japanese society transitioned from being an isolated feudal society to a more Westernized form. Some immigrants who arrived in Hawaii and the West Coast opened sushi stalls and restaurants to cater to the growing Japanese-American community. However, sushi was relatively unknown to the mainstream American public at this time.
Mid 20th Century
After World War II, as American soldiers returned from Japan, there was a newfound interest in Japanese culture and cuisine, and sushi started to gain more visibility.
The first sushi bar in the U.S., Kawafuku, was opened in the Little Tokyo neighborhood of Los Angeles in the 1960s. It mainly catered to Japanese businessmen and their clients. However, its success soon inspired other sushi restaurants in Los Angeles, such as Tokyo Kaikan.
Late 20th Century
The late 1970s and 1980s marked a pivotal moment for sushi in the U.S. During this period, sushi began to be marketed as a fashionable food trend. The California roll was arguably invented during this time in Los Angeles by a chef named Ichiro Mashita at Tokyo Kaikan. This inside-out sushi roll, containing cucumber, crab (or imitation crab), and avocado, was designed to cater to American tastes and the availability of ingredients. Its creation was a turning point in sushi history, opening up a new world of “Americanized” sushi.
Sushi continued to grow in popularity throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s, riding the wave of a health-conscious trend that swept across America. More sushi restaurants opened in major cities and gradually became a mainstream food option.
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