I Made the World's Longest California Roll!

November 10, 2009

Well, at least partly because Californians just roll that way. (Ba-DUM-chhh!)

But mostly because Berkeley's Center for Japanese Studies is celebrating its 50th birthday this year with a whole roster of awesome and colorful events. CJS Chair Duncan Williams -- who organized this event, as well as a gourmet Japanese food festival later that night -- thought it a shame that the record California roll be made outside of California. So he brought it back to the state in style -- and using the demographic most likely to show up in droves to handle free food.

I couldn't help but see a metaphor for Asian America in all of this: a small, inconsequential Asian form, with American ingredients that bloat its girth, fetishized and repeated to extreme excess. It's the excess -- and the waste of food -- that feels the most American to me. Hot dog eating contests, Christmas trees, golf courses in the desert, and Burning Man: our pleasures always seem to be based on waste and excess. Okay, now I'm moralizing.

What did it look like? Well, I'm glad you asked. There are better photos (and a video) over at SF Gate, but my crappy cell phone pics are more comprehensive. Wanna hear it? Hear it go:

So this is us around noon, with the trays of rice-spread nori waiting to be unpacked. Not impressed yet? See where the gate starts at the top/middle? That's about a seventh of the way down. The vague white strip receding into the distance is all tables.

After we stuck about a thousand sheets of nori (with pre-spread rice on it) end-to-end with water, we started laying the cukes, frozen rolls of avocado (believe me, they had thawed by the time we ate them!), and sticks of crab-like fish product along the whole length. By the way, we were all wearing gloves. This is flu season, people!

Then we folded it together in a wave, with two chefs supervising all down the row. This part took the longest, and once we had stuck, filled, and folded, we ended up waiting for the waves of each of these steps to pass down the 330 feet to the end. It took about an hour and a half. By the time the whole thing was folded, we'd lost half of our helpers.


So, as you can see, it ended up falling to the lot of the two sushi chefs to go down the whole length of the table, tightening the roll with bamboo mats. People tried to help, and only slowed them down.


And who's this? Why it's the Consul General of Japan, and his lovely wife! Oh, yes: he has a roll to play later (sic!)

Final step, after much waiting: sprinkle the sucker with sesame seeds.


Finished product! You see the vague white stripe in the top middle of the picture? Yeah, that's the tables going off into the distance. That's what 330 feet looks like by crappy camera phone.

And look! There's the Consul General of Japan again, with CJS Chair Duncan Williams! What are they doing? Well, the Consul is verifying the length, and unbrokenness of the California Roll! I bet he joined the foreign service precisely for days like this!

caliroll10,jpgAnd did I say "waste of food?" Well, on that score I was wrong. Keep in mind that, other than us middle-aged folks, all of the Cali rollers were students. So they came, they rolled, they took out. There was plenty of plastic wrap for them to use (and I saw one student walk away with a long section of the roll wrapped in plastic hanging around his neck like a scarf.) But us middle-aged folks were smarter, as Sunyoung Lee, Kaya Press editor and wife of organizer Duncan Williams, demonstrates with her ... TUPPERWARE!

You see, I had forgotten that we were dealing with Asians. You know, dogeaters who waste no part of any animal? In the time it took me to eat my share of the roll and walk the length of the tables, the entire roll was gone. I'm sure there are some Top-Ramen-fans out there who are still dining off the bounty.

And me? Well, I'm just glorying in a job well done ... because I wasn't fast enough to get any take-home.




this is seriously amazing hahaha.
Man, I wish I could've been there to help and eat!