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California Roll world record broken at Cal

on November 9, 2009

The ingredients: 102 pounds of rice, 520 sheets of nori (seaweed), 167 pounds of surimi (artificial crab), 67 pounds of avocado, 67 pounds of cucumber, 1 pound of sesame seeds, 2 gallons of soy sauce, and 5 pounds of wasabi.

The goal:  To create the world’s longest California Roll ever made and recorded by the Guinness World Record.

Over 350 lively people made up of fraternities, sororities, campus clubs, individual students, and community members registered for the event at UC Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza on Sunday afternoon. Each was hopeful that they would beat the Maui, Hawaii contingent who made the last record with a 300 foot long California Roll in 2001.

small squares of rice and nori were connected to create the record-breaking roll

Small squares of rice and nori were connected to create the record-breaking roll

“There’s never been anything like this (at UC Berkeley),” said David Oda, 21, a UC Berkeley student and president of the Nikkei (a Japanese word for “an American of Japanese descent”) Student Union (NSU). He was wearing a sky blue baseball cap, a white “Roll-Models” t-shirt, and blue jeans while standing among his friends from NSU. “It’s exciting to be part of a world record breaking event.”

The California Roll contest was part of a daylong theme called, “Japanese Food Culture on the Global Stage,” sponsored by UC Berkeley’s Center for Japanese Studies (CJS), with the California Roll extravaganza co-sponsored by Cal Dining.  It was made up of a morning symposium on the history and contemporary forms of Japanese food culture, the afternoon record-breaking California Roll, and a CJS Fundraiser Gala in Napa featuring Bay Area celebrity chefs.

Starting from 9 a.m., people gathered in UC Berkeley’s Alumni House to hear academics from around the world talk about Japanese food culture – including topics like the relationship between poetry and traditional Japanese food, the impacts of World War II on food in Japan, and the recent globalization of Japanese food culture.

To celebrate its 50th anniversary, CJS has been hosting Japan related events on campus all year. Its programs have featured internationally acclaimed author Haruki Murakami, anime filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, and Director Clint Eastwood on his film Letters from Iwo Jima.

“I came up with this idea that I wanted to do one thing that was a serious investigation of Japanese food culture, and I was trying to think of a hook,” CJS Chair Duncan Williams said. The California Roll then came to mind, he said.

“I wanted to bring the California Roll back to Cal,” Williams said, “and not let the record sit in Hawaii.” He said that the roll needed to come back to the state where it got its start.

Cucumbers, surimi, and avacado were rolled together with nori and rice

Cucumbers, surimi, and avacado were rolled together with nori and rice

Legend has it that Ichiro Manashita, a chef at the Tokyo Kaikan restaurant in Los Angeles, created the first California Roll in the 1970s. By the 1980s, the roll was a hit across the state. The roll is basically cucumber, avocado and cooked or imitation crab, wrapped in nori and rice. It was invented in the United States, although the idea was drawn from Japanese sushi.

It was a warm, sunny, and festive afternoon with music blaring from loud speakers dispersed across Sproul Plaza. There were mainly UC Berkeley undergrads at the event, but graduate students, community members, parents and friends came out to either take part in, or witness history-in-the-making. Participants registered at a main table near the Sproul Fountain, and picked up their white t-shirts that read in black print, “Roll Models – World’s longest California Roll,” on the front, with donor ads on the back

Taiko Roll Masterz (representing Cal Raijin Taiko members), Smash’n Sushi, AvoCaldoes and other groups gathered in front of the plaza’s fountain smiling, laughing, and chatting away while they waited for the event to begin.

“We’ve had this overwhelming response from students,” said Williams in a phone interview before the event. CJS had over 500 people apply. “We actually had to shut down our Website,” Williams said, saying that they could only let about 350 students join.


Michael Murata, 18, a UC Berkeley first year was one of the students in the NSU crowd. “It’s a good Japanese-American thing to be involved in. It represents what we are and our culture,” he said adding that as a fourth generation Japanese-American he often feels like he represents a combination of two cultures.

Shortly past noon, the Cal Raijin Taiko group began beating their large barrel drums on the steps of Sproul Hall.  The sound resonated across the plaza, drawing participants and passers-by to gather in front of the steps and watch.

While most students had on the event t-shirt, there were some who came in costume. UC Berkeley student Kat Hartling, 20, dressed as an uni-nigiri (sea-urchin sushi) with white cloth wrapped around her torso and folded orange fabric attached to her back by a thick black belt that she said represented nori. Another group tied a hachimaki (Japanese style headband) around their foreheads with the Japanese flag on the front, and a third group representing the “Japanese Graduates and Researchers Society at Berkeley,” dressed in all black ninja costumes.


“I think it’s a great thing to export Japanese food,” said Master’s of Business Administration Kazu Kanairo, who moved to Berkeley from Tokyo in 2008. “Because traditionally in Japan, people were importing a lot of food,” he said, explaining that the Japanese imported noodles from China and made it into ramen, and created their own curry that had derived from Indian curry.

When the taiko performance finished, students began walking to their places behind the six-foot-long folding tables that stretched from the steps of Sproul Hall directly under Sather Gate.  Williams greeted the students, and Cal Dining Assistant Director Executive Chef Ida Shen explained the directions over a loud speaker.

Cal Raijin Taiko performed at the event's opening

Cal Raijin Taiko performed at the event’s opening

“Guys down here, you’ll probably be rolling in another half hour,” said Shen, standing at the far end of the table. Their plan was to roll in increments, starting by Sather Gate and moving downward toward Sproul Hall.

Making the world’s longest California Roll requires a number of calculations and pre-planning. Shen said that she went to the Web site called “The World Records of Sushi,” where Maui’s record-breaking ingredients and measurements were listed. Then she calculated how much an extra 30 feet would require. “It’s been a lot of work,” Shen said, but added, “But how often does someone get the opportunity to make the world’s largest California Roll? I’m up for the challenge.”

Cal Dining had all of the ingredients donated from companies that include JFC International, Kikkoman, and California Rice. Some student and faculty members saw this to be an uplifting educational event in light of budget cuts and tuition increases. “I think this is energizing for the Cal community,” said Oda.

“I lived in Japan for almost two years,” said Sunny Lee, 24, a senior studying Sociology and Japanese, who added that she was raised in different states across the United States, but also lived in Korea. “I love the fashion and the way they dress in Japan.” Lee and her friends formed a group called the Maki-Masters and dressed in different color t-shirts to represent a rainbow. She was wearing a yellow shirt, and pointed out her peers dressed in red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple.

Fusing culture seemed to be the theme of the daylong event. While some may wonder why a California Roll was made if not originally from Japan, some Japanese people at the event thought the roll was an entry point into Japanese culture.

“The California Roll is like a signature creation between Japan and Californians,” said Consul-General of Japan Yasumasa Nagamine, who was invited to the event. “The first time I went to a Japanese restaurant, I saw so many unknown rolls. I was a bit surprised,” Nagamine said referring to popular rolls such as the California Roll and Spider Roll that were created in the United States and generally wouldn’t be found in Japan. “Then I realized that this is the way that people appreciate the culture of Japan, but accommodate it into their own life to enjoy,”  he said.

“Food and music always adapts to the environment of the host society,” said UC Berkeley Ethnic Studies and International Area Studies Lecturer Keiko Yamanaka who was standing in front of the tables observing the participants in action.  “Now sushi is global and very Californian. The California Roll represents that,” she said.

The 330 foot California Roll snaked under UC Berkeley's Sather Gate

The 330 foot California Roll snaked under UC Berkeley’s Sather Gate

Wearing disposable vinyl gloves, Oda and his friends took turns placing strips of cucumbers, red and white surimi, and frozen avocados dipped in lemon juice on the nori and rice. “I know the avocado looks really strange,” announced Shen on the loud speaker as she attentively walked up and down the tables with a microphone at hand. “But I didn’t want it to go bad so I kept it frozen,” she said.

Oda and his NSU friends lifted the roll with their vinyl covered hands, and rolled the ingredients into a tight roll, tucking the seams on the bottom so it wouldn’t fall apart.

They were working at one of the first tables that started rolling and although they finished in just a few minutes, they had to wait around for about an additional hour and and a half before the rice being placed down the entire table had been rolled.

The committed participants looked tired and hungry.

Four sushi chefs rushed down the line of tables with square bamboo mats to shape the white rice roll that snaked under Sather Gate.

They then made another round to finish the final step—sprinkling black sesame seeds on the top and sides of the roll.

Nagamine was given the honors to take an official stroll down the finalized 330-foot roll, and give Williams verification that the job was completed.

He approved and the long line of exhausted participants cheered with relief—a surge of renewed excitement rolled across the plaza as they picked up their plastic knives and began cutting up the perfectly intact roll that took them about two hours and ten minutes to make.

Oda tore the aluminum foil apart that lined the tables forming a small origami-like bowl for his soy sauce. He poured the sauce into his bowl from the large soy-sauce container being passed down the table, and dipped in a slice of the world’s longest California Roll, before putting it in his mouth. “It tastes pretty good,” he said, and reached for another piece.

Photos by Paige Ricks and Jun Stinson

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