This Sushi Roll is Having an Identity Crisis
This Philadelphia roll has a weirdly complicated and little known history.
by Lindsey Rose BlackApril 6th, 2015
Image Credit: Wiki
The Philadelphia Roll, a blissful combination of cream cheese and smoked salmon wrapped in sushi rice and nori has fallen prey to an unusual conundrum: right name, wrong history.
A quick search across the Google-sphere on the roll’s origins claims the roll is named after Kraft’s Philadelphia cream cheese brand. However, a little bit of digging reveals that while the roll deserves the name Philadelphia, it’s not due to the prominent cream cheese brand, but the city itself.
The Myth: A Delicious Accident in New York
The invention of cream cheese is credited to New York Neufchatel factory-owner William Lawrence. The story goes that in 1872 Lawrence accidentally added too much cream to a batch of Neufchatel, but was so happy with the result that he started making it on a large scale. He decided to call his cream cheese brand “Philadelphia” because the quality of food in Pennsylvania was considered to be higher. Essentially, the name was an advertising strategy.
Credit (Unintentionally) Given Where Credit’s Due
Although the name Philadelphia was a marketing ploy, Lawrence unintentionally gave credit to the city that did actually create the first batches of cream cheese. Jeffrey Marx’s June 2011 article in Food Culture Society, “The Days had Come of Curds and Cream,” dispels the myth that Lawrence was the accidental and original inventor of cream cheese. Marx shares that while Lawrence was the first mass-producer of cream cheese in the country, Philadelphians were churning out small batches of the cheesy goodness over a century earlier. In fact, recipes for cream cheese appear in Penn newspapers and periodicals as early as 1769. Cream cheese didn’t meet nori, however, until much later; 1986, to be exact.
The Roll Truth: Madame Saito, the Unsung Hero of a Sushi Revolution
It’s a happy coincidence that Madame Saito, an inventive Tokyo sushi chef turned City of Brotherly Love resident, invented her famous roll in Philadelphia and named it after the city in 1986. She created the now eponymous roll after biting into a bagel with lox and schmear. Inspired, she started serving it at her restaurant, Tokio Sushi Bar.
While the roll’s popularity caught on quickly and spread throughout the country, Madame Saito’s story remains fairly unknown. As Madame Saito gains increasing acclamations and awards from the culinary world, her story and the true history of cream cheese have a chance to be heard.
Oh, and if you’re wanting another fun twist on this delicious cheese with a troubled past, we recommend our very own creation, the Lox Cream Cheese Pizza! …Or should we call it the Philly Pie?