NYPL Exhibitions


Of all the culinary imports enthusiastically adopted by mainstream America, raw fish was surely the least likely to succeed. Yet today sushi is available just about everywhere New Yorkers stop for lunch, even the corner drugstore. It is not certain when sushi first appeared in the city, but it is listed on a 1932 menu for the short-lived Yoshino-Ya restaurant at 76 West 47th Street. Three decades later it turned up at the Nippon restaurant in midtown, and it has been a city mainstay ever since. By 1966, according to Craig Claiborne of The New York Times, raw fish was being served all over town, and New Yorkers were eating it “with a gusto once reserved for corn flakes.”

Sushi in New York remained largely traditional for decades. The first major American innovation—the inside-out roll, which hid the seaweed inside the rice for fear that less adventurous eaters might be put off by the unfamiliar ingredient—started in Los Angeles in the 1970s but did not become a staple in New York until later. By 1985 sushi could be found throughout the city at every level of culinary refinement, from the pristine offerings at traditional Japanese restaurants to the prepackaged sushi at supermarkets and delis. Next came the era of the Godzilla roll, the Tempura roll, and the Yellow Submarine roll, not to mention the utmost in Americanization: the all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant.