Koreans do it too. They make their version of the sushi roll.
The first time I tried a Korean Sushi Roll was at a kooky-sounding market—Hankook Supermarket, I think it was!—and it cost two dollars. Encased between a styrofoam tray and plastic wrap, it sat by the cash register waiting to be picked up, like a prepackaged deli item.
It was flavorful indeed, despite the cheap price and very un-Japanese essence of it. It may have looked like a sushi roll, but the anticipated taste of sushi rice was lost on this one. It was more like a snack, a bite-between-meals sort of treat. The only part that made it resemble a real sushi roll was the seaweed in which it was wrapped.
Although the meaty portion of the roll varies from bulgogi beef and fishcake to egg and ham, a Korean sushi roll (also known as kimbap) almost always has pickled radish, julienned carrots and spinach inside it. It reminds me of Futo Maki—meaning “fat roll” or “large roll” in Japanese—which also invariably uses carrots, spinach and egg, but normally features imitation crab and kampyo (sweet, ribbonlike strips of gourd). I’ve also seen shiitake mushroom and a sweet pink fish powder used in these rolls from time to time, depending on the chef.
The Korean Sushi Roll can be found on the menu at certain Korean Restaurants—as a light, healthy, inexpensive alternative to the greasy but grand Kalbi short ribs, or a steaming stone bowl of bibimbap. The restaurants will sell a Korean Sushi Roll for about $6.50, perhaps because they make it fresh, garnish it with orange slices and the ever-popular yellow pickled radish, and pile it on (compared to most sushi rolls in this price range, the Korean version is neverending with its numerous pieces).
The dominant flavors in this otherwise simple roll have got to be the pungence of the pickled radish and the sweetness of the beef; without them, the other ingredients have nothing to complement.
Another advantage to loving Korean Sushi Rolls: they are available ‘round the clock, as quite a few Korean restaurants are open 24 hours. I have still yet to come across such a Japanese restaurant.
Elephant Snack Corner
901 S. Western Ave., Los Angeles
Yei San Jib
18301 Colima Road, Rowland Heights