Caterpillar Roll: What You Should Know Before Ordering

Quick: Name two sushi rolls. Most people can name favorites like a California roll or unagi, but some order sushi by pointing to a picture and saying "that one." Novice sushi eaters will be forgiven if they pause at the name "caterpillar roll," thinking the insect is an ingredient in the dish. Nope. The caterpillar roll gets its name from its resemblance to the bug.

Think of a caterpillar roll as an inside out dragon roll, which means the roll has an avocado border traditionally made with eel and cucumber inside (via Make My Sushi). This sushi roll looks like an insect because it's constructed with overlapping slices of avocado wrapped in a way that looks like a caterpillar. Despite its impressive appearance, the simplicity of a caterpillar roll adds to its deliciousness (via Izzy Cooking).

Inside traditional caterpillar rolls you'll find avocado and unagi, otherwise known as eel. As unagi is becoming overfished (per The New Yorker), some restaurants substitute tempura shrimp or imitation crab sticks (via Easy Homemade Sushi). The disk also includes cucumber, nori (the sheets of seaweed with which most sushi is prepared), sushi rice, rice vinegar, and soy sauce.

How to make a caterpillar roll

According to the Sapporo Steakhouse, a delicious sushi roll revolves around the consistency, freshness, and taste of the rice, which is ultimately what makes it so special. It is a combination of this fresh and flavorful topping, along with the fresh and well-seasoned rice, that makes the dish so delicious and perfect.

To make the caterpillar roll, cut some nori on a bamboo mat, and cover it with sushi rice seasoned to taste. Flip it so the rice is now facing down. Place your fillings inside the nori. Use the bamboo mat to help you tightly roll the nori. so that the rice is on the outside. Don't slice the roll just yet. Slice avocado and layer it over the nori. Take a sheet of plastic wrap and cover the roll, then use the bamboo mat to help press the avocado into the nori. Remove the mat, and slice the nori with the plastic wrap on top — this helps keep everything in place (via Izzy Cooking). Serve with your favorite sushi dipping sauce.

For a fun variation, try Life of a Ginger's Caterpillar Roll: Carolina Style — it uses barbecued catfish instead of unagi.

Vegetarian alternatives to caterpillar rolls

First of all, there is no one way to make sushi. The term "sushi" derives from the word makizushi, of which the 'maki' portion of the word means, simply, "rolled, sour, vinegar rice" (via Sapporo Steakhouse).

What does that mean? As long as you use seasoned sushi rice, you're eating sushi. For a vegetarian version of a caterpillar roll, once you swap out the unagi (or tempura shrimp, depending on the recipe), you can add any number of slightly firm vegetables to the roll with delicious results. Easy Homemade Sushi suggests slices of avocado, red pepper, or slightly boiled carrots.

Traditional maki rolls are vegetarian; most have cucumber, sushi rice, and nori. You can also go for traditional sushi fillings like shinko (pickled vegetable), inarizushi (fried tofu skin), natto (fermented soybean), and avocado. Consider also tasty options like scrambled eggs, marinated tofu, or chopped nuts.