What’s In A Philadelphia Roll And How To Make It

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If you are a frequent visitor at sushi bars then you have probably seen or even tried a Philadelphia roll. You can tell from the name that this is not traditional Japanese sushi but a westernized creation designed to woo the foreigners. Whatever the case, you cannot deny that a Philly roll tastes heavenly.

Made from smoked salmon and delicious cream cheese,  a Philadelphia roll melts into the mouth and makes the eater feel ecstatic with an outburst of exotic flavors. The perfect combination of fish and veggies lend it flavors of the seas as well as that of land.

The good news is that you don’t need to go to the restaurant every time to enjoy a Philly roll. You can make it at home using easily available ingredients from any Asian grocery store.


Bring On’ The Philadelphia Roll Recipe (Traditional style)

What you will need:

  • 4 cups of cooked and seasoned sushi rice
  • Nori seaweed
  • 4oz sushi grade frozen and smoked salmon
  • 1 small English or Japanese cucumber
  • 4 oz cream cheese, cut into matchsticks
  • 1 packet of Philadelphia brand cheese (see Amazon)
  • Wasabi and pickled ginger


You will start by cooking the sushi rice using short-grain Japanese rice. When it cools down, season the rice with vinegar, salt and sugar to bring out the flavors. To find the detailed steps and ratio of rice and vinegar mix, read the article here.

The next step is to prepare the fillings for the sushi. Take a sharp Japanese sushi knife like this and cut the thawed salmon pieces into strips

Cut the cucumber into a half, remove seeds if any and make 8 long strips. Also, cut the cream cheese and Philadelphia cream cheese into matchstick-like strips.

Gather all ingredients and lay the bamboo mat on a plain working area. Now place the Nori sheet over the mat, rough side facing upwards.

Take a ball of vinegared sushi rice and spread it evenly over the Nori sheet. Press gently and be careful to not mash the sushi rice

Arrange the cream cheese strips at the center of the Nori sheet. Next, place a row of salmon and a line of cucumber strips next to it.

Lift the bamboo mat from the side closer to you and start rolling, keeping the fillings secure inside the roll. Squeeze gently with the help of bamboo mat to ensure that the roll stays compact.

Moisten your fingers and seal the edges of the roll by wetting the Nori sheet slightly. Transfer the roll into a serving plate.

Now, dampen the blades of a sushi knife and cut the sushi roll into two equal halves. Take the two halves and slice again to get eight pieces of equal size.

Serve the delicious Philadelphia rolls with wasabi, soy sauce, and pickled ginger.

Pro-tip: You can also use this recipe to make an inside-out sushi roll. When you spread the rice, sprinkle it with toasted sesame seeds and turn the sheet upside down. Now add the fillings just like you did earlier and start roiling.

Philadelphia Roll Recipe (Inside-out style)

What you will need:

  • Cooked and seasoned sushi rice
  • Nori sheets
  • Salmon fillets
  • Cream cheese (Philadelphia or some other brand)
  • Ripe avocado, pit removed and cut into slices
  • Masago to use as toppings
  • Toasted sesame seeds


Cook the sushi rice and when it cools, season it with vinegar, sugar, and salt. Read this article for step-by-step instructions

Cut the salmon into slices of equal thickness. You can also buy smoked and pre-sliced salmon from the grocery store. Make some thin strips to use inside the roll

Keep the bamboo mat on the table and cover it with a cling film. Now, place half of the Nori sheet on the mat.

Take a medium ball of seasoned sushi rice and spread it evenly over the Nori sheet 

Flip the Nori sheet upside down over the bamboo mat to have the Nori sheet on the top and rice at the bottom

Take a spoonful of cream cheese and spread it over the Nori generously.

Arrange strips of smoked salmon and place avocado slices next to it.

Now lift the bamboo from your side and start rolling to make a compact roll. Remove the bamboo mat and give the roll one tight hug.

Cut the roll into 6-8 pieces with the plastic wrap over the pieces. Now wrap the sushi pieces with the thinly sliced salmon and you may also put a thin slice of avocado. 

Make sure the fish hugs the sushi completely to turn out beautifully. Drizzle some cream over the sushi pieces and garnish with masago and toasted sesame seeds on the top.

Tips To Make Your Philadelphia Roll Taste Better

Now that you know how to make a traditional and western style Philadelphia Roll, here are a few things you need to consider to improve the taste.

  • If you want to make an inside out Philadelphia Roll, you may mix toasted sesame seeds to seasoned sushi rice to add a crunchy texture to it.
  • The ingredients are not limited to salmon and cucumbers. You may also use avocado, red pepper, blanched carrots and so on to enhance the taste.
  • The Philly rolls are not restricted with wasabi and you may also serve them with pickled ginger and green onions. You may also serve with Sriracha sauce if you wish to increase the heat.
  • Always buy sushi-grade salmon from a trusted fishmonger and let it thaw completely by placing it inside the refrigerator for 12-24 hours. If you wish to speed up defrosting, keep under running water to thaw quickly. 

Vegan Philadelphia Roll Recipe Using Carrot ‘Salmon

If you dare to come out of your comfort zone and try something new and different, here is a vegan Philadelphia Roll recipe for you. In this recipe, I have used the carrot as an alternative for salmon to make a delicious plant-based meal.

Let me warn you that this recipe takes 3 days to make so if you wish to enjoy this vegan Philadelphia Roll recipe, you will need to start preparations 3 days in advance. However, the flavors you will ultimately enjoy are totally worth the wait.

What you will need:

  • Cooked and seasoned sushi rice
  • Nori sheets
  • 2 large sized carrots
  • 2 cups of coarse sea salt
  • 2 tbsp of olive oil
  • 2 tsp of liquid smoke
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  • Kelp powder
  • Vegan cream cheese
  • 1 Japanese/ Persian cucumber


Add one cup of sea salt to a large-sized glass baking dish

Wash the carrots and put them over the salt (with the skin on). Add the remaining salt over the top to cover the carrots completely and bake without lid for 1.5 hours at 375°F.

When the carrots cook completely, set them aside to cool down. Upon cooling, remove the salt and use a Japanese knife to slice them into desired pieces. You may trim the outside skin if you prefer (not compulsory).

Now, mix the carrots with oil, vinegar, and liquid smoke. Put it inside the fridge for 3 days to absorb the marinade and change the flavor. Rotate in between and add more oil if needed.

On the third day, make sushi rice and season it with vinegar, sugar, and salt as mentioned here. Place the Nori on the table and nori sheet on it.

Apply a layer of seasoned sushi rice on the Nori and then arrange strips of cucumber, vegan cream cheese, and vegan salmon (flavored carrot).

Start rolling to make a compact roll and cut into equal pieces. Serve the vegan Philadelphia sushi roll with pickled ginger and soy sauce. 

What’s The Connection Between Philly Roll And Traditional Sushi

Sushi is the traditional Japanese dish that comprises of vinegared sushi rice, veggies, and fish/ seafood rolled in seaweed and sliced into pieces. The term ‘sushi’ means ‘it’s sour’ referring to the dish having a sour taste.

When sushi arrived at the shores of North America in around 1980s, cream cheese and lox were extremely popular. The sushi chefs took inspiration from ingredients used in bagels to promote this delicacy in the country. Hence, cream cheese was incorporated in the sushi rolls.

It can be said that Philadelphia roll is makizushi (maki rolls) made typically from smoked salmon, cream cheese, and cucumber. However, other ingredients such as avocado(my favorite), onions, sesame, and scallion can also be used.

Some people believe that the inspiration for Philadelphia rolls came from salmon Homasakiise rolls made of sushi rice, fish on the inside, and nori sheet on the outside. It is also often said that the roll was named ‘Philly roll’ because the recipe used the Philadelphia brand cream cheese.

Ardent fans of Philadelphia cream cheese claim that no other brand can taste as good when used in this Japanese delicacy. Furthermore, smoked salmon gives a nice alternative to those who don’t like the taste of raw fish. To find out more about the difference between American sushi and Japanese sushi, read this article.

What’s In A Philadelphia Roll?

A lot goes into the making of a Philadelphia Roll but it’s not rocket science. With the right ingredients and a little practice, you can make delicious Philly roll at home. Here are a few things that go into the roll, so make a list of the items you need to get from the grocery store.

Sushi rice:

Quality sushi starts from sushi rice perfectly seasoned with rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. So, you will need to buy short-grain Japanese rice (japonica) for best results. If not available, you may also use medium grain California rice. You will find them labeled in any Asian grocery store.

Most expert sushi chefs will advise you to use short grain rice because it has a much higher content of starch. When the rice is well cooked, let it cool and then add vinegar mix evenly. If you are making sushi for the first time at home, consider buying a bamboo paddle and spatula.

Smoked Salmon

The smoked salmon is the heart of Philadelphia roll. It carries a mild flavor and a high level of omega- 3 fatty acids. Smoked salmon has become the go-to option for those who do not like the taste or the very idea of eating raw fish. It can be used in sushi directly without any additional cooking and can also be stored in the freezer.

Additional Vegetables

Besides the smoked salmon, you may also add some veggies to add freshness and crispiness to the roll. My first option is cucumber because it has a refreshing effect on the taste buds. Always use Japanese cucumber or Persian cucumbers as they have less or no seeds.

Other than cucumber, you may also use other vegetables such as avocado, green onions, etc. However, make sure you do not overload the roll with ingredients as this would impact the taste of raw fish. Just one extra ingredient other than smoked salmon should be enough. 

Other Ingredients

You will need Nori sheets to make the traditional style roll and if you wish to make an inside-out version, you may require sesame seeds to add crunchiness to the exterior. Invest in a good bamboo mat as this will be your best friend in making rolls easier. Also, remember to get a plastic wrap to ensure that rice does not stick to the bamboo mat when making an inside-out roll.

Who Invented the Philadelphia Roll And How It Got The Name

When a name like this appears on the menu, it’s but obvious for everyone to be curious and wonder who invented the roll and how it got such an interesting name. While there are a few people who claim to be the maker of Philadelphia Roll, I believe the story of Madame Saito, nicknamed as the ‘Queen of Sushi’ sounds most convincing.

Madame Saito is a Japanese sushi chef who began her career at a time when it was against the customs and traditions for women to be chefs. However, determined to be a chef one day, she learned the art of making sushi from master chefs in Tokyo after the restaurants closed their doors.

In 1981, she moved to the Philadelphia area with her family and opened the first sushi restaurant in the Upper Darby area. During that time, Americans were not very familiar with sushi so she decided to take cooking classes to educate people about the cuisine.

In the mid-1980s, she was taking a sushi class at Longwood Gardens when she proudly presented one of her newest creations made with smoked salmon and Philadelphia cream cheese. She called it the Jewish roll but the crowd chanted ‘Philadelphia roll’ ‘Philly roll’ and this is how it got its name.

Related Questions

How many calories in a Philadelphia roll?

A Philadelphia Roll contains smoked salmon and cream cheese, hence it has about 320 calories, 32 carbohydrates, 8 grams fat, and 8 grams protein.

Is Philadelphia roll a type of cooked sushi roll?

This is makizushi made of smoked salmon, cream cheese, and cucumber. Other ingredients may contain scallions, avocado, and sesame seeds. As the main ingredients salmon, rice, and cream are not raw, it is considered as a cooked sushi roll.

Is it safe to eat Philadelphia roll when pregnant?

Smoked salmon prevents the growth of bacteria and increases the shelf life of the fish. As you are not consuming raw fish in the roll, there is nothing to be worried about as long as you eat at a reputed restaurant or make it at home. However, some restaurants may use raw salmon for making Philly sushi so make sure to inquire before you order.

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