“Wop” salad?

People living along the Gulf of Mexico are probably familiar with this designation but I remember being quite surprised the first time I came across it. Given that “wop” is an offensive slang name for Italians, my first reaction was, Please don’t tell me it means that!

It does. It’s another way of saying Italian salad.

“Wop salad” could be found on menus from the 1930s even into the 1980s in certain regions. Its use was frequent in Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi, especially along the Gulf. It was most closely identified with New Orleans, but was also used in Baton Rouge, Shreveport, Corpus Christi, Galveston, San Antonio, Biloxi, and to a lesser extent Little Rock, Arkansas. I have also found the term in use by restaurants in various other states, but quite rarely.

The salad had many variations. Among the possible ingredients [some pictured above] are iceberg lettuce, endive, escarole, white onions, tiny pearl onions, shallots, garlic, boiled eggs, black olives, green olives, pickles, celery, radishes, sweet peppers, pimientos, avocados, artichoke hearts, tomatoes, asparagus, anchovies, and grated cheese. Dressings could contain combinations of some of the following: olive oil, vinegar, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, and lemon.

Even a single restaurant might not always compose the salad in quite the same way. Larry Platt’s Italian Village in Corpus Christi TX advertised wop salads with differing ingredients in 1954. In one ad the salad had “pimientos, olives, anchovies and sauce, Italian peppers and sauce, pickles, eggs, garlic, onions, fresh lemons and salad dressing” while in another it contained “anchovies, olives, lettuce, tomatoes, Italian pepper, radishes, celery, with our Famous Dressing.”

An indication of the popularity of the salad, however construed, is its inclusion in the American food section of a 1950 Chinese menu from The Chinese Dragon in New Orleans. [pictured here]

Despite my negative response to the name, the general reaction today seems to be mild amusement coupled with dismissal of the notion that it could be taken as truly offensive. Most defenders will quickly point out that Italian-Americans in New Orleans used it too and it could be found as often on the menus of Italian restaurants as any others.

I have read the claim that Joe Brocato’s restaurant in Shreveport LA – which advertised it was “Home of the Wop Salad” — was the owner of the term and that anyone else who used it had to pay royalties.

Call me skeptical. I’ve heard similar arguments about how Afro-Americans didn’t mind dressing up like mammies, loved working and eating at Sambo’s, etc.

Historically New Orleans had more residents of Italian origin than other cities in the South. It was a port of entry into the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and many Italians disembarked there. One day in October 1907, for instance, 1,300 Italians arrived, some of them wives and children of men in various parts of the country, but others migrants who came to work in Louisiana sugar cane fields; taking jobs once held by slaves and poor Blacks, they were very much looked down upon. And how long did Italians in New Orleans remember the lynching of eleven Italians there in 1891? The murders brought condemnation nationally and internationally and caused riots in Italian communities in NYC and Cincinnati.

Yet Italians who settled in New Orleans went on to found successful businesses and become professionals and civic leaders there. Quite a few opened restaurants.

To many people “wop salad” began to sound wrong in the 1980s. Journalists writing about restaurants in Southern papers became rather squeamish about using it, distancing themselves by putting it in quotation marks or referring to the term as “unfortunate.” But I cannot help but wonder how others, particularly those of Italian ancestry, felt about it during the decades it was commonly used. Did they think nothing of it? Did they find the name annoying but not worth making a big deal about? Did they feel insulted by it?

I have found very little evidence of protest. Someone calling themselves “Italian-American” wrote to a columnist of the New Orleans Times-Picayune in 1961 complaining of her use of ‘wop salad,’ and stating, ‘There is no such thing as ‘wop salad.’ Did you mean ‘Italian salad’?” The columnist defended her usage, concluding, ‘Everybody loves ‘wop salad.’ We English-German-Scandinavians all try to copy it.” In 1972 the paper received a complaint from a New Jersey Italian-American man who had visited the city and found “wop salad” on menus everywhere, including “better restaurants.” Perhaps Commander’s Palace was one of them. [see ca. 1950s menu fragment] He was especially offended by a sandwich shop with a sign in front saying, “Bigga Woppa Sandwich.” He concluded that New Orleans was only pretending to be “a genuinely cosmopolitan city.”

With the present cultural climate I halfway expect “wop salad” to resurface.

© Jan Whitaker, 2017

25 Comments

Filed under ethnic restaurants, food, menus, proprietors & careers, restaurant controversies

25 responses to ““Wop” salad?

  1. I love this article ~ my maternal grandparents came to New Orleans in the early 1800’s from Sicily ~
    They arrived separately ~ were introduced ~ married and eventually I was born in Jan of 1942 ~ the only child of their 6th child out of 7 ~
    My mother married outside the Italian community ~ something not done that much back then ~ I was very fortunate that her siblings lived very close to each other and I spent a lot of time with them ~
    At that time Wop was used all the time ~ I wasn’t aware of it being a bad word for sometime ~ then as an adult I learned that the initials WOP were given to any and all peoples from all over Europe who arrived ~ “Without Papers” ~ New Orleans also had a large influx of Irish ~ still has a large Irish community ~ yet the word WOP stuck like glue to the Italians ~
    I grew up in the 40’s when every where you went in New Orleans the workers ~ the servers ~ literally every where were ~ old Italian men who were grumpy ~ they cooked ~ they cleaned ~ the sold veggies and more at the French Market
    ~ having grown up around grumpy old Italians I was not bothered by the grumpy workers ~ the majority of them came here from Sicily because the times there were very bad and people were starving ~ they worked hard and made a better life for themselves and their families ~ I cannot imagine how grumpy I would have been had I had to leave my homeland ~ travel across water to a land where I don’t speak the language and they don’t speak mine ~
    I never thought of disrespecting any one of them ~ that was just how life was ~ and I wouldn’t change my heritage for anything ~
    I did miss out on a lot of good history because my grandparents never learned English ~ my grandfather died when I was 6 months old ~ my grandmother lived until I was 21 ~
    I understand that the 3 or 4 oldest children they had knew both Italian and English and they would translate to the younger ones what had been said ~ my grandparents did not want their to speak Italian outside their home ~
    They came to America and took up American ways ~ as it should be ~

  2. Heidi

    I couldn’t decide what to bring to Thanksgiving this year. I have not made a wop salad in years but I’ll be making it this year. Guess what? People from New Orleans still make it and everyone that I know of Sicilian descent are not offended nor care if the term “wop” is used.

  3. Randy Randolph Collins

    My father had a restaurant in Austin during the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s named Randy’s Circle R and he served a Wop salad.
    You just shake your head today, but then it was apparently the norm.

  4. Anonymous

    WOP was used when people were coming to America to flee Europe during World War II. It was short for Without Out Papers.

  5. We didn’t move to Shreveport until 1964 but as a kid growing up in the 50’s prior to the move I heard it a lot, probably at Shoup’s and Ship Ahoy in Corpus Christi dining with my mom and dad. I even put it on a couple of my own menus when I was a Chef. A Classic right there with the Wedge. I like it better.

  6. When I was a young girl I recall hearing people ordering WOP salad. It supposedly stood for ‘with out papers’. I don’t think anyone thought it derogatory. Just a really good salad.

  7. Besimple

    All of these terms, including “Guinea Red”, were used freely by my grandmothers generation in Rhode Island but it was always called an antipasto. They also knew a lot of Italian curse words.

  8. Interesting post! It may be that the media just didn’t pay attention or people didn’t feel able to speak up. I am lucky when I research Baltimore traditions to have the Afro-American newspaper as a source for a perspective on how people really felt about some things that seemed widely acceptable.

  9. Your politicizing of food has gone extreme. Be seeing you.

    • Thanks for noticing. Food and restaurants are political just as everything is. I like to present the whole picture.

    • John Mead

      The fact that you find anything “extreme” or “politicizing” in this well written and thoughtful analysis says way more about you than it does about the author or the actual content of the article, which simply points out that an ethnic slur was once used to describe a salad and that that makes us (at least most of us) squeamish today. Perfectly reasonable.

  10. Kate

    I expect that’s one salad name that won’t resurface–but not because our society is so much more considerate than it was a few decades ago (we sure aren’t). Restaurants probably can charge money calling it “antipasto salad” which sounds vaguely cosmopolitan.

  11. Our favorite Italian restaurant, in operation for many decades in NW Indiana, alas now gone, called their version a Dago salad and it was offered well into the 1990s. Political correctness wasn’t part of their business model: restaurant was named Flytraps.

  12. Our Guinea Red would perfectly complement your Wop Salad.

  13. Iris Roth

    I think it’s disgusting and would never go to a restaurant that listed it on the menu. xxM

  14. Well then there’s the whopper at Burger King. Here we have a restaurant called Spic n Span that everyone calls The Spic!

    ha ha!

    see you soon,

    love,

    Meredith

    ________________________________

    • Nola70119

      Proud Sicilian American here who loves that it’s still listed on the catering menu of a popular restaurant in Chalmette, Louisiana. Large community of us here in Greater New Orleans and have never come across one who is offended by it. It’s part of our culture here and we certainly don’t need non-Italians telling us to erase it.

      • Amen ~ love our culture in New Orleans ~ I live in Baton Rouge but my heart is in New Orleans where I spent a lot of time with my Italian relatives there ~

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