“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

15 Comments

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

15 responses to ““Wop” salad?

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

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

  8. Iris Roth

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

  9. 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

    ________________________________

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