NY’s Zabar’s caught in pickle: Lobster salad had no lobster

"Start spreadin' the news," New Orleans reporter writes after discovering Jewish deli's Lobster salad features crayfish.

August 14, 2011 03:18
2 minute read.
Zabar's New York deli

Zabar's New York deli 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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NEW YORK - For over a decade Zabar’s, the famed Jewish delicatessen/specialty food store on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, offered hungry customers lobster salad to accompany its bagels – and no one complained.

Just one thing: The lobster salad had no lobster in it.

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Doug MacCash, a reporter for The Times-Picayune visiting the Big Apple from New Orleans, noticed something fishy when he ordered the bagel-lobster salad combo.

“Start spreadin’ the news,” he wrote in his blog on August 1. “Apparently, if a crayfish gets the right breaks, it can become a New York City lobster.”

The label on the dish clearly stated it was made of crayfish, mayonnaise, celery, sugar and salt, but not Maine lobster, the famously expensive king crustacean.

It took a week for MacCash’s discovery to make a splash. Then an editorial appeared in a newspaper in Maine criticizing Zabar’s for mislabeling its product and the story was picked up by national media outlets.

Zabar’s said it was not guilty of any wrongdoing.

“If you go to Wikipedia, you will find that crayfish in many parts of the country is referred to as lobster,” Saul Zabar, co-owner of the deli, was quoted as saying by The New York Times.

Nevertheless, the restaurant relabeled the dish as “seafare salad,” in an unofficial admission that it had not being entirely straightforward with customers.

Of course, New York is a place where one can find countless culinary quirks.

At the Westside Market in the Chelsea neighborhood, for instance, one can order an “Israeli shrimp salad,” something akin to a Saudi BLT or an Indian T-bone steak.

While some foods imported to New York gain a new ethnicity, others may lose it. Several restaurants serve “chickplant” sandwiches: pita bread filled with eggplant, hardboiled egg, humous and tahini. Those are, of course, the exact ingredients of a sabich, otherwise known as an Iraqi sandwich. But eateries were worried the guttural sounding sabich was too hard for Americans to pronounce and that the association with the restive Middle Eastern country might put them off. Thus, the traditional Iraqi dish was rebranded as a chickplant.

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