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The most common meaning of salad is a mix of cool lettuce and other vegetables, but that’s just the beginning of the world of salads in restaurants across America. In Iowa, you’ll find Dutch lettuce, which comes topped with sweet & sour dressing, bacon, and hard-boiled eggs. (When served warm, Dutch lettuce is known as wilted salad.) Memphis offers barbecue salad – greens, etc., topped with sauced pulled pork. Tucson’s volcano-shaped topopo salad often includes carne seca, shrimp, or chicken. Garlicky snail salad is a staple in Rhode Island seafood restaurants. West Indies salad, a celebration of fresh crab meat, is a star attraction on menus all around the Mobile Bay. There are garbage salad in Chicago (everything but the kitchen sink) and garlic salad in Kansas. And of course there are Caesar salads that range from the basic romaine-anchovy-parmesan mix to extravaganzas topped with seafood, meat, or surprise vegetables.
The salad bar, a phenomenon that dates back to the mid 20th century, had its spiritual ancestor in the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition of “7 Sweets and 7 Sours,” which was a groaning board that included sweet and/or tangy preserved vegetables and fruits on the table to accompany such stalwart fare as roast ham or pot pie thick with dumplings sided by mashed potatoes, bread filling, and corn pudding.
No region of the country has riffed more bountifully on the salad bar concept than the heartland, where the salad bar principle is a reflection of the same hospitable spirit that animates church suppers: the more, the merrier. Lettuce, tomatoes, radishes and similar rabbit food may not even appear on vast tables where customers graze along an array of such composed salads as peas with Miracle Whip and shredded cheese, beef ‘n’ bean taco towers, pineapple/Cool Whip ambrosia, macaroni salad with pickle bits and crumbled hard-boiled eggs, carrot-raisin slaw, soups, breads, muffins, fruit cobbler, and butterscotch pudding.
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