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The meaning and origin of the expression: Surf and turf

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Surf and turf

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Meaning

A type of cuisine that combines both meat and seafood (especially lobster and steak), or restaurants that serve such cuisine.

Often written "surf 'n' turf". See also, beef and reef.

Origin

continentalObviously, surf refers to seafood and turf to beef animals fed on grass. It began to appear in print in that sense from the 1960s, as here in an advert for 'The Continental' restaurant, Lowell, Massachusetts, in The Lowell Sun, January 1966:

"Champagne Dinner - Surf 'N Turf (A Continental Original). A delightful Continental combination of a Junior Filet Mignon - Baked Stuffed Alaskan Crab Legs and a nescalope [sic] of Halibut in creamy Lobster Newburg Sauce."

Surf and turf has a poor reputation amongst gourmets and, as a dining experience, isn't what Basil Faulty would have described as "the absolute apex". The item above was part of a seven course meal, with drinks, which cost $4.95. Even in 1966 that wasn't a great deal of money and many of the adverts for such food, then and now, appear to come from quite down-market food outlets.

surf and turfThat meaning was preceded by the phrase's use in a more general sense. Various products that might be used either on grass or at the beach were available from at least 1959 onwards; for example, this advert for a roll-up mat, from the Oakland Tribune, 1959:

"Vinyl Surf and Turf Pad. Quilted. Assorted colors. Rolls up."