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The meaning and origin of the expression: Surf and turf

Surf and turf

What's the meaning of the phrase 'Surf and turf'?

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.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Surf and turf'?

We know 'surf and turf' as a type of fish + meat cuisine - if we know it at all that is, the term is used mainly in the USA. Meals began to be offered with that name from the 1960s onwards.

Surf and turfThe USA is where the expression originated but it was on the beach rather than in any restaurant - 'surf 'n turf' didn't begin as a reference to food.

As early as 1939 various products that might be used either on grass or at the beach were referred to that way.

The earliest usage that I've found is in an advert for a bathing suit that could also be used away from the beach - in The Philadelphia Enquirer, July 1939. Yours for just $2.95. Note that it was "Completely Air-Cooled". I'll leave any alternative form of cooling to your imagination.

Various other 'surf 'n turf' products were also available in the 1940s and 50s - beach bags, sunbathing mats etc.

It was in the 1960s that the expression began to be used to describe food.

Surf and turfObviously, surf refers to seafood and turf to animals fed on grass, as here in an advert for a lobster and steak dish offered by Myhalyk's restaurant, from a New York newspaper, January 1966:

Perhaps because of the incongruity of the ingredients, surf and turf has a poor reputation amongst gourmets. As a dining experience, isn't what Basil Faulty would have described as "the absolute apex". The item above was part of a three-course meal, with drinks, which cost $3.95. Even in 1966 that wasn't a great deal of money and many of the adverts for such food appear to come from quite down-market food outlets.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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