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A Fish Story

Chart_TotalRestaurantSeafoodSavings Even though popular cuisines like Italian, Mexican and Chinese include plenty of fish, you don’t see much of a fish presence on American menus. If we’re going to eat seafood at all, it’s fried and shrimp always trumps fish.

I know that I didn’t eat any seafood beyond Gorton’s frozen, breaded filets growing up and I definitely never ordered fish in a restaurant unless it was at Skipper’s, a long-gone chain similar to Long John Silver’s. I was sort of surprised, though I shouldn’t have been, when on my last visit to the Oregon Coast my mom didn’t want anything to do with the fresh Dungeness crab and giant oysters steamed on the spot. Don’t even think about ceviche. (Then again, on my mom's last visit we ate at so-so neighborhood Ameri-Mex mini-chain Mezcal's, and she was disappointed that there was no seafood burrito like you can find in Portland, so maybe I had her fish-eating habits all wrong.)

  • A look at Olive Garden shows that there are a shitload of shellfish-laced pastas, but only two pure fish dishes: herb-grilled salmon and parmesan crusted tilapia. Salmon and tilapia are definitely favored fish. One’s meaty, the other’s cheap.
  • Panda Express serves no fish, just fried shrimp while more upscale P.F. Chang’s does fairly well with five of their 13 seafood choices being fish (salmon, mahi mahi and Chilean sea bass, which I thought we weren’t supposed to be eating). The remaining eight feature shrimp.
  • Taco bell premiered shrimp burritos and tacos this year, just in time for Lent. Chevy’s has fish tacos that are surprisingly grilled not fried, as tradition dictates. Shrimp also appears on fajitas and in an enchilada along with crab. I always order the seafood enchilada at Chevy’s, which makes it sound like I eat there all the time even though I don’t.

Yet a recent NPD survey shows a different story:  grilled, baked, broiled and raw fish makes up 23% of seafood orders, slightly ahead of non-fried shrimp (21%), fried fish (14%) and fried shrimp (13%). Bizarrely, all other seafood—calamari? crab? scallops?—is the largest chunk of all at over one quarter.

Seafood only makes up 6% of all restaurant orders, though. And all those non-fried fish eaters are old and rich. Salmon is what happens when you’re an empty-nester watching your cholesterol.

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