Krabby Appleton: Does anyone else remember this cartoon villain from the early days of television? As I recall, the hero, Tom Terrific, called him "rotten to the core." He was unredeemably mean and nasty. That's how I feel about a food "product" that I seem to run into every week: "krab." You see it on salad bars, in California rolls, stuffed in veal, even at seafood restaurants. Fueled by Japanese technology and American capitalism, imitation crab--it's called "surimi"--has become big business. Five million pounds were sold in 1985. This year, the figure will exceed 150 million. Its profit-making appeal is obvious. If restaurant owners can convince customers that indestructible, low-priced "krab" is a reasonable substitute for delicate, expensive crab, they can reap a windfall. Especially if they're unscrupulous enough (as many are) not to note on their menus that it's krab, not crab, that they're using. The problem is that surimi's taste and texture don't resemble genuine crab. But if trends continue, pretty soon no one will know the difference. Someone once said that you should never watch too carefully how laws or sausages are made. I checked out the surimi-making process--it's not for the faint-hearted, either. The product starts with Pacific pollock that has been deboned, washed, minced, shaped into blocks, frozen and held at minus 10 degrees. At this point, it has no color, no aroma and no taste. The processing starts by shredding the frozen blocks. Then hydraulic arms lift the bins of shredded surimi into a huge mixing bowl, where employees (not cooks) add starch, sugar, egg whites and flavoring. From the mixer, the surimi is pumped onto refrigerated sheets and shaped into rectangular cakes. They congeal for 22 hours, then are cooked. Next, they're shoveled into the blast cooler. Afterward, more uncooked surimi mixture is blended in. Then, along with a dash of coloring, everything is extruded through nozzles, creating long, red surimi "ropes." The ropes travel down a conveyor into a 190-degree steam tunnel for more cooking. When they emerge from the tunnel, a waiting guillotine blade cuts the product into half-inch chunks or five-inch "legs." The surimi is refrigerated or frozen, ready to roll to restaurants and supermarkets, and, ultimately, your belly. It seems to me that surimi is not seafood so much as the illusion of seafood. Like many elements of our modern culture, it degrades our tastes while pretending to cater to them. My advice: Throw it back. Sorry, Wrong Number: Restaurant owners are always looking for a gimmick to get customers through the door. An operator in New York's Greenwich Village has hit on a new angle. At the Area Code Cafe, patrons can use the phones at each table to place a three-minute call anywhere in the U.S. for 25 cents.

Customers buy a token from the cashier and shove it into the phone slot. After two and a half minutes, the phone makes a warning sound, and the connection is cut off 30 seconds later.

According to Restaurant News, an industry trade paper, the owner has been stunned by the response. People are coming in, he marveled, armed with phone books.


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