It’s not so much the word salad I’m tasting here – that merits its own examination, but it is relevant here for its soft lick as of lettuce, which is the basement of a Cobb salad – as the word Cobb. What does that make you think of?
Although it makes me think of the town of Cobh in Cork, Ireland, it shouldn’t, because I know perfectly well that Cobh in Irish is said like cove in English – and in fact Cobh is just an Irish respelling of the originally English place-name Cove. So stick a cork in that one and look at the more obvious: cob.
You know, not as in cobweb, but as in corn on the cob. It gives a nice image, doesn’t it? Of kernels of roughly even size arranged all in even rows? It does have a blunt name, true, like the sound one may make with a corn cob denuded of its kernels when one strikes it on a table – especially a table in a pub. The sound and gesture of it make me think of a full mouth caught in mid-gobble or clogged with a gobstopper. And of course in its written form it’s double-stopped, too, with its two b’s (like adjoining kernels seen in their adjoining rows, just perhaps).
It happens that Cobb salad is one of the menu items I have come to look for when in a pub. It’s a solid restaurant standard, and is quite flavourful, nutritious, and filling. But I judge them not just on the freshness of their ingredients and the overall flavour and texture of the salad, nor do I add to that only the inventiveness of the ingredients (the basics are tomato, bacon, egg, chicken breast, avocado, and blue cheese, on lettuce, with dressing, but additions and variations are possible and in fact common). No, I look to see how the ingredients are arranged.
Some restaurants toss the ingredients together. This always disappoints me, not horribly but about as much as seeing Ceaser salad rather than Caesar salad on the menu might (unsurprising, but sigh…). Others arrange them separately but in fields arrayed around the centre, splayed perhaps like a cobweb. Some chop them into various-sized pieces; others leave them almost whole. But only rarely do I see a real attempt at the optimal arrangement: neatly and fairly evenly diced, in neat rows.
No, I didn’t decide they should be like that because of corn on the cob. In fact, the Cobb salad is named after Robert Howard Cobb, who was the owner of the Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant, where it was invented (he may have invented it himself) – by one story, he cobbled it together from what was in the cooler. But whatever the origin, it happens that at the Brown Derby, they always diced the ingredients neatly and arranged them in neat rows.
Now, it’s not that I’m a weirdly picky eater who must eat everything in order. And I know that it’s all the same when it gets into my stomach, but folks, it goes past the eyes and through the mouth before it gets there, and that matters to some of us. Might as well toss together my bibimbap or my chirashi sushi. (Coincidentally, just as I judge pubs on their Cobbs, I judge sushi places on their chirashis. But that’s more on the quality and type of the ingredients.) I may even toss it together some before eating it… but I want to get to do that myself!