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Lent: The period of cod, haddock and shrimp

By Paul Harris

It’s beginning to get fishy around Manhattan. Catholic observers of Lent, the penitential period that runs through April 5, are required to refrain from eating meat every Friday. Restaurants around town are using the opportunity to promote or expand their seafood offerings.

Long John’s Silvers is a primary stop for Manhattan residents during Lent. Arby’s, the fast food chain known for its roast beef sandwiches, is promoting a “two fish sandwiches for $5” deal.

Vista Drive-In general manager Andy Streeter said the restaurant’s fish sales usually quadruple during the six-week Lenten period. The burger place has a shrimp option, which it introduced years ago. Vista is also promoting its mozzarella sticks. A few years back, Streeter said, the restaurant began offering a fish sandwich for 99 cents. “That’s all people wanted,” he said.

Streeter said he uses the marquee sign strategically to help promote certain items. Recently, Vista used its sign to showcase their shrimp options, which is the option of adding 3 shrimp for 99 cents.

The 2A state basketball tournament, which took place last week at Bramlage Coliseum, provided an additional customer base. Streeter said there’s a large Catholic population in those small towns that came to watch the state tournament.

While fast-food joints dominate the fried fish sandwich market, local casual eatery Hibachi Hut tries to give Lenten observers healthier options such as salmon, mussels, and a Cajun pasta primavera. 

Co-owner Marc Claas said some of its busiest nights throughout the year are during Lent.

“We are busy from 5 until close,” Claas said.

All of the options offered during the restaurant’s seafood special are already on the menu at Hibachi Hut. 

Kansas State University’s dining services and Greek organizations provide meatless options and fish entrees to students.

Mary Molt, a 40-year staff member who is now assistant director of dining operations, said dining services has provided Lenten options as long as she can recall. Thirty years ago, Molt said it was imperative to have a fish option on the line, since there were only two options. Now students have a range of options to choose from including grilled cheese sandwiches, stir-fry, and salad bar. Dining services looks to address the variety of dietary needs of its students who hail from all over the world, said Molt. Every day, dining services has a meatless option.

The staff does make a point of providing a fish dish at meals every Friday. “The main entree is always a fish option on Friday,” she said.

It’s not always the typical fish sandwich either. “We have a cache of recipes for fish,” she said. For its Ash Wednesday supper, dining services cooked up salmon. They also have recipes for tuna and noodles and a fish stew, among others.

Most of the meals are cooked to order, and while Molt is sure more fish is prepared during Lent, she said it’s hard to say whether many students are choosing meatless dishes for religious reasons or just personal preference.

Morgan Lewis, who is Catholic, said the cooks for her sorority, Tri Delta, always have a meatless or fish entree on Fridays during Lent.

“They would usually do a pasta or fish sticks,” Lewis said. She added that members who don’t want fish can grab something from the kitchen. “If they wanted to go make a turkey sandwich, then they could go to the kitchen and do that.”

And of course, another organization that caters to Catholics during lent is the church itself. St. Thomas More Catholic Church has a fish fry every Friday during Lent. The fish is cooked by the Knights of Columbus.

Attendees say they like to attend the event for its convenience.

Although it may not be easy to adhere to the rules of the nearly two-month religious observance, Rebecca Frakes said that after one considers the rationale behind it, it’s not so bad.

“Knowing the reason makes it less tough not to have meat,” she said. “Jesus sacrificed for us for 40 days. This is the least we can do.”

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