Why were post-Soviet Russians so obsessed with salami?
November 2, 2016 11:04 PM   Subscribe

I am reading Svetlana Alexievich's Secondhand Time, about the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union, and it's great. But there's one thing I don't get: all the references to salami. It seems like when 1990s Russians talk about the capitalist tendency in their society, they mention jeans, and they mention salami. Why salami? Is this a translation of a Russian word that means something like "fancy food" more generally? Or do Russians literally see salami, specifically, as a synechdoche for expensive Western goods?
posted by escabeche to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Read this article.
posted by kickingtheground at 11:08 PM on November 2, 2016 [20 favorites]

Relevant 'Demand Sausages Everywhere!' 1937 Soviet poster, now available in our store! https://goo.gl/xsw62v https://twitter.com/sovietvisuals/status/777227015975870464/photo/1
posted by k8t at 11:25 PM on November 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Whenever I meet former Russian soldiers who served as part of the Red Army occupation in Hungary before 1990, the first thing they remember is always "Ahh! The salami!"
posted by zaelic at 1:53 AM on November 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

I checked the first three examples against the original Russian text* (I'm not linking to it as I'm not sure of its legality) and in all three it's "kolbasa". I don't know why the translator chose a specific kind of sausage. The article linked by kickingtheground demonstrates that there were many different kinds of sausage in the USSR, even if mostly virtually (I lived there for three years in the 1980s and can attest for the mostly virtual existence of the majority of meats and meat products at that time, even in Moscow).

*The author is Belorussian but writes in Russian
posted by hat_eater at 7:08 AM on November 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


I love kolbasa! It's very different from salami, different spices etc. My family was introduced to it by a Russian/Polish family long ago when I was still a little kid. They invited us to Christmas day festivities (Russian Christmas) and kolbasa was very much present and very much delicious. My Scots/Irish family were hooked. My Mom then started having kolbasa, along with all the usual things for our family's Xmas eve parties. So yeah, Russians, and I suspect lots of Eastern Europeans love it.
posted by james33 at 7:40 AM on November 3, 2016

> I love kolbasa! It's very different from salami, different spices etc.

But "kolbasa" is not a single thing; it's just the Russian word for 'sausage.' Here's a Google Image search so you get the idea. And yes, Russians love sausage and there were severe shortages in Soviet times, with only crappy cheap stuff made of who-knows-what often easily available («Докторская» "Doctor's" was considered a good kind), and people traded tips about where to get the good stuff and what they got on a trip to Hungary or Poland, and yes, ex-Soviets are obsessed with sausage. Don't know why it got translated "salami" in that book.
posted by languagehat at 9:39 AM on November 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

This is a wonderful ask and why I love MetaFilter!
posted by mumimor at 11:09 AM on November 3, 2016

« Older Was I right to end this relationship?   |   Eat the right thing Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.