One of the most exciting parts of traveling is experiencing the different cultures in these unique places.
Our trip to Ukraine was no different. We were immersed in a new culture the moment we got off the plane.
For me, culture contains a lot of different elements. It can be the people, the food, their customs, their religions or even the architecture. It becomes the sense of place. Take those away and you have a very generic locale that has been whitewashed of everything that makes it interesting.
As a person who has travelled a lot domestically, I haven’t travelled that much internationally. So when I’m in unchartered territory, I like to try new things, especially when it comes to food. I have a very open mind and will try almost anything. There was the bone marrow on toast incident in Paris. And my not one, but two, encounters with haggis in Scotland.
I’d survived those. Bring on Ukraine!
I knew there were some traditional dishes that I had to try, like borscht and the dumplings. After that, it was all about experimentation.
Our interpreters soon became our unwitting co-conspirators. Whenever we’d eat dinner somewhere, they would always ask if the restaurant had an English version of their menu. Some did. Some didn’t. Some even had English and Ukrainian on the same menu. But we loved the ones that came with pictures. At that point it didn’t matter if the menu was in English, Ukrainian or Chinese. We knew exactly what we were ordering.
With the English menus, however, we were a little skeptical. We knew we couldn’t always trust the interpretations.
If you’ve ever tried Google Translate, you know what I’m talking about. There are just some words that don’t translate between languages.
And this was one time when we were very apprehensive.
On the menu at this particular restaurant was an item called “Herring Under a Fur Coat Salad.”
I don’t know about you, but that set off some serious red flags in my head. And almost right below it was something called “Local Lard Assorted.”
So much for getting totally immersed in the culture. We were going to avoid these two dishes at all cost.
But, the names did provide us with a little entertainment.
Kim and I immediately started cracking jokes. You can imagine the pictures that were floating around in our heads about a fur coat salad. If you took the name literally, and we did, this wasn’t a very appetizing image.
All we could think is this really the right name? Surely not. They must have misinterpreted this somehow. It’s got to be a mistake.
Nope. It’s the real deal. And as we’d soon find out, it’s a very traditional Ukrainian dish that is layered, consisting of ingredients like herring, potatoes, onions, beets and mayonnaise.
Traditional dish or not, we weren’t sold on it. Kim and I opted for dumplings.
But we wouldn’t be able to dodge the fur coat for long. In fact, it’s was just a matter of days before we’d come face to face with herring under a fur coat salad.
Now, the people in Ukraine are very welcoming. The staff at Nikolaevskie Novosti is no exception. It’s one big family that does everything together. We had become their cousins, twice-removed, visiting from the United States.
And what better way to celebrate family than to have a barbecue.
It was a potluck that included barbecued chicken, grilled beef, lettuce wraps, salted herring, salads, bread and the star of the night; herring under a fur coat salad.
Our attempts at avoiding this dish were over. We had hoped our luck wouldn’t run out. But, we were wrong.
Sitting in front of us, in all its purple glory, lay the one dish that we had mocked earlier in the week. I think we both breathed a sigh of relief when we found out the “fur coat” was actually a covering of beets and mayonnaise. Now, all eyes were on us. There was no avoiding it.
Kim and I both took a sample.
The best part of a potluck is the amount of food on the table. It can work to your advantage, especially in this situation. There’s more than enough to go around, which means you have to plan your portions accordingly.
After helpings of chicken, beef, salads, bread and lettuce wraps, there wasn’t much room left for the fur coat salad on my plate. Just enough space for a couple of spoonfuls. I hadn’t quite avoided this dish, but at least I’d minimize its impact on my intestinal fortitude.
The time had finally come. I took a forkful and put it in my mouth, expecting this to be my biggest regret of the week.
Wow! Fur coat salad, where have you been all week? This is great, I thought to myself. I turned to Kim in disbelief. She had the same reaction.
In a feverish attempt to rectify our mistake, we each got a second helping much, much larger than our first. We had to make up for lost time.
There would have been a third helping if the potluck hadn’t taken its toll on us. We were full. What we had avoided all week, turned out to be one of the best Ukrainian dishes we’d had all week.
For me, it was a hard-learned lesson. You shouldn’t judge a salad by the type of coat it wears.
I guess for my next trip to Ukraine, I’ll be looking forward to the “Local Lard Assorted.”