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Published on: April 20, 2022, 3:28 p.m.
Storm in a plate
  • Russian salad continues to be a key dish in all major banquets, buffets and events, which account for nearly 70 per cent of the hotel revenues

By Suvendu Banerjee

The war between Russia and Ukraine has created a storm in various fields – not just the battlefront alone. Formal and informal sanctions against Russia are gradually creeping into various sectors of the economy, besides the world of hospitality, travel, sport and now even food and beverages. Who would have imagined that even Russian cats would be barred from international contests, following an announcement by the International Cat Federation? Or that Fyodor Dostoevsky, the Russian novelist, would be banned and later unbanned by a European university, simply because he was a Russian? The culinary world has been deeply impacted and the latest battle involves all-time favourites – Chicken a la Kiev and Russian salad. 

Despite unclear origins and history of the favourite breaded-chicken dish, many hotels and restaurants the world over have switched from Kiev, the internationally accepted English spelling  for the Ukranian city under the erstwhile Soviet Union, to Kyiv as  a mark of support to the besieged Ukrainians. The dish is made with chicken breast pounded and rolled around cold butter and herbs, then coated with egg and crumbs and fried or baked. 

In fact, #KyivNOTKiev has become a movement of sorts and the dish is back on the menu after nearly half a century, in many cases. The dish has historically been disputed and highly political as to whether it was invented by a French or Russian chef. Some insist that the name was given by American or British restaurants to attract East European clients since it is undisputedly the national dish of Ukraine. 

The world’s most famous salad – Russian salad – with a rich blend of ingredients and sauces with its mysterious recipe was, in all probability, created nearly two centuries ago at The Hermitage Hotel (closed in 1905) in Moscow.  

The salad was created for Russian nobility by Chef Lucian Olivier, who kept the original recipe a secret till his death in 1883. The dish could have more than a hundred ingredients including exotic meats like grouse, lobster, caviar and other rare seafood. However, the dish increasingly became common and cheaper ingredients like potatoes and beet were used and even a vegetarian version evolved. Any of these ingredients with varying proportions are tossed together and mixed with mayonnaise or sour-cream.

“Russian salad continues to be a key dish in all major banquets, buffets and events, which account for nearly 70 per cent of the hotel revenues,” says Sumit Gogia, GM, Four Points by Sheraton, New Delhi. “It is an essential part of nearly of every wedding menu. Chicken a la Kyiv is also making a comeback on the menu of several restaurants, clubs and hotels.”

But that is not the case with smaller restaurants keen on making a statement. De-tabling Russian salad as a symbol of solidarity with Ukraine is gathering momentum. Kashi Art Café in Kochi, Kerala, is a case in point, where a hand-written message outside the cafe says, “We have removed Russian salad from our menu.” Says Edger Pinto, the owner of the trendy and popular café: “This is our way of saying no to war”. In Mangaluru, ‘Recycle the Lounge’ too has pulled Russian salad off the menu. 

But the move has also prompted the sarcastic comment: “What about vodka?”  Not that vodka has been spared elsewhere. Russian vodka and food has been pulled out of the shelves of major super markets in the US, Canada and Europe. A famous pub named Putin in the ancient Israeli city of Jerusalem has been changed to Zelenskyy. 

The war has upset travel plans. With prominent cruise lines and travel operators cancelling tours to Russia, Indians are planning their itineraries accordingly. St Petersburg, the cultural capital of Russia, which attracts 10 million visitors every year, has virtually no tourists. Air space bans are already in place after the announcement that the US will be closing its skies to Russian planes. Russia has retaliated by recommending that its citizens avoid visiting countries that have imposed sanctions. Some search platforms have even completely blocked all Russian bookings and content from their sites. 

Closer home, the sanctions have dealt a severe blow to tourism in Thailand. The Russians were the largest group of visitors in January this year but they are now staying at home. Accordingly, Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is shifting focus on Indian arrivals and has recently unveiled an online travel programme for Indian travel agents. Thailand was always a hot favourite with Indian tourists. Thanks to the war in Ukraine, it may get even hotter. 

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