December 01, 2019

Herring Under a What?


Herring Under a What?
No Russian New Year's table is complete without this dish. Image by Eugene Zelenko via Wikimedia Commons

Every country has distinctive holiday dishes. For Russia, this means the New Year’s table. And one dish that is quite popular in Russia and other FSU states is herring under a fur coat (Селедка под шубой). While many tables in Russia enjoyed this dish on New Year’s, it remains a bit mysterious to outsiders.

Herring under a Fur Coat is actually a layered salad consisting of potato, herring, carrots, beets, egg, and lots of mayonnaise. The beet layer on top makes the entire dish look like it’s wearing a bright purple fur coat.

According to legend, the dish originated in 1918 in a bar in Moscow. A merchant named Anastas Bogomilov, who owned several pubs in Moscow and Tver, was frustrated that his customers got too drunk on New Year’s eve after drinking too much vodka, and would then break his china and windows in fights. So he came up with this hearty dish to help soak up the alcohol.

In addition, the ingredients in the salad symbolized values important to the new communist regime: the salted herring represented the proletariat, potatoes symbolized the peasantry, and the red color of the beets stood in for the Bolshevik flag. Bogomilov topped off the dish with the French sauce Provençal (later replaced with mayonnaise). He named this new creation SHUBA (ШУБА), which was an acronym for “Shovinismu i Upadku – Boikot i Anafema” (Шовинизму и Упадку – Бойкот и Анафема), or “Death and Damnation to Chauvinism and Degradation.”

Since its debut a century ago, herring under a fur coat has just gotten steadily more popular. In the initial years of Bolshevik rule, mayonnaise was difficult to come by, so only the political and cultural elite could afford it, making the dish something of status symbol. By the 1960s, mayo production had increased, making Herring Under a Fur Coat more accessible for all, and cementing its role as a staple of the New Year’s table.

Other popular New Year’s dishes include pirozhki, kholodets, Olivye salad, vinegret, pryaniki, and much more!

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