Salo —cured pork fat—is considered to be the quintessential national dish in Ukraine. This article is an ethnographic exploration of how salo has become a contested space where wider anxieties over the industrialization of food and Ukrainian identity are played out. Russian jokes about Ukrainians and their love for salo highlight the complex relationship between the countries. A certain shrug with which many Ukrainians respond when asked about their “national” dish articulates how ambiguous they see their place in the world: not wanting to be labeled as folksy and peasant-like at the periphery of Europe, but still seeing salo as a marker of the good life that could unite the contending parts of the country. The Museum of Salo employs salo to reimagine Ukrainian identity as cosmopolitan, ironic, and “European.”
In the Ukraine, salo is lard or cured pork fat, a product widely considered as the quintessential Ukrainian product. Salo has played an important gastronomical, symbolic, and political role on the territory of Ukraine for centuries, having acquired the role of a national product. This article explores salo's roots and its cultural and social meaning in contemporary Ukraine. The country's complicated geographical and political position between Russia and the European Union is a background, as well as the associated (perceived or otherwise) tensions between the Western and Eastern parts of Ukraine. The author traveled through the country during the summer of 2011 to carry out a short piece of fieldwork and visit several small-scale producers of salo (some were part of Slow Food or organic movements) in the Carpathian Mountains and near Kiev. The curator of the museum of salo in Lviv, an art-gallery that uses salo as innovative material and provocative concept, was interviewed. Salo appears to play a unifying role between different generations and parts of the country otherwise often perceived in opposition. The production and consumption of salo , more than most other foods, is a playground where wider concerns over industrialization of food, longing for lost past, Ukrainian identity and belonging (or lack of) to EU are voiced.