by Don  

The most essential sauce of western cookery is doubtless mayonnaise, which in Russian is майонез. It is a perfectly regular noun, so it's declension causes no difficulty.

Although the Russians' love of alcohol is legendary, and their love of sour cream is nearly obsessive, their passion for mayonnaise is equally astonishing. For instance, I was at a cafe this morning and ordered manty, which are kind of like enormous ravioli. Doubtless hearing a bit of an accent in my voice, the cashier asked whether I wanted ketchup or mayo with them. Well, duh, I know the answer to that one: we are in Russia so it has to be mayo! Here's a picture of the manty. Note the quantity of mayo on them:

The Russians also garnish soups with a dollop of mayo:

If you mix mayo with 100 grams of any vegetable matter, then they call it a salad. One of the most famous Russian salads is called «сельдь под шубой» "herring under a fur coat," which when you first look at it seems to have little mayo:

Let's examine the recipe. We start with the ingredients:

  • 300 g herring, shredded
  • 300 g grated, boiled potato
  • 300 g grated, boiled carrot
  • 300 g grated, boiled beets
  • 300 g grated apple
  • 150 g grated
  • mayo

Now the procedure:

  1. Place the potatoes on a serving dish. Even them out. Cover with mayo.
  2. Put the herring on top. Cover with mayo.
  3. Put the onion on top.
  4. Put the carrots on top of the onions. Cover with mayo.
  5. Put the apples on the carrots. Cover with mayo.
  6. Cover with beets. Even the layer out.
  7. Garnish with mayo.

To the American palate this quantity of mayonnaise is simply grotesque. We immediately think of the clogging of our carotid arteries and our inability to have six-pack abs or a shapely waistline. But this is perfectly normal for a Russian dish. And truth to tell, once we get past our cultural knee-jerk reaction, it tastes just fine. So here are some sample sentences:

Бутерброды без майонеза для меня не бутерброды. (source) To me, sandwiches without mayonnaise are simply not sandwiches.
Как относиться к майонезу? (title of this article) What should we think about mayonnaise?
Всегда заправляю окрошку майонезом. I always garnish okroshka soup with mayonnaise.
Для многих блюд майонез незаменим. Например, с чем ещё можно делать салат из крабовых палочек? (source) Mayonnaise is irreplaceable in many dishes. For instance, what else could you make crab salad with?
Я майонез прекрасно научилась заменять натуральным йогуртом или оливковым маслом. Конечно, это не так вкусно, но для меня главное — польза. (source) I have learned how to substitute natural yogurt or olive oil for mayonnaise. Of course, it doesn't taste as good, but for me the most important thing is healthiness.
Я почти всё ем с майонезом, суп, щи, салат, яичница и конечно не забываю добавить майонез в жаренную картошку и пельмешки.ммм (source) I eat almost everything with mayonnaise: soup, cabbage soup, salad, fried eggs, and of course I don't forget to add mayonnaise to fried potatoes and pelmeni. Yum.

Note: the н is pronounced hard in this word, thus [маянэз].


Comment from: Don [Member]

Students, if you want a bit of practice, then this link will take you to a recipe for a salad called “Monomakh’s Crown. Page down to the section where it enumerates the contents of each layer. Count how many layers are covered with mayo.

07/27/10 @ 19:46
Comment from: Timothy Post [Visitor]  

Let’s be fair, we Americans love mayonnaise but it’s gotta be Helmanns. Can you imagine how excited we were when we learned that Metro started carrying Helmanns? The only thing was that it came in a “tub” size best suited for restaurants. Oh well, we just did as any good American/Russian would and we shared it with friends and family.

Now we can have “real” tuna melts. If only we could find Campbell’s tomato soup ))) Although Salianko is a great substitute.

07/26/10 @ 10:52
Comment from: Andrey [Visitor]

And you haven’t mentioned оливье, much more Russian salad than селедка под шубой and with almost the same quantity of mayonnaise.

07/26/10 @ 09:52
Comment from: Andrey [Visitor]

I should say it’s not common to put mayo in soups or окрошка, unless you’re out of sour cream of course :) So if they gave you окрошка with mayo, it’s either they are out of sour cream or their chef has some weird taste. Or maybe it’s not distinguishable in this form.

- У нас что, сметана закончилась? С чем же мне есть борщ?
- Ну положи майонеза, куда деваться. Не побегу же я тебе среди ночи за сметаной.

Don responds: Thanks for those comments and the excellent little dialog.

07/26/10 @ 09:47

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