Freedom Sprats

MT
Golden Baltic sprats drowning in golden oil in a golden tin can added festivity to parties during Soviet times, especially on New Year's, when they were a dinner table must-have. Sprats are a specific type of small herring-like fish, canned in a signature way: The fish is smoked over alder wood cuttings and then covered with oil. The smoking method is traditional for Baltic countries, especially Latvia. Eventually, sprats became so popular in the Soviet Union that any type of fish canned in oil were called shproty. Sprats over buttered black bread garnished with a sprig of parsley was a classic canape that diversified ham-and-cheese sandwiches.

Baltic producers of the golden delicacy were hard-hit by a sprat boycott in 2005, initiated by a widespread campaign in Komsomolskaya Pravda. "By buying Baltic sprats you help SS veterans!" headlines said as relations between Russia and the Baltic states soured because of differing rhetoric about the Soviet presence in the Baltics after World War II.

At the end of last year, canned fish from the Baltics was banned in Russia altogether. The Federal Consumer Protection Service found too much benzopyrene in Baltic sprats, and the nostalgic gold-and-black medallions had to be replaced by their Russian spinoffs in what many experts called a politically motivated move to eradicate foreign competition. Some Baltic producers were granted permission to export canned fish to Russia earlier this month.