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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

When Days Turn Chill, Time to Ponder Pig Fat

Whew -- thank goodness that oppressive warmth and cloudless blue sky we had in early August has finally come to an end. All that sunshine and sheer physical well-being just can't be good for you. Being cold and miserable is what Russia is all about, after all. Two months of summer was more than plenty.


Being comfortable may be fun, but it's just not natural. Natural is watching darkness descend on the city at 3 P.M. Natural is bundling up past the point of gender recognition -- men have the ear flaps and women have the treacherous high-heeled boots -- and trudging day after day through sleet and ice to underheated or overheated apartments and workplaces. Most of all, natural is eating everything in sight, just to keep yourself warm.


You could spend your free time stirring up hearty stews and soups and shortbread and cocoa, should you feel so inclined. But there's a faster way to bring a wintertime glow to your stomach. Just pull out that salo in your refrigerator and start slicing.


Salo is Russian for pure, unadulterated, uncompromising pork fat. It comes in mammoth, creamy white blocks you could probably use for weightlifting and is the cold-weather snack of choice for many Muscovites. Perhaps you neglected to buy some of your own the last time you strolled past the meat counter at the local market.


But chances are your Russian friends haven't.


There are many things foreigners find themselves surprised to be eating as guests in Russia, like pickled garlic cloves or peel-it-yourself dried fish. I personally once ate something called a water worm, which to this day I have not managed to locate in any zoological encyclopedia.


But the pressure to perform weighs heavily here, and no one wants to look like a wimp in the face of Russian hospitality. You bite, you chew, you swallow, you smile. Anything less is unacceptable.


But everyone's good humor has a limit. For those who find the prospect of eating a thick slice of cold lard unappealing, the limit is salo.


Conceptually, of course, it's no worse than fried pork rinds or cheese balls or any other palm-oil delight we might chance to consume at home -- in some ways it's even better, because its butcher-paper packaging is at least ecologically friendly. A cheese ball, you might argue, disguises its unheathfulness with a state-of-the-art shape and texture.


But when you sink your teeth into a piece of salo, it's screamingly clear that what you're eating is fat, honest, pure and natural. It stuck to that pig's ribs, and it's certainly going to stick to yours.


It's going to be a long winter.