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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Inside the Shivery Gelatinous Sphere

Traditional Russian meals are often overcooked, oversalted and oversweetened to the point where the original ingredients are no longer recognizable -- but in some cases, not knowing what is inside may actually be beneficial.

Take, for example studen, or kholodets, an appetizer that you will find in most Russian cafeterias. It is usually yellowish-grey and gelatinous, and although it looks a little like jello, in fact it is pigs' feet, tails and ears, boiled together for at least four hours until most of the water evaporates, leaving a thick liquid on the bottom.

The hot extract is poured into a mold with chopped meat, fat, black pepper and garlic. After it cools, it is served with either smetana (sour cream), strong Russian mustard or horseradish, which makes you sweat so much you stop thinking about what you've just eaten.

I'm not a big fan of this cholesterol-rich dish, but it does have one redeeming feature. While it tastes greasy, people who prepare it say the actual grease that forms a thick layer on its surface is scraped off.

Keep your eyes open for the lighter cousin of kholodets, which is known as zalivnoye or Russkaya zakuska. Usually served in restaurants, it is a transparent, pale yellow sphere of gelatinized chicken bouillon with pieces of meat, pickle, boiled egg, carrot and sausage inside. Whenever I see it, I immediately think of amber with crystallized insects inside. It is peculiarly beautiful -- but not particularly appetizing.