Ukraine’s national dish of pork fat is a dense, white, chewy treat that can become an acquired taste. However, a new restaurant transforms the traditional dish, molding it into kitsch edible sculptures and even “sushi.”
Pork fat is “a cult dish and we decided to turn it into a cult art object,” said Mark Zarkhin, the co-owner of the restaurant.
Known as salo in Ukrainian, the pork fat comes in numerous varieties, ranging from smoked to streaky to pure white blubber. It is often sprinkled with paprika and washed down with a shot of vodka.
Named simply “Salo,” Zarkhin’s restaurant opened in June in the western city of Lviv and also markets itself as a museum of the lardy delicacy.
On the menu are kitsch offerings including a copy of the penis of Michelangelo’s David, stuffed with potato dumplings, and an anatomically accurate “Van Gogh’s Ear.”
There is even a local version of Japanese sushi — ubiquitous in Ukraine’s trendy restaurants — made from smoked pork fat.
Zarkhin, a businessman, says the restaurant mildly mocks the national love for salo.
“We are being ironic about ourselves and about our tastes,” he said.
However, he himself raves about the food’s versatility, insisting that it can be much more than a savory snack.
“People think of salo as either salty or smoked. They can hardly believe that this food can be more like cream. You add some ginger and cinnamon and it becomes a wonderful filling for chocolates,” he said.
The menu even offers desserts of whipped pork fat dipped in chocolate and a frozen “ice cream” dish based on actress Marilyn Monroe’s famous pout, called “Monroe’s Lips.”
The restaurant is aimed more at tourists than locals in the country’s poorer western region. Prices go up to 200 hryvnas (US$25) for the most expensive dish, David’s penis, which serves three.
The interior is scattered with objets d’art made from pork fat, including a model of a human heart, complete with a motor to simulate its beating — but without the blocked arteries likely to ensue from over-indulgence.
Visitors were enthusiastic about the restaurant.
“Wow, this is amazing,” said Maria Alexeyeva, who was visiting from Kiev with her sister Anna. “It’s very good and the interior is really cute. There’s nothing like this in Kiev.”
Zarkhin opened the restaurant together with a German artist of Ukrainian origin, Boris Berger, who came up with the idea.
“At the start, we weren’t sure this could be done,” he said. “Our chefs were also baffled ... but after three months of reflection, we finally got there.”
He is keen for the restaurant to become known as a gallery and has invited a series of artists to create sculptures from pork fat.
“Pork fat is a new material for art. Yes, it doesn’t last long, but neither does ice and it is used for sculptures all over the world,” he said.