As NATO leaders gather in Madrid for a summit taking place in the shadow of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the spotlight has landed on a ubiquitous staple found in bars and restaurants across Spain: Russian salad.
International officials and journalists were stunned to find the salad — a combination of potatoes, mayonnaise and vegetables known as Russian salad – sold as “Russian style potato salad” in the prime location†
“Russian salad at a NATO summit? I am a bit surprised by the choice of the court,” journalist Iñaki López told Spanish media outlet la Sexta.
While the name did little to dampen its popularity — the dish reportedly sold out within hours — it was renamed within a day, with the menu now listing it as “traditional salad.”
Spanish chef José Andrés went one step further by adding tomato dumplings and naming the dish Ukrainian salad as a show of solidarity at the dinner he coordinated for visiting defense and foreign ministers on Tuesday.
It was an extension of a rebranding that began last month when Andrés announced he would be changing the name of the dish across all of his restaurants and joining a wave of bars and restaurants in recent months.
One of the first was Mesón Martín, a three-decade-old restaurant in the northern city of Zaragoza. “Friends, we have decided to change the name of the famous salad,” the restaurant announced on social media in late February. “As of today, you will find the Kiev salad on our menu, in solidarity with the people of Ukraine.”
It is not the first time that the Spanish staple – attributed by many to the Italian-British chef Charles Elmé Francatelli – has fallen prey to politics. During Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, bars and restaurants often changed their name to salad nationalor national salad, to avoid being associated with the spread of pro-communist propaganda.
It is also not the first time that food has ended up as a diplomatic pawn. In 2003, French fries and French toast were dubbed “freedom fries” and “freedom toast” in Congressional cafeterias by Republicans outraged by the French resistance to the invasion of Iraq.