July 01, 1997

A Soup for Real Men

Muscovy, precursor to the Russian state, was famous for fish. So much so that fish was a staple of early Russians for half the year. Given this special relationship, it should not be surprising that particular, purely Russian, styles of preparation developed. Foreigners often could not appreciate this taste on the first try. In the 16th and 17th centuries, for example, foreign visitors were puzzled by how these “strange Russians” could eat anything so unusually smelly and unappetizing as pickled fish. But centuries passed and tastes changed;  now pickled red fish is considered a delicacy outside Russia as well.

By the way, here we’re talking about not pickled, but fresh fish. Or more exactly, about a broth made from it, which in Russia is called ukha.

Ukha is a man’s soup. Women are often less than enthusiastic about it, and here is why: any Russian man worth his “salt” will tell you that fish for ukha can’t be bought — it has to be caught with your own hands. Which means you have to go fishing. This sport is extremely popular the world over, a much-loved form of relaxation. But many Russian wives are not too wild about letting their husbands engage in this form of ‘sport’. They don’t trust them. And with good reason. All too often, they take with them more vodka than bait, and, after drinking in the fresh outdoors, bring home fish from the corner store. So do not be surprised if some Russian women, on hearing that you “love fishing,” try to guard their hubbies from your pernicious influence.

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