Many of you have probably ask yourself when in Spain what is this “ensaladilla rusa” (Russian salad) that is served in almost every restaurant and bar? Most importantly why they call it Russian!?

Ensaladilla rusa is today a classic and one of the most typical Spanish tapas. Many places claim to have the best recipe and make the most delicious Russian salad but what exactly is it and where does it come from?

Originally the Russian salad was called “hunting mayonnaise” and later “salad Olivye” in honor of the Belgian chef Lucien Olivier who towards the end of the 19th century ran a high-end restaurant in Moscow, Russia. The original recipe included; grouse and partridge meat, aspic, crab, possibly caviar, beef tongue and truffle apart from lettuce, pickles, potatoes and olives. All of these ingredients where wrapped up in a sauce that Olivier never unveiled and took with him to the grave. The sauce is imitated these days based on mayonnaise, olive oil, vinegar, mustard and soy sauce.

Olivier’s restaurant “Hermitage” closed during the Russian Revolution in 1917 and from that point on the ingredients of the original salad changed. The USSR wanted to eliminate everything related to aristocracy and therefore the refined ingredients of Olivier’s salad where replaced with chicken, ham, potatoes, carrots, peas and boiled eggs besides the only mayonnaise available in Russian shops.

However the story doesn’t end here and is not as simple as it seems. Apparently when Lucien Olivier was still a baby a Russian salad recipe appeared in The Modern Cook book in England. Queen Victoria’s British Italian chef Charles Elme Francatelli created a salad with lobster, anchovies, crab, olives and red mayonnaise mixed with vegetables like potatoes, carrots, peas etc. But the story goes even further – Francatelli adapted this recipe from his professor Antoine Careme who cooked for; Napoleon, Tsar Alexander or Baron Rotschild among others. In 1815 he published a book where he describes a salad with boiled vegetables and mayonnaise… Sounds familiar?

This dish first appears in Spain with a known french cook book in 1856 with the name of “Ensaladilla rusa”. From that moment on the Russian “ensaladilla” has suffered many changes, specially during the Spanish Civil War when the high-end ingredients were replaced by canned tuna or tuna belly.

Today the recipe of this typical tapa has become very minimalist and it mainly consist of; carrots, potatoes, peas, tuna, mayonnaise, olives and capers.

There are many places in Barcelona that offer good “ensaladilla rusa” however we believe that the ones worth mentioning are; Bodega 1900, BarBas and Lolita Taperia. Make sure you visit them when you are in town!