What Is Salo? The Popular Ukrainian Snack

charcuterie board of Ukrainian salo with accompaniments and garnishes

Salo is perhaps one of the most ubiquitous foods IN Ukraine, yet it isn’t something many foreigners know about. Unlike borsch which is quintessentially Ukrainian recognized the world over, salo is really only eaten in Eastern Europe. So it comes as no surprise when I meet a foreigner here who asks me, “what is salo?”

So…What Is Salo?

grocery shelf in Ukraine of Salo types
Picture of various salo taken at a grocery store in Lviv, Ukraine

Salo is a cured slab of pork fatback that originated in Ukraine, but is now popular all over Eastern Europe. In Bulgaria, Romania, Bosnia, and a few other places is it known as slanina. Salo is usually salt cured but can have other spices such as pepper, paprika, or garlic.

Originally curing chunks of fatback in salt was a way to preserve food for long periods of time. Properly curing salo can extend the life of the meat over a year! Today you can find this delicious pork dish at plenty of groceries and traditional restaurants across Eastern Europe.

Salo is often mistaken for lard or even bacon. While you can make lard from salo, the salo itself is not lard. It is also not bacon as there is no lean meat on the slices of cured fatback. The closest thing to Ukrainian salo would have to be Italian lardo, which is essentially the same food but with different seasonings.

Types Of Salo?

salo plate with pickles, chili, garlic, and onions

Salo is typically sold in three different forms. All can be seen in the photograph above. The most common form is simply in a block; this allows the buyer to do whatever they want with it. If you order salo in a restaurant however, they will not give you a block but rather thinly sliced pieces.

One of the most popular versions of salo is forshmak, or minced lard with garlic and herbs. This mixture is then spread on toasted rye bread and enjoyed with a shot of authentic Ukrainian horilka.

What Is Traditionally Eaten With Salo?

platter of various salo with garnishes

If you order a plate of salo as a ‘beer snack’ in Ukraine you are likely to receive either thinly sliced or minced fatback served with a few accompaniments or garnishes. By the way, beer snacks have to be one of my favorite things about living in Ukraine!

Salo Garnishes

Rye Toast

Garlic Cloves

Spring Onion

Chili Pepper (Ukraine isn’t big on spicy food, but for some reason there’s often a pepper or two on salo platters)

Pickled Gherkins

Coriander Leaves

Can You Cook Salo?

Ukrainian Potatoes with shkvarky salo and dill with sour cream
Popular Ukrainian dish of potatoes with fried salo

Salo can absolutely be cooked. While it is most popular ‘raw’ there are plenty of times it is cooked as well. When salo is rendered and fried you are left with the cracklings, or, fried pork skin. This is known as shkvarky and is used as a topping for dishes like varenyky or boiled potatoes.

You can also render the fat from salo by heating it at a low temperature until melted. This is simply lard which can be used for cooking or baking.

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