Friday, August 27, 2010


My mother and my grandmother are both at least bilingual.
As such, they are acutely aware of words and meanings that may exist in one language that either don't exist in the other, or exist but not with quite the same meaning. While I was growing up they would use a foreign word because it didn't QUITE have an English equivalent.

As a kid I'd be just as likely to be called "yawili" as "rambunctious," and probably more likely to be "yawili" than "mischievous," for example. Or there would be days that I'd be talking to Grandma and she'd have only the French word come to mind, because the English equivalent didn't quite fit in the situation.

I'm not bilingual. That said, I understand the concept. There are words in Russian that just don't have an English equivalent, that I have to explain my way around. Cало (Sala) is one of those. Or, so I thought. Then I stumble upon today's Russian word of the day on a favorite blog and discover I'm wrong. The English word does exist, it's just not in my lexicon.

Ready for today's "learn a Russian word and its now existent English equivalent" adventure? Here we go.

Cало (Sala) is a "delightful" dish that I downed in Khabarovsk only to make my host father proud. He was sure that, since I couldn't roll my "r"s I couldn't be a real Rrrrussian. BUT, if I could down some raw pickeled pigs fat? THEN I could prove my Russian-ness. (In hind sight, it was really a loosing battle to begin with.) So, I downed the salted inverse of bacon. I consumed the fat with no meat that could keep a fisherman alive for a month. And then I decided I better learn to roll my "r"s. And I was glad that we didn't have the equivalent in English.

But, wait, WE DO! "Fatback." Fatback? OH! SURE! I've read about it in novels. I guess that makes sense. But I've never consumed it -- except, it's cало -- so I guess I have. Fat back. Got it. Now, someone translate the Russian on this page into English and see if Google Translator agrees. And someone else, who grew up in a culture that eats fatback, tell me what it is, so that I can see if it fits my definition of cало.

You learn something new every day.

How long did you live in the South? You've never heard of fatback? Really???
It sounds like they may be the same basic cut of "meat." Fatback is the fatty part of the pig's back that is cured like bacon. But we only use it for flavoring in things (like cooking green beans on the stove all day in fatback until they are mushy, salty, bacony goodness). It is also melted and used as lard for cooking hoe cakes. We don't just eat a hunk of it...and we definitely don't pickle it!
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