Introduction

Our food memories shape our eating habits and, to a significant extent, our identities. Such memories reconnect us to a bygone time and space and trigger off deep-ingrained memories of feelings and emotions, states of minds and the body. In a way, food memories bridge the chasms of time and space. Childhood foods therefore are great unifiers because ‘we are eating cultural history and value as well as family memories’.1

Perhaps the best-known example of the importance of childhood foods as a means of travel to a bygone time is that of Proust’s ‘madeleines’. Interestingly, in a recent graphic novel adaptation of Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu2 pride of place is given to madeleines in a two-page spread. In one of its famous scenes, the narrator’s eating a madeleine cake provokes a rush of memories of his childhood in the village of Combray. The visual aspect of memory, which stands out in the novel, does so even more in its graphic version. Indeed, when we talk to people about their favourite foods, the conversation almost always returns to the things they loved as a child. Thus the images of food match our sense of collective and personal identity. This claim may be illustrated by the following popular online identity tests of the eating habits of Russian and Armenian Americans, both of which feature several questions related to food.

  • Are you Russian?
  • Do you prefer gherkins in brine or pickled gherkins?
  • Do you eat factory-produced mayonnaise?
  • Do you make Olivier salad for holidays?
  • Can you prepare three dishes using buckwheat?
  • Are you Armenian?
  • You have philo dough, string cheese or See’s candy in your freezer.
  • You serve hummus and tabbouleh with your taco chips.
  • You shovel food on other people’s plates when they aren’t looking.
  • You think pilaf is one of the four food groups.3

These amusing tests highlight several important issues, such as the nature of edible chronotopes4 and ‘default foods’, as well as cooking traditions and practices. Besides, they are indicative of their creators’ ethnic background and origin. Obviously, the Armenian-ness test was created by Americans: Taco chips, unknown in Armenian cuisine and a staple of Mexican Texan food, mentioned together with Middle Eastern hummus, are a clear example of re-contextualization. According to Norman Fairclough:

When processes of globalization affect a particular social entity such as a nation-state, a relationship is set up between the ‘outside’ and the ‘inside’ of that entity. This includes practices, networks of practices, orders of discourse, discourses, genres and/or styles which already exist outside the entity […]. The relationship between outside and inside can be seen as a relationship of recontextualization – external entities are recontextualized, relocated within a new context.5

The interdiscursivity of Armenian food in the American context illustrates how old foods make room for new ones, and vice versa. The childhood foods which are traceable to the ethnic origin are a medium of bonding and affiliation and show the commonality of memory. To quote Jack Goody: ‘The continuity of borscht may provide some thread of living to those passing through the years following the October Revolution, just as a hamburger clearly states to many an American that he is home and dry’.6

Food familiarity outlives states. Riga sprats were touted on Channel One Russia (ORT) commercials as ‘a typical Russian food’ (italics IP) as late as 20107 – a culinary afterthought and aftertaste of the Soviet empire which had ceased to exist more than twenty years before that. The fact that Riga is now the capital of Latvia, an independent state, seemed to be irrelevant. Identity-related culinary issues abound in other parts of Europe as well. For instance, the question ‘who does banitsa belong to?’ may provoke diverse answers on the Balkans, depending on where people live. Banitsa (phyllo pastry with different fillings, the most popular one being white feta cheese) is known in different countries under different names: burek, tyropita, bugatsa, etc (Fig. 1). Though it has many variations, it is part of the cultural heritage of the people who live in Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Albania and Bulgaria.

Figure 1 

Banitsa, burek, bugatsa.

By the same token, Salman Rushdie’s neologism ‘chutnification’ in Midnight Children8 is an apt description of food as an encapsulator of historical memory for those who had lived through the Partition of India in 1947. Furthermore, food is of utmost importance for different diasporas as a means of bonding, affiliation and continuity. As shared by Peter Pomerantsev: ‘When my grandparents, who emigrated to Brighton Beach in 1980, sent photos of themselves to friends back in Kiev it was always in front of a table full of food’.9 The names of Brighton Beach restaurants in New York are notably, and nostalgically, Russian: Tatiana, Primorski, At Mother-in-Law’s, etc.10

In Barthes’ words, food signifies ‘materially a pattern of immaterial realities’.11 The historicity of food is transformed into a situation, and the thread of memory, real or fictitious, creates a stereotypical frame of reference for an individual, as illustrated by the following observation: ‘In the sixties my father suddenly “discovered” he was Irish and started talking about corned beef and cabbage as soul food’.12 Note the keywords discovered and suddenly, which show the son’s attitude to the newly found Irishness of his father. The quotation shows how food may change the individual’s frame of reference, and determine a new approach to lifestyle through brand new favourite meals, even in case of unproven claims.

And, of course, food is intertwined with nostalgia. In the twentieth century ‘nostalgia’, a term coined from the Greek nostos (‘return home’) and algia (‘longing’) became a metaphor for the ambivalent immigrant, the inassimilable immigrant, or even the anti-assimilationist immigrant. Today’s nostalgic, according to Svetlana Boym, is ‘a displaced person who mediates between the local and the universal’.13 In her characterization of nostalgia as a condition in which a person moves between the poles of local/individual and universal/collective, Boym suggests a polarization between place of residence and place of origin.14 Looking back in time for many is not only nostalgic but evokes the image of utopia, of a lost world of childhood, of food as status and power and of food as a dream. Barthes goes as far as to state that ‘when a person drinks red wine that person is actually drinking, he is actually not drinking red wine at all but the idea of red wine’.15 He adds that ‘memory, real or false, thus creates desire which is sublimated and placed into a specific situation’.16

The wave of Eastern European (n)ostalgia spawned dozens of websites offering thousands of former East German, Bulgarian and Soviet products, as well as media narratives conjuring up images of these products for consumers. Ostalgia resulted in a return of some formerly popular items in East Germany, including gherkins from the Spree forest and sausages from Thuringia, as well as Rot-Weiss toothpaste, as brilliantly featured in the film Good Bye Lenin directed by Wolfgang Becker. In the film, after the reunification of Germany a young man hunts for the familiar East German packaging and jars in order to save his sick mother from the pain of disillusionment and insecurity upon her awakening from coma.

By the same token, it is nostalgia, or rather ‘sostalgia’ (nostalgia for the Soviet past), that accounts for the popularity of Gastronome №1 in the Moscow department store GUM. This successor of the famous Russian grocery appeared in 2008 as an Aladdin’s cave of groceries of Soviet repute, and a tribute to a way of life which would not stay in the past. These items are not just Russian but Armenian and Byelorussian; in fact, they represent the entire Soviet culinary empire. The time travel themes reproduced in the department store take the shopper back to international Soviet cuisine, and also to the real or vicarious memory of childhood meals of Riga sprats, buckwheat porridge and tapaka chicken. Indeed, tapaka chicken turned into a nostalgic image of the former Soviet Union. Sostalgia became more than just a longing for the familiarity and comfort of home; it came to evoke a sense of lost ties with a nation (a glorious nation, now in ruins) of a national identity, and of meandering between the past and the future. But how far can such a memory be trusted?

Memory and (In)Authenticity. Myths of Yesteryear

One of the most important Soviet postulates was that of internationalism. According to A. Genis and P. Weil, the authors of a popular and humorously nostalgic book about Russian cooking in exile, in the Soviet Union the idea of internationalism had materialized only in the culinary sphere.17 It would seem that just as the Russian people were described as ‘the elder brother of the other ethnicities (or nations) in the former USSR’, Russian cuisine turned into the elder sibling of all the other Soviet cuisines.18 Even simple explanations of ethnic dishes echoed Russian dishes. ‘Dolma’, for example, is defined as ‘a kind of golubtsi with vine leaves instead of cabbage leaves’. To tackle the bulwarks of memory, real or imaginary, it is necessary to describe the culinary myths of the USSR, mostly as they feature in the much acclaimed Soviet culinary icon: The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food.19

The following analysis targets a duality typical of the culinary practices in the Soviet Union, just as it was peculiar to other aspects of Soviet life. The generations who grew up in the USSR had to face two diverging realities: an invented official reality and the very different reality of their everyday lives. Post-socialist nostalgia may be described as a longing to attain a sense of pride in the glorious socialist past, an urge to reformat a belonging to a collective identity.20 Jonathan Bach, for example, linked the newly recombined objects in post-transitional East Germany to commodification and defined them as phenomenologically nostalgic.21 Consequently, though the function of the memory is to store and reproduce information, it often serves as a distorted mirror which magnifies a symbol rather than the genuine thing, while ignoring many unpleasant aspects of the past.

Myth 1: (in)authenticity.

Dutch cheese, Latvian cheese, Swiss cheese and other pseudo-geographical denominations turned into Soviet brand names. Culinary appropriation of well-known international brands also resulted in Soviet champagne, Armenian madeira and cognac. At the same time, it has been repeatedly noted that the popular Olivier salad made up of diced vegetables with mayonnaise, whose variations are known in other places as Russian salad, in Soviet days was nothing like its ancestor. The original invention of a French chef had contained caviar, beef tongue and game, amongst other ingredients and would now be considered inauthentic.

Myth 2: equality.

A dish or a product could only find its way to the Soviet table if it was declared popular and beloved by the masses. ‘A product for the masses’ is a discursive manifestation of equality, which on paper had always been a fundamental principle of socialism. Equality was the key concept: equality of space and time, logocentricity instead of sequentiality, everything on the table at the same time. Equality had several dimensions: equality for women (liberation from household chores), social equality for workers and peasants, equality for different ‘socialist nations’, even equality for food products – equally diced and smothered in mayonnaise.

The Olivier salad (Fig. 2) is perhaps the best illustration of the equality principle. It was nourriture de passage for all former Soviet citizens, holiday food par excellence. With its ‘equal’ vegetables and meat diced in a similar way, this iconic dish symbolized equality: ‘a dish of universal equality and brotherhood which did not recognize […] any conventions or boundaries imposed by social class or property’.22 The thick mayo had the function of turning these multi-coloured products into a homogeneous and uniform mass, both literally and symbolically.

Figure 2 

Olivier salad.

In reality, there were levels of equality in the USSR, different shops and different products for ordinary people and for those who had a place among the powers that be. For the nomenklatura, the people affiliated with Politburo members, all products were of better quality, including chocolates, as reported, for example, by Anya von Bremsen who attended a nursery school for children of the Soviet elite.23 Incidentally, even shops for higher-ups are known to have had rankings of their own, for those lower in the hierarchy and for Politburo members and their affiliates.24

Myth 3: scarcity versus abundance.

The mantra of food abundance and food superiority reigned supreme: ‘In terms of abundance and wealth of fish and fish products no other country can match the Soviet Union’.25 The statement is indicative of what one could come across in cookery books. The reality was very different, even linguistically, given that the verb used was not купить (‘buy’) but достать (‘obtain despite obstacles’). People turned into hunters who waited in endless queues to ‘obtain’ staples, such as meat or cheese. The rhyme, well-known to all-Soviets, ran: В одни руки не больше штуки! (Not more than one for one!). It presented quite a contrast with the following mouth-watering description: ‘Alongside different varieties of sausages and ham, meat counters boast delicatessen on beautiful platters decorated with herbs and fringed with garnishes. Such meat products account for altogether about 20 different items ranging from cold sucking pig, veal roll, roast beef and entrecote to boiled tongue’.26

While the items above may have existed in special shops for the party officials, this description read like a fairy tale to those who went to local groceries (‘gastronoms’). Yet the very existence of such shops bred the desire to join the ranks of the chosen few. For ordinary people even the most innocent products were mythologized, and that is the reason why such common fruit, such as bananas and tangerines, turned into holiday foods: they could only be bought on the eve of red-letter days after queuing for hours. New Year, for example, had come to be associated with the smell of tangerines. Bananas were also once-a-year treats. Reportedly, even Stalin loved bananas and care was taken that he always had a supply of the fruit. A nostalgic love of the tropical fruit still endures for many, especially of the older generation. To quote Marina Lewycka’s Two Caravans: ‘Andriy […] being Ukrainian is greatly beloved of bananas’.27 Ironically, the funny comment is made by an African, a Malawian. Even though the story unfolds after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the deeply encoded subliminal myth of an elite aura of bananas appears to have survived the collapse of the social order.

Myth 4: science and industry versus art and craft.

The excellence and diversity of industrially produced products was also one of the mantras of socialism in Russia: ‘The population should acquire […] a habit to consume instant food, powdered breakfasts, semi-finished products, tinned foods – in fact, the entire range and wealth of diverse ready-made and pre-cooked factory-produced articles. These […] products improve our health […] This is why they are a key factor in liberating the woman from household chores for more productive and creative work’.28 As apparent from this passage, cooking was not regarded as creative work. Creativity in any form was considered unpredictable and did not fit the equality principle. Another interesting myth, which the same passage echoes, is that of industrially produced foods being healthy. By today’s health standards tinned foods and instant foods are definitely not considered as a healthy option.

After the transition, the culinary myths of the Soviet Union experienced a transformation. In the mid-twentieth century, art was considered as too unpredictable, too difficult to slot into the mass and equality framework. Memory plays havoc with this myth, so that now the food of the Soviet yesteryear comes across as healthy and artsy. It is interesting to trace the transformation of the supremacy of science and industry over the art and craft myth. Somehow, what was extolled as science in the fifties and sixties has now come to be regarded as art, and thus industry is reincarnated as art and craft. Margarine and other trans- and animal fats widely used in the fifties and sixties were then regarded as much healthier than vegetable fats but will hardly be described as healthy by dieticians today.

The greatest transformation is experienced by the myth of abundance versus the reality of scarcity, with its ‘heroic’ aura of hunting and gathering. The use of the word dostal (‘managed to get’) rather than ‘bought’ has now become a distant memory. (N)ostalgic shops now store products which used to be on offer only in outlets for the nomenklatura, thus projecting an inauthentic retro-elitist image. Though consumers are often reminded of special Politburo shops and the latent and blatant inequality in the access to different foods, believing it is a personal choice.

The most poignant nostalgia, however, is evoked by the alleged unparalleled quality of the food of yesteryear. It emerged as a new post-transitional myth in Russia as well as in other Eastern European countries and is replicated in familiar brands and packaging. A revival of the Soviet brand comes with the slogan ‘Soviet means excellent!’ (Russian: Советское значит отличное!). At the glitzy GUM department store in Moscow, in the vast retro-Soviet supermarket filled with dozens of products in their ‘original’ packaging, the advertisements focus on ‘the taste of our childhood’. The authenticity of the new (old) products is, of course, in the eyes of the beholder.

By and large, this social behaviour reflects the ‘wishful thinking’ aspect of identity formation and aligns identity with space and its objects: ‘Who we are is inextricably linked to where we are, have been or are going’.29 As aptly put by S. Oushakine, ‘retrofitting’ the Soviet experience signifies an inclination for an invented Soviet past: ‘As a result, nostalgia for things Soviet is usually construed as a deliberate or implicit denial of the present. But it also is often perceived as a revisionist project of rewriting history, as a post-communist censorship of sorts aimed at making the complex and troubling past more user-friendly by reinscribing its reformatted version in the context of today’s entertainment’.30 Thus the familiar icons represent secondary, reinvented objects, a kind of simulacra, i.e. copies without an original. The attribution to these objects takes on a semiotic function in the present-day socio-cultural system.

Food and Diaspora

Through food people set out to change their identity in order to bond with their new group, or make a statement affirming their ‘old’ identity. Weil and Genis assert that culinary traditions provide inextricable links to the old country for American immigrants from the Soviet Union. Although the value of other things may change, hot dog will never be a replacement for garlic sausage.31 Hence, food has a very direct link to acculturation and multiple identity.

Food eaten in the old country for many seems the tastiest. This is a memory trick which applies to both time and space. For the new generations, food, or rather the idea of childhood foods spans the time, overcoming a temporal disjuncture. Memory serves as a means of travel through generations. For the diaspora communities inhabiting different space(s) the perception of time is split. Whereas it runs naturally in their new home, in their mind’s eye time in the old country stands still. However, there are multiple approaches to food memories:

[…] not all immigrants are the same. Some come here to become Canadians; others came to Canada to build their own small and better Slovakia. Before long, the first ones become indistinguishable from Canadians. The other group of immigrants is so busy living in their small pseudo-Slovakia they hardly have time to get acquainted with Canada. They are busy teaching their children Slovak, cooking halusky (traditional Slovak gnocchi), rehearsing Slovak songs and dances and […] other gatherings.32

The second category of immigrants left their old home only in a physical sense. As Petro points out they relax in Slovakia where they are invited to McDonalds in the evening and call it a day with a nightcap of Scotch whisky. At ‘home’ in Canadian pseudo-Slovakia they finish the trip with plum brandy ‘from their homeland’. Such attitudes are, without doubt, typical of people of other nationalities as well.

Individuals may regress by reidentifying with their origins, having found the alienation and malaise in maintaining a new identity too much of a strain.33 The supply of Bulgarian cheese, bean soup, liutenitsa paste and banitsa on North American sites catering to Bulgarian consumers, such as Malincho.com, proves this. The default foods for Serbs are kaimak, aivar and burek. Russian and Polish shops provide their own solutions to the issue of hybrid identity. As holiday foods, such everyday default foods are a must, even though they have little prestige in the old country. A case in point is the Russian Olivier salad, which has been downgraded in Russia where it is now often considered as boring, everyday food.34 Yet it is still of paramount importance for Russian diaspora feasts, because no other dish symbolizes so heart-wrenchingly the memory of a country that has ceased to exist.

Some immigrants may opt for the new food immediately, thus making a statement of allegiance to their new homeland:

Larissa embraces the bountiful blandness of Wonder Bread and Oscar Meyer bologna in their new home, but for the young Anya it is as if food has lost its meaning, without the context of her ‘real’ home – where food meant so much more than just sustenance – and family to share it with: ‘depleted of political pathos, hospitality, that heroic aura of scarcity, food didn’t seem much of anything anymore’.35

Anya’s mother liked Western food as a protest against the Soviet political system, but for Anya American food had no links with what food had stood for in the old country except as a means of sustenance. Bonding was more important than politics for Anya who was a teenager when she immigrated to the USA.

Sometimes, geographically incongruous food items are re-contextualized as in the following example, where Japanese sushi is served ‘like pelmeni’ along with Russian food in a restaurant in so-called ‘Little Russia’:

The men wore power suits and shiny shirts, the women sparkly dresses and stiletto, all fitting the image of success current when they arrived in the early 1990s. Cosmos [a Brighton Beach restaurant] was kitted out in a style from the same period – all chrome and dark blues and blacks. […] The tables were laid out with piles of grilled fish, caviar, meat, vats of Russian salad. Sushi was on the menu too, but served in mountains like pelmeni.36

Sushi and pelmeni, buckwheat kasha with parmeggiano or feta cheese, pizza and banitsa – all those and many other untraditional combinations should be regarded as hybrid tributes to the new, and as reverence for the old.

Food as Oblivion and Protest

In Poland munching an innocent apple was recently perceived as a sign of protest against Russian sanctions proscribing the imports of EU products, including Polish apples, to Russia. Examples of the use of food as protest abound. They show that the discourse of food is interwoven with many social and political issues whose dimensions relate to a certain point in time and space. Perhaps one of the most haunting descriptions of the links between food, politics and the tricks played by memory is featured in Cooking History, a documentary by the Slovakian director Peter Kerekes, which was awarded a special jury prize at a documentary film festival in Toronto in May 2009. The film looks at major European conflicts of the twentieth century from the perspective of some oft-ignored but crucial figures in warfare: military chefs. These include Branko Trbovic, who cooked, tasted and tested food for Josip Broz ‘Tito’, former leader of Yugoslavia. Trbovic explains how different cultures’ foods were used aggressively to promote nationalist agendas at meetings ostensibly convened to discuss Yugoslavian unity. Croatian leader Franjo Tudjman served Dalmatian ham with olives (Fig. 3) and Croatian pot roast, whereas Slobodan Milosevic offered up a stereotypical Serb menu, a counter-meal of sour curds, Zlatibor cheese and Serbian polenta. On the other hand, the menu in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, included phyllo pastries, okra soup and baby goat.

Figure 3 

Dalmatian ham from Split.

In these cases, food acted as a stand-in for flags, suggesting the deep significance people attach to their national cuisines and cultures, even when the foods do not appear markedly different to outside observers. Another interesting point made in the film was the allegedly different food of the Serbs and the Croats. A former Yugoslav army cook, a Croatian, says that even the names of the dishes were different, making a note of some slight differences in the pronunciation, say, of roast liver, not noticeable to the audience, which amounted to a denial of common history and common memory.

Similarly, the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine has made culinary waves. While the controversy around the beetroot soup, commonly known as borsht (Fig. 4), goes back a long time,37 the history of other dishes is now also subject to jealous scrutiny. Thus, duck with apples is described by various culinary forum participants as either Russian or Ukrainian, depending on their nationality. A typical argument, for instance, would claim that ‘as Ukraine has a much longer history than Russia, so of course, duck with apples is a Ukrainian dish’.38

Figure 4 

Beetroot soup (Borsht).

Since the beginning of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, Russian shops outside Russia had to deal with customers’ refusal to buy Ukrainian goods. In a Russian Beriozka shop in Sofia a woman who wanted kvass (a traditional fermented beverage commonly made from rye bread, popular both in Russia and in Ukraine), refused to buy Ukrainian kvass claiming: ‘I don’t buy anything Ukrainian’.39 Kvass, of course, is produced using the same method in many Slavic and Baltic countries, not just in Russia. The Ukrainian foods salo, gorilka and galushki according to some Russian ‘patriots’ turn people into banderovtsi.40 The description of Ukrainian staples with an emphasis on salo (lard), even something as unlikely and humorous as a chocolate-coated salo, and of Ukrainians as saloedi (‘lard eaters’), represents a negative identity statement.

After the introduction of EU sanctions against Russia, a Russian cartoon humorously advertised one hundred per cent Russian lobsters, ‘because they are all granted Russian nationality before being cooked!’ On a less humorous note, after Russian sanctions on EU goods in response to the Western sanctions on Russian goods, the Internet was deluged with appeals to ignore Western foods: Нет! Западное не ем! (‘I don’t eat any food that comes from the West!’).

Any mention of distorted memory triggers off numerous spiteful comments, denials, accusations of falsification, name-calling. Historical memes, which sometimes can be traced back to World War II, and which often may be described by the French phrase nostalgie de la boue are especially popular and come across as moral imperatives as in the following forum postings on Runet: А я никогда деликатесы и не жрал. Они для моральных уродов.Деды картофан с луком жрали, а мы чем хуже (‘Gourmet foods are degenerate shit. I couldn’t be less interested. Our grandparents were happy to eat potatoes and onions’.) Indeed, Peter Pomerantsev is not far off the mark when he claims that ‘the Soviet Union was so successful in eradicating the old traditions of Russian culture that there’s very little to pass on to the next generation apart from culinary sentimentality’.41

Although by definition food is supposed to cater to nice things, culinary disagreements seem to be as good a reason as any for an international conflict. In Luhansk in Ukraine, the summer of 2014 saw the closure of the McDonald’s restaurants by Russian separatists. There were threats to blow up the premises if the restaurants went on operating without permission. Moscow followed suit by lashing out at the McDonald’s chain in Russia as a signal that the West was not welcome there. Ostensibly, the Russian McDonald’s are being closed down for health reasons. But analysts are sceptical because Russia is known to have a tendency to ban foreign products, particularly food, for political reasons. In the Donetsk Republic in 2016 Coca Cola and McDonalds were likewise declared ‘enemies’, and their own locally produced drink, similar to Cola, was on offer instead.42 Politics in cuisine is still a real buzz. In restaurants in Gelendzhik in the Crimea the aggravated relations with Western countries and Ukraine resulted in renaming some dishes with such labels as ‘warm Obama with Merkel’s liver’, ‘Poroshenko’s frittata with Merkel and Obama’, ‘Yatseniuk on an American cushion’ and ‘Sarkozy in a French bun’, to name just a few.43 However, there is room for optimism due to appeals to common culinary memory rather than oblivion. After a new armed conflict broke out in March 2016 in the disputed Nagorny Karabach enclave between the Azerbaijanis and the Armenians, an appeal slogan immediately began making the rounds online: ‘Azeris and Armenians! Make dolma not war’.

Food as Wrapping – Conclusion

Identity-building through food is an ongoing concern. Yet, caveat emptor: the buyer beware! What is offered as iconic sweets, tinned fish, a salad or any other memory-laden food, no matter what its historical origin might have been, more often than not contains very different additives from the original, authentic version. Though the image and the brand may be the same and ring familiar bells, in such items there is an abundance of new ingredients, should one bother to read: palm oil, modified starch, a selection of E-numbers. The symbolic essence of the food, its intangible value is intact but the content is very different. What the shoppers buy is the nostalgic past, with its equality and its allegedly healthy products, a reaffirmation of the greatness of a lost world. Hence, despite the revival of Soviet foods, consumers basically look at familiar images but consume a different content, i.e. eating changeling foods, such as sweets, which are full of palm oil, glucose and different E-numbers for flavour. Only the iconic wrapping looks the same.

It may be asserted that a quest for authenticity creates a culture of convenience with its typical standardization of offers where the real thing is substituted for make-believe agents. In our context, the original turns into a pseudo-authentic replica where only the wrapping is a good likeness. The concept of the pseudo-authentic replica was developed by J. Hendry who studied politeness in Japan and defined certain aspects of Japanese politeness, such as hiding and indirectness as ‘wrapping’.44 Likewise, what the imaginary food entails is symbolization and embellishment. Two different worlds, the past and the present, have come together, but they continue to stay apart. It is only the wrapping that matters because people buy symbols, not reality. The distinction between real and pseudo remains intact. Authenticity becomes a construct. Although the packaging may be an exact replica of the original, what is inside is not. The original product no longer exists, and the new item becomes a simulacrum, a pseudo-authentic food of the past, produced according to new standards and jurisdictions. The chasm of time has not been bridged. Yet, we stick with the make-believe product which for us is still full of magic, due to the tricks of memory. Therefore, food comes to represent a new discursive currency as a way to signal a desirable or non-desirable identity. As Benwell and Stokoe argue, ‘We consume according to who we are or what we want to be’.45 Consequently, the discourse of a reimagined and recoded past is in line with certain invented aspects of history which fit the identity of an individual or a group.