The Big Mac & Olivier: Indexes That Matter To Russia

Paul Goncharoff

As we head into the final days of this eventful 2020, replete with pandemics and all manner of realignments, two old dear friends have come to visit, informing us of how naughty or nice financial reality has been to our wallet this year. 

These friends are of course the Big Mac Index, and the Olivier Index! The Big Mac is thoroughly globalized, it tells the tale of how much a Big Mac will set a chow-hound back in many countries of the world, averaged in US Dollars (so far). The Olivier Index is for Russia, (and the ex-USSR) as it woo’s our tastebuds with thoughts of this tasty dish, and regales us with how much (in rubles) making this annual salad will set us back each year.

Let’s get the Big Mac Index out of the way first. Switzerland has the highest tab in the world at $6.91. At the same time in the US a Big Mac will run at $5.71, and about $4.71 in the euro region. Russia is of course up to some sneaky non-conformist shenanigans by prying $2.13 out of a Russian Big Mac aficionados pocket.

We now head toward the Olivier Index. The “Salad Olivier” is a staple holiday and restaurant dish in just about everywhere in Russia. Welcoming the New Year without a healthy dollop of Olivier is like wishing for bad luck while knocking on wood.

The origin and drama (IP) of the Salad Olivier goes back to a Belgian chef in 1860s St. Petersburg called Lucien Olivier. In those days at his restaurant L’Hermitage, the Olivier salad could contain grouse, veal tongue, caviar, crayfish tails, capers and smoked duck. The recipe for the sauce that accompanied the salad had been kept a secret. As time went on a certain sous-chef working under Lucien Olivier who was called (typical) Ivan Ivanov made off with the secret recipe while making his career move to a competing establishment, the Restaurant Moskva, where he called his absconded salad the “Stolichny” (meaning the capitol city of Moscow).

The ‘Stolichny’ salad.

In 1905, the Hermitage restaurant closed and this Russian salad recipe appeared in numerous publications. Over time many adaptations of this salad began to appear with with simpler, more accessible and less costly ingradients. It became the gold standard holiday dish throughout the Soviet era and continues to this day.

Today’s popular version of Olivier salad—containing boiled potatoes, dill pickles, peas, eggs, carrots, and boiled beef/chicken or bologna, dressed with mayonnaise—is a version of Ivanov’s Stolichny salad, and only faintly resembles Olivier’s original creation. 

Now that the holidays are fast approaching, Rosstat (Russian Government statistical office) will let loose with the value of 2020s Salad Olivier. The official website of the statistical office publishes not only the cost of the ingredients of the Olivier salad , but also its recipe. The unveiling of the price should be in about a week, or Wednesday December 30th.

On the basis of the value of its individual ingredients the “Olivier Index” is defined by the total cost of the salad. It is then compared with last New Year’s price of the dish. Its value is associated with changes in the real value of the consumer basket and is considered more accurate than other inflationary calculations of statisticians.

Despite the fact that some of the ingredients comprising an “Olivier”, may go down in value during the year, the cost of the popular salad in general has increased steadily year by year… a conundrum to be sure! Also, keep in mind that Russians will be dining on their Olivier from December 31st to as far out as January 14th, so it better be tasty.

Comparing 2018 to 2019 the “Olivier” index grew by 4.3%. Rosstat calculated the cost of two kilograms of this dish (based on the price of its components), and revealing its classic recipe as follows:

chicken eggs, 4 pcs. – 24.53 rubles; green peas, canned, 0.38 kg – 62.89 rubles; pickled cucumbers, 0.4 kg – 66.20 rubles; carrots, 0.2 kg – 5.19 rubles; potatoes, 0.5 kg – 10.35 rubles; onions, 0.1 kg – 2.40 rubles; boiled sausage, 0.3 kg – 119.51 rubles; mayonnaise, 0.2 kg – 35.40 rubles.

The total cost of the salad ” Olivier ” in 2019 , averaging for the whole country amounted to 326.47 rubles, which is 13.47 rubles. more than a year earlier (in 2018 ).

So, for the EXCLUSIVE benefit and edification of Russiaknowledge readers I personally went out and bought the ingredients as required, sourcing from three (3) budget-conscious supermarkets. My findings were revolutionary. as it seems when compared to 2019 my “Olivier” will cost less. If last year the ingredients cost 326 rubles, this year I managed to buy them all for 293 rubles (USD $3.91), or about 10% cheaper. What happened?! Am I that good of a comparative-bargains shopper?

The game is afoot! I am eagerly waiting with bated breath what Rosstat will announce as their official price for Salad Olivier for New Year’s as I am sure you all now are too. Wishing you all a healthy, happy, successful and sane New Year!

Paul Goncharoff

Moscow, December 23, 2020