The Perfect Blend: Ukrainian Cuisine
at The Crossroad of The World Tastes
You cannot really get the country and its culture without trying its food. Not the international stuff like burgers or latte in omnipresent McDonalds, but the dishes carefully developed through centuries and sustaining local people through good and bad times. When you try this food, you understand how these people lived and what their land is like, away from the big cities with their international restaurants.
Oysters, cheeses, and wines of France tell stories of oceans, cattle grazing on wide pastures, and vineyards soaking in the sun of the south. The Scandinavian love story with seafood is totally explainable, except that surstroemming thing (wow, if Vikings ate it, they were really tough guys).
But what can Ukrainian cuisine tell you? What are its secret ingredients and what are its ever-present staples?
The Land Of Grain Growers
Rich Ukrainian soils are the reason for the special relationship the Ukrainians have with grain at large, wheat in particular, and dishes made of cereal and flour. Millet, wheat, rye, and buckwheat witnessed the rise and fall of the Kyivan Rus, and when corn arrived from across the ocean, it quickly found its place in local fields and plates.
That’s why many kinds of bread, baked goods, and dough dishes hold the central place in Ukrainian cuisine. The classic recommendation for tourists is to try varenyky (sweet or savory), haluhsky, order pampushky to accompany a bowl of ruby-red borshch, and polish it all with sweet mlyntsi for dessert.
Each dish alone can be found in many countries across the world, but Ukrainian varieties include specific local ingredients and have a unique flavor.
Halushky are basically dumplings, but they are cooked in a special way and are accompanied by fried bacon and caramelized onions.
Varenyky (it’s plural) are stuffed dumplings with sweet and savory fillings. Varenyky with potatoes, cabbage, or strawberries are uniquely Ukrainian dishes, so unbuckle your belt and enjoy a double serving.
Pyrohy is an umbrella term for baked goods, with or without filling, whether sweet or neutral in taste. Pyrohy date back to times lost in history when they were ritual food for special occasions. Do not miss a chance to try them now.
Mlyntsi are thin pancakes, more like crepes, and when served with sweetened cottage cheese and jam, make a decadent dessert.
Now a bit of history: the oldest known Ukrainian food made of cereal or flour (except bread) was boiled grain (kasha) and flour-based boiled dishes like salamakha or lemishka. It’s basically flour brewed with hot water with the addition of salt and lard, sometimes fried bacon. It was the wartime food of Cossacks when they spent weeks in field campaigns.
It’s All About The Roots
As you can guess, rich soil was perfect for growing vegetables and fruit, so the legendary borshch reaches back to the properties of soil as well. Its foundation is the beet and the brine left after beet preservation for winter. Carrots, cabbage, onions, beans, and other accessible roots and greens were foraged and also added to the pot.
Beets lurk in many Ukrainian recipes, where the sugary root provides color, taste, and food value to otherwise plain dishes.
No wonder that potatoes took hold firmly in the Ukrainian cuisine and now look like they have always been there. Think fried potatoes with garlic, baked potatoes, boiled potatoes with bacon and onions, deruny (grated potato pancakes) – yum!
Unfailingly European One
From the West, Ukraine borrowed the tradition of cooking meats, and today, Ukrainian sausages, cured meats, and poultry dishes are on the menu of all Ukrainian families. Sauces, sweet goods, and wines also remind us that Ukraine is a historically European land with its taste for fine dining.
All in all, Ukrainian cuisine blends many tastes and flavors into harmony, that’s why it’s possible to compare it to Chinese food tradition to some extent. It’s complex, it’s tasty, you cannot make out at first what’s in the dish, but afterward, you know you’re just hooked on it.