Ukrainian food reveals so much about its geographical terrain, its people’s culture and history. Typically used ingredients are those that are grown and cultivated on the land such as barley, wheat, beets, cabbages and potatoes. Ukraine’s steppes are considered some of the most fertile soil in the world. Ukraine has also been called “the breadbasket of Europe” which means that bread is in abundance and is actually a staple dish amongst Ukrainians. Bread also features prominently in many Ukrainian rituals and customs involving food and eating. The mountainous regions in western Ukraine have also been ideal pasture grounds for grazing beef and dairy cattle. Hence meats, poultry and pork are important to the Ukrainian diet.
Whilst there are a number of influences owing to its centuries of integration into the Russian empire and its association with the eastern and western neighbours such as Poland, Germany and Turkey, Ukrainian cuisine is at heart fairly simple – soups, salads, breads, meats and poultry dishes, pastries and various pickled vegetables make up the typical food items in a Ukrainian meal. Do not be mistaken, though, Ukrainian cuisine is as rich and varied as its history and the various ethnic groups that are in the country.
Generally there are three square meals for an average Ukrainian family. Breakfast is usually light – bread with butter, Kasha (cereal), steamed barley or millet with milk, or pastries like blintz may be taken with either coffee or tea. The biggest meal of the day is the midday meal (or mid-afternoon) and this typically consists of a soup and a meat or poultry dish or stew. At 6 or 7 p.m. supper is taken by the families.
Here are some of the more popular Ukrainian dishes typically served on the table.
Borsch: a Ukrainian vegetable soup made of beets, cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, onions, garlic and dill, and served either hot or cold with sour cream on top. This soup is also a staple in many Eastern and Central European nations. In Ukraine there are about 30 different types of borsch.
Yushka or Ukha: a soup made typically with freshwater fish like carp.
Varenyky: boiled dumplings of unleavened dough filled with cottage cheese, mashed potatoes, stewed cabbages, fruits like berries (used especially during the summer) and hard-boiled eggs. When filled with fruits, they are typically served with sour cream and butter or sugar.
Holubtsi: also known as cabbage rolls, this dish calls for minced meat and rice stuffed into rolled cabbage leaves and stewed in tomato sauce or roasted with bacon strips.
Salo: Salted and unrendered pork fat lard. This is usually used for cooking, added as a condiment for borsch or when thinly sliced and eaten in rye bread rubbed with garlic serves as a popular snack.
Kolach: A braided bread with a nut or poppy seed filling served during celebrations such as Christmas.
Babka: A spongy yeast cake served for Easter Sunday family celebrations. The name is derived from the word “baba” meaning “grandmother.” A typical babka is shaped like a tall cylinder with fillings of raisins and other dried fruits and glazed with a fruit-flavored icing.
Mlyntsi or Nalynsky: A blintz or crepe made with yeasted batter and filled with cottage cheese, meat, cabbage or fruits and served with sour cream.
Pampushky: A traditional Ukrainian dessert that looks like jelly doughnuts. In Ukraine they are filled with poppy seed or other sweet fillings like jam, fried and tossed with cinnamon sugar. They can also be served together with meat or borsch, then usually topped with lots of garlic.
Syrniki: Fried quark cheese pancakes served with sour cream, jam, honey, or apple sauce. The name comes from the word “syr” which means cheese.
As far as beverages are concerned, Ukraine is also known for its strong spirits and beer which is widely exported around the world. Both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks feature prominently in any Ukrainian meal and celebrations will not be complete without them. Here are some of the popular Ukrainian beverages.
Vodka, often infused with fruit, spices or hot peppers.
Beer from Obolon, Lvivske, Sarmat and Rogan.
Mead, medovukha or “honey wine” made from honey, water, yeast and fermented.
Kompot, a traditional drink made of dried or fresh fruit, boiled in water with sugar and then left to cool and infuse. Fruits used for the drink include apples, quince, pears and prunes. During Christmas, a variation of kompot called uzvar is made and served for supper.
Kefir is a fermented milk drink which tastes similar to yoghurt. This is considered a nutritious drink with antioxidant properties. Another kind of yoghurt drink made with baked milk is called ryazhanka.
Kvas is also called a “bread drink” as it is made from black or regular rye bread flavored with fruit or herb and fermented.