Ukrainian Food, Drink, and Friends
Ukrainian cuisine ... Ukrainian dishes show a sophisticated simplicity based on pleasing combinations of fresh, pickled, and smoked ingredients. While cooking techniques are not complicated, dishes may contain a great number of ingredients and unusual combinations, such as shuba salad which combines pickled herring and beets. Food is neither highly spiced nor bland, but skillfully seasoned to perfection.
Bread, is of course the mainstay of the Ukrainian diet. The country’s reputation as the “breadbasket of Europe” is well deserved. The French writer Honore de Balzac, who lived in Ukraine for four years, counted 77 different ways of preparing bread. It is such a central part of the diet here that there is a custom to give honored guests and departing or arriving travelers the gift of a loaf of bread and salt. This tradition is still used in welcoming ceremonies for dignitaries and other important persons.
Borshch is certainly the national dish of Ukraine, even making its appearance on the menus of Chinese and Italian restaurants in Kyiv. This uniquely Ukrainian soup has been adopted by other countries in the region, but as recently as 45 years ago it could not even be found in restaurants in other Soviet republics. The many versions of borshch served throughout the country reflect the individuality of Ukrainians as well as their ingenuity. The beet-based soup can contain as many as 20 different ingredients, depending on the season, region, and of course, personal preference of the cook. It can be meatless or prepared from a rich meat stock and contain either beef or smoked pork.
The availability of ingredients for traditional cooking are often dependent on the season, so most varieties of vegetables sometimes make their appearance in certain dishes in their pickled form. You also might find that certain dishes listed on a menu might not be available at certain times of year. Salads are very common, but rather than being lettuce-based, combinations of fresh, cooked, and preserved vegetables may be mixed with meat, cheese, or fish.
Varenyky (Polish pierogis) are dumplings made from boiled or fried dough, resembling ravioli without red sauce. They can be filled with meat, potatoes, cabbage, and sometimes mushrooms for as an entrée ... or sour cherries or sweetened cottage cheese and raisins as a dessert. Any kind can be accompanied by butter or sour crème. The word holubtsi (Polish golabki) can be translated into “little pigeons,” but really has nothing to do with fowl of any kind. They are cabbage rolls stuffed with meat and rice or buckwheat and often covered with a thin tomato sauce.
There are many different kinds of pastries and cakes, usually less sweet than they are made outside of continental Europe. A tort Kyivskiy is a local specialty, made of layers of crumbly raised wafers, hazelnuts, and it even comes in its own special green box.
Ukrainian Beer ... for visitors from some countries, it is a novelty just to be able to enjoy a soft alcoholic beverage in public places such as sidewalks or parks. For Ukrainians, this is simply a normal and common summer ritual when the weather warms up.
Pivo (beer) is not really popular with women, but some men will enjoy various brands marked mitsne (strong) with alcohol contents of around 7%. While Ukraine does not have the history of beer making that Germany or Belgium boast of, it is still a popular drink and developing craft. There are several major beer brewing companies in Ukraine: Obolon, Slavutich, Chernigivsky, and L’vivskiy (left). If you are at all familiar with the different major cities or regions of Kyiv, you can easily tell just by the names where these brands are produced. Ukrainians consume about half as much beer as Western Europeans, but from an economic perspective the market has been growing steadily over the last few years and is currently the second larges among CIS countries.
The major producers have been introducing various products in the last few years, labeling them “premium,” “light,” “ice,” or a number of other variations of usual lager beers. More recently, unfiltered, dark, and “red” beers have made their appearance, and a few pubs around town brew their own ales in-house. Bitters and stouts have not come on the scene yet, but it may only be a matter of time.
Friends ... one may always count on long-enduring friendships and cordial hospitality. The Ukrainian table is always set to extend the best the house has to offer.
Our gallery below demonstrates the range of acquaintances and the settings in which these bonds are formed.