The gastronomy experience is one of the best ways to travel and explore places, learn about their culture. If your time in a certain place is limited, you want to have a real deal, and you want to have it stylishly. Here we will talk about the must-try things of Ukrainian cuisine among the main course and starters. We will also mention some herbs that make our food so special, and drinks that give a unique mood to your whole gastro experience. Most of this things and even more you’re able to taste at our Restaurant Crawl Tour. Don’t forget to bring your appetite with you!
‘Borshch is the head of it all’
This local proverb confirms that borshch is almost a sacral dish in Ukrainian cuisine. If you want to pal up with a Ukrainian, try to avoid saying that you don’t like borshch. Ukrainian media often use Borshch index (similarly to Big Mac index) to evaluate purchasing powers of different currencies and to determine a level of inflation of Ukrainian Hryvnia.
Borshch is basically soup from sugar beet, meat, potato, beans, carrot, onion, cabbage. Ukrainians usually serve it with sour cream and bread and consume it at lunch. ‘Kanapa’ restaurant, for example, figured its unique way of serving borshch. They put it into an emptied cabbage instead of a bowl. Others prefer a more traditional style of presentation. One of the best ways to enjoy this canonical dish is to try a real home-made borshch at our Eat with a Local tour.
Varenyky: dumplings that you can never have enough
Varenyky just like borshch is another dish you cannot imagine Ukraine without. Little dumplings with the endless variety of stuffings can please even the pickiest gourmet. Traditionally, making dough for dumplings symbolizes the creation of the world. Meanwhile, varenyk’s shape looks like a demilune and goes as a sacrifice to the moon for it to be well-disposed to people.
Today the most common salty stuffing kinds for varenyky are potato, steamed cabbage, mushrooms, meat, liver, and cheese. Sweet ones include cottage cheese, berries and much more. You can serve any kind of them with sour cream. Try eating sweet ones with honey, while salty ones go well with oil and fried onion. Practically every Ukrainian restaurants will treat you with the fantastic salty dumplings. ‘Kompot,’ however, has good seasonal sweet ones such as cherry and strawberry stuffed.
Chicken Kyiv: cocky little bone
This dish narrows it down from national to local city cuisine. It also has a way shorter history that the previous two, being allegedly less than 200 years old. However, its youth and locality didn’t stop it from being nearly a number one Kyiv’s calling card all over the world.
Traditional Chicken Kyiv has its hidden stuffing of butter, herbs, and cheese (sometimes also mushrooms and eggs) and is covered with very crispy breadcrumbs. Paying tribute to its 19th-century origin, it’s sometimes served with an arty-crafty little bone. There are quite a few places in Ukrainian capital that serve this dish. Moreover, last year Dmytro Borysov Gastro Family opened specialized ‘Chicken Kyiv’ restaurant downtown.
Kyiv Cake: born from a mistake
Another city’s calling card – less known, but positively not less delicious. Legend says that the Kyiv Cake was born from a mistake – the pastry-cook forgot to fridge the whipped whites overnight and they harden, making an original base for a cake. The recipe was obviously altered later, and the present version consists of nut meringues base and buttercream.
The Kyiv Cake exists from the middle of the 20th century. The monopoly on a mass production originally belonged to Karl Marx Kyiv Confectionery Factory, and presently belongs to Kyiv Roshen Factory. However, that doesn’t mean you cannot enjoy small artisan cakes at the restaurants. ‘Bessarabia,’ for instance, offers amazing ones.
Holubtsi: symbolic and creative
Holubtsi, or cabbage rolls, is a typical main course dish in Ukrainian cuisine. Its name comes from the word ‘Holub’ which means ‘pigeon’ in Ukrainian. Local mythology considers pigeons the spiritual creatures, which symbolize creative forces. Holubtsi is an inevitable dish for both festive and everyday table.
The most common recipe includes beef and rice, and herbs mix for the stuffing, cabbage for the cover, and a mix of sour cream and broth for the sauce. However, the regional variations can have in it buckwheat, corn, potato, beans, mushrooms, and many more ingredients. Those little rolls can tell a lot about the regions they are coming from. If trying them inspire you to learn more about each of the Ukrainian regions, we invite you to our Pyrohovo Open Air Museum tour, that also has a remarkable food market.
Salo: an eternal love
For a long time, pork fat had been a standard food for many East European nations. Particularly for its high caloricity and ability to stay fresh for a long time. While most of our neighbouring countries only use pork fat in cooking, here in Ukraine we salt or smoke it to cut in pieces and eat with a loaf of bread.
Salo is not only loved by a substantial number of Ukrainians, but it also is an integral part of our local jokes, anecdotes and folklore stories. Traditionally, people used to believe that it can cure various diseases. Due to the recent health concerns, this highly fat containing food nowadays is rarely consumed as a main dish. Mostly they serve it at the restaurants on a small plate as a starter. However, some of the Ukrainian nutrition experts say that salo has more benefits than downsides. So if you feel like the starter plate was not enough for you, visit Bessarabskyi market and try as many types of salo as you can.
Forshmak: let us try some herring
The name comes from archaic German word Vorschmack, which means “foretaste” or “appetizer.” Traditionally, Jewish families in Ukraine cooked it with the following ingredients: chopped herring and hard boiled eggs, fresh chopped onions and apples. You can still find many places that serve forshmak this way, but there are also some interesting variations. In ‘Last Barricade,’ for example, they serve it as little ice-cream like cones filled with butter consistency herring taste stuffing.
In Ukraine we associate forshmak with Jewish cuisine and culture. If you would like to learn more about the Jewish history of Kyiv, you’re welcome to our Jewish Heritage tour.
Herbs and spices: give meaning to it all
If you compare Ukrainian Cuisine to any of the Asians or South American ones, you might even consider it flat. Yes, we do not overuse spices, but we do use some of them. And each of the ones we use gives the dishes their unique flavors.
Rosemary flavors fish, meat and some soups. Brought from the Mediterranean to Crimea in the 19th century it quickly gained a foothold in Ukrainian cuisine. As a food flavor, rosemary helps digestion. Mint is original Ukrainian plant. We use it both in phytotherapy and in cooking. Dry berries are often used to make drinks, desserts, and medicines.
Nalyvky: creating your mood
These fantastic Ukrainian drinks will make any of your dining unique. Nalyvky or nastoyanky are usually colorful vodka-based drinks that contain 20-25% of alcohol. The most famous of them are Medovukha (sweet and made by boiling honey with vodka), Khrinovukha (very bitter, made using horseradish), and various berry-based drinks. Those are made by leaving vodka, berries and water mix for a long time until it blends to a smooth drink. You might like to try Vyshnivka (cherry drink), Smorodynivka (currant drink), or Klyukivka (cranberry drink).
If you have interest in what else Ukrainians drink in their free time, join our Bar Crawl tour and you won’t regret.