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 skilfully 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 honoured guests and departing or arriving travellers the gift of a loaf of bread and salt.
Another staple of Ukrainian diet is kasha or what would be called “mush” in America and “porridge” in Britain.
Borsch 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. With so many different recipes, the only constant of Ukrainian salads are the presence of vinegar or mayonnaise.
Varenyky 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 entrйe, or sour cherries or sweetened cottage cheese and raisins as a dessert. Any kind can be accompanied by butter or sour crиme.
The word holubtsi 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.
For a uniquely Ukrainian drink, try kvas, a slightly sweet non-alcoholic beverage with a wheat-like taste sold from giant tanks on wheels in the summer throughout the city.