More than just varenyky. What is Ukrainian cuisine all about?

Ukrainian cuisine is not just about borscht, varenyky and draniki. The food differs a lot depending on the region you plan to visit. You will be surprised by the wide variety of dishes and will definitely come across some you haven’t heard of before. Let’s explore Ukrainian cuisine together.

What can you taste from Odessa cuisine?

We will begin our journey through the Ukrainian regions with Odessa, my hometown, located in the south of Ukraine. In this part of the country, we’ll come across a symbiosis of Jewish, Bulgarian, Armenian, and other types of cuisines, as many national minorities live here. The cuisine of Odessa was formed under the influence of fishing because the city is located on the shore of the Black Sea. There are two main dishes for which Odessa is famous – fried whitebait and forshmak. 

To prepare fried whitebait, Odessans always go to the market to choose a fresh fish. They need to be patient, as the recipe takes quite a lot of time due to cleaning the whitebait from the insides. Fish fillets are fried in egg, flour, and a lot of cooking oil. You will not find a dish that is more typical for Odessa than this one.

Whitebait fritters are a typical dish of Odessa cuisine.

What is forshmak? It is an appetizer made of fresh Danube herring, finely chopped green apple, and a lot of butter. Each cook can add ingredients to the recipe to suit one’s taste, so the forshmak may differ in flavor. The main common point in all recipes is serving the forshmak with a dark brown sourdough rye bread. Here is a recipe from one of the main restaurateurs of Odessa, Savva Libkin.

Do you want to know more about Odessa cuisine? Check out this video by the famous Ukrainian video bloggers – restaurateur Misha Katsurin and YouTuber Anton Ptushkin.

Zakarpattya – a region of incredible nature and mountain dining

Whenever you talk about Ukrainian cuisine, you need to mention Zakarpattya. First, it is a destination with spectacular nature. If you love hiking, mountains, and forest surroundings, Zakarpattya awaits you. The area is also rich in mushrooms, local cheese, and it is common to gather herbs for the flavorful Zakarpattian tea. Everything that grows and is produced in the region is used for traditional dishes of Transcarpathian cuisine. 

Video without any words about the Carpathians atmosphere as a way of meditation from Ukrainian YouTuber Anton Ptushkin.

If you are lucky enough to go to the Carpathians, you should try banosh. It is made of corn porridge with milk, sour cream, or other type of cream. Banosh is often served with cracklings, fried onion and bryndza, or seasonal mushrooms. A similar dish can be found in different parts of the world. You may have tried its Italian version polenta, or its Moldavian and Romanian variety called mamalyga.

White mushrooms are a specialty of Transcarpathia. People go to the forest to pick mushrooms, and then boil traditional warming mushroom skew, the taste of which cannot be duplicated.

Banosh with fried onion, seasonal mushrooms and bryndza.

Since the Transcarpathian region was originally a region of nomads and farmers, it has been a common tradition to cook soups in large pots for the whole community. One of such soups was bograch. It is something between a rich soup and a stew, usually made by adding five kinds of meat. The savory soup with a lot of paprika and cumin is still often cooked over an open fire.

Bograch was originally made in Hungary. It actually means “goulash” in Hungarian.

Central Ukraine – what do people eat in the capital city of Kyiv?

Chicken Kyiv is a dish that is closely linked to Kyiv. What is important to know about this dish? Chicken Kyiv is prepared from a whole chicken breast and the first wing phalanx of the chicken. The meat becomes juicy and tender inside thanks to the large amount of butter added, which must necessarily flow out when cutting the cutlet. Another important aspect of a proper Chicken Kyiv is a thin crispy crust made of breadcrumbs.

Find out more about modern Kyiv cuisine – from street food to haute cuisine.

And now, on to desserts! While I could tell you all about the traditional Kyiv cake, that would be quite an obvious choice. Instead, let’s discover a dessert that has only recently become famous, but has been at the peak of popularity since the 19th century. The dessert called dry jam is a jam without syrup, or in other words, natural candied fruits and vegetables. Which dry jam will surely surprise you? Try beetroot or pumpkin!

In the early 2000s, Kyiv cake was most often bought in supermarkets, and the modern serving in Ukrainian cafes looks like this.

What else to try?

There are some delicacies which are associated with a particular city in Ukraine. One of them comes from Poltava, a city in the north-east of Ukraine, and the other one from Lviv, a city in western Ukraine. 

In Poltava, you should try traditional Poltava galushki, a dish that even has its own monument! Galushki can be eaten as a main dish or as an appetiser to borscht. What is Poltava galushki? Galushki are made from a boiled dough without stuffing, which is accompanied by gravy. This gravy can be either salty with the cracklings and mushrooms, or sweet with cherries and chocolate. 

In modern restaurants of Poltava galushki are also cooked in fryer or steamed, so they resemble Chinese bao buns.

We hope that you are not hungry yet because now it’s time for a dessert from the beautiful city of Lviv. First, you should take a walk around the main square Rynok, have a cup of coffee in a traditional Lviv coffee shop, and treat yourself to a piece of Lviv syrnyk for dessert. Lviv syrnyk is a dessert made of high-fat cottage cheese with raisins and chocolate glaze. A delicate cottage cheese dessert with an aftertaste of orange and lemon zest.

Share with us your recommendations for your favorite dishes from Ukrainian cuisine!


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