Every time we go to a new country Cody and I do research on the traditional dishes we should try there. And recently someone asked me what food they should try while traveling in Ukraine. Naturally I thought about that and realized that Ukraine has so many traditional dishes that I actually need to make a list and explain each one of them. Here is a list of must try food in Ukraine that any tourist should try to taste. These are things that you would see on every Christmas or Easter table prepared by grandma.
But first I want to give you a general concept about Ukrainian cuisine. It is more a collection of different cooking techniques accumulated over many years and influenced by the neighbour countries that invaded Ukraine many times. Of course, one of the most important influences on Ukrainian cuisine was and is the rich black soil – “chornozem”. By the way, people here are very proud of their land and soil and that is why almost every poet made a poem about rich (fertile) dark soil.
Ukrainian cuisine includes many dishes with wheat and grains. Bread is very important in Ukraine and considered to be the essence of life. Even in my family no one was allowed to throw bread away. To waste bread in any way was a big sin. My grandma often said that if we kids don’t eat bread we never will grow up and became strong. What a nice way to make kids eat, right? Although I understand her, since she was born before World War II and her mom had to make food out of roots and grass to feed the kids and bread was a big treat for them.
Fun fact: If you have any Ukrainian friends you probably have noticed that it is very hard for them to waste food.
Another important component in Ukrainian cuisine is staple vegetables. Potato, beetroots, cabbage, mushrooms and others are used in most of the traditional dishes. And of course, if we talk about meat, Ukraine mostly uses pork. Famous Salo, Skvarky, Roasted pork belly, holodets, holubtsi and many other dishes are made with pork.
Ukrainian traditional cuisine includes mostly heavy, fatty dishes that people ate early and then worked all day. Many dishes are often prepared using a complex heating process. First they are boiled or fried and then baked or stewed. These are the most typical characteristics of traditional dishes in Ukraine.
Borscht is one of the most famous dishes of Ukrainian cuisine. It is a beetroot soup made with beets (of course) as a main ingredient, cabbage, potatoes, carrot, tomatoes, beans and pork.
Borscht is usually served with smetana (sour cream) and pampushky (small savory yeast-raised buns with garlic on top). Sometimes in Ukrainian restaurants you will get dark bread with a clove of garlic and salo instead of pampushky.
Not much to say here, except that salo is a cured pork fat that is usually served thinly sliced with dark bread, onion, or garlic. Salo is the second most famous dish of traditional Ukrainian cuisine and definitely is a must try dish.
The best way to eat salo is with borscht or other Ukrainian soups. It can be consumed raw or fried. For example, another traditional dish is varenyky and it is often served with fried salo (skvarky) and fried onion.
Kholodets is an aspic traditionally made with pork, chicken, or fish. It is made of a meat/fish broth and vegetables. Aspics are a good way to prevent meat spoilage since the gelatin protects the meat from air and bacteria.
In Ukraine Kholodets is still very popular, although with the invention of the refrigerator it has lost its main purpose. Even so, no Christmas table at grandmas goes without Kholodets.
Syrnyky is a traditional Ukranian dessert that is made of soft home cheese, eggs, and some flour, then fried. More often than not people add raisins and vanilla extract. Syrnyky is supposed to be crispy outside and creamy inside. The dish is served with sour cream or different types of varenye (jam).
Holubtsi is a dish made of cooked (steamed) cabbage leaves filled with rice and meat which is then stewed or baked in tomato sauce. When the dish is cooked the final time, the cabbage leaves become very soft.
Holubtsi are served with sour cream or different varieties of sauces. There are similar varieties around the world, such as those in the Balkans. Although instead of cabbage they may use vine leaves.
Varenyky (plural) – are dumplings filled traditionally with potatoes, mushrooms, liver, cabbage or cottage (quark) cheese. There are also varenyky that are stuffed with blueberries, cherries, apples and strawberries, but they are more a seasonal dish and in winter quite rare.
Both types of salty and sweet varenyky are served with sour cream as a main topping. It is widely popular to add shkvarky (fried salo) and caramelized onion on top of varenyky with potato.
This is the dish I love the most, it tastes amazing and you need just one ingredient – potato. Of course, deruny are potato pancakes. Although I must say that they are a bit different then you might got in the USA, where potato pancakes are a bit thicker. Deruny in Ukraine are quite thin and crispy. They are fried in vegetable oil and sometimes placed in a ceramic pot with cooked mushrooms, small pieces of pork and caramelized onion. Don’t forget sour cream of course.
Hm…. I begin to wonder if our national dish is sour cream.
Mlyntsi are very thin big pancakes (crepes) usually filled with home cheese and raisins, poppy seed paste and raisins, fruits, meat or liver. Of course right now people use salmon and cream cheese or peanut butter and bananas which are not really traditional products in Ukraine.
For example, my grandma stuffs mlyntsi with home sweet cheese and then fries them, so they would be crispy and after that she adds sweet sour cream or jam on top. How are we all not obese in Ukraine I will never know.
Potato Zrazy are a kind of dumpling, just instead of dough there is a mashed potato mixed with a bit of flour and egg and later filled with cooked mushrooms or meat. Of course, these types of dumplings are not boiled but fried.
Basically, something very tasty made of leftovers. It can be quite similar to a papas rellenas.
Banosh is widely popular in western Ukraine (Carpathian region). It is made of corn grits and served with brynza (salty cheese) and fried salo or mushroom sauce. This dish is something close to mamaliga (similar dish in Romania and Moldova).
Traditionally banosh is cooked in an open area and I can see why. You’ll get an amazing view of the Carpathian Mountains and a tasty and rich banosh with brynza cheese, what else do people need?
Pyrizky (plural) are baked buns stuffed with different fillings. There are two types of them, sweet and savory. The sweet pyrizky are stuffed with seasonal fruits and berries or jams and poppyseed paste in winter. And of course, the salty ones can be stuffed with meat, liver, cabbage, mushrooms, potatoes and peas. The last one is especially popular with salty garlic paste on top.
You can get pyrizky at any big supermarket at the bread section. However the best way to eat them is right when grandma took them from the oven and they are still hot. Pair it with a glass of fresh cold milk. Well, at least that how I remember pyrizky from my childhood.
Kutia is a very special Christmas dish. In Ukraine there is a tradition to make this dish on Christmas eve along with twelve other dishes that families prepare for Svyatui vechir (Holy evening).
Kutia is made of boiled grains (usually wheat) mixed with honey, nuts, raisins, poppy seeds, and sometimes dried fruits. The holy evening starts with at least a spoon of kutia and then you can eat whatever you want.
It is not common to have this dish on a restaurant menu, but if you have Ukrainian friends and they offer you to try it, don’t miss the chance.
Makovyi rulet is a poppy strudel that is a traditional Ukrainian dessert. Although people do different types of strudel, poppy strudel is the most common.
In Ukraine you can see makovyi rulet on the menu quite often or at any supermarket in a bread section. Although I don’t know how good it is store bought.
Kapusnyak is a cabbage soup that is mostly cooked in winter. Depending of the period (fasting or not) people cook it using mushroom, fish, or pork stock. It is a light vegetable soup that can be served with sour cream.
Although kapusnyak is a Ukrainian traditional soup, it is not my favourite one. The dish is kind of boring and I don’t like boiled cabbage.
If you translate the words “Linyvi varenyky” it will be “lazy dumplings” and that perfectly describes the dish. Lazy dumplings are brynza cheese dumplings just not put together.
How is it cooked? Very easy, you boil small pieces of dough and then just mix with cheese and add sour cream. Super easy, right? All the ingredients that dumplings have and minus all the work of putting filling inside dough.
Kotleta po-kyivski or chicken Kiev is a famous dish that was invented in the beginning of the 20th century at a hotel restaurant in Kyiv (Kiev). Although Russia and France have both claimed they had something similar earlier. How I see it? I say that this dish became famous the way Ukraine cooks it, so it is Ukrainian.
Chicken Kiev is a simple dish; It is a rolled chicken breast with herbed butter inside and breaded outside. That’s it, and you probably have tried it, but why not try it again if you travel to Kyiv, the place where it was invented.
Carpathian trout is a popular dish in the west of Ukraine in the Carpathian and Lviv regions especially. The best trout in Ukraine is found in the clear fresh cool waters of Carpathian rivers.
People there are very proud of the nature and quality of food and water in this area. Carpathian trout is usually grilled with herbs and butter and served with grilled potatoes and other vegetables and it is definitely must try dish in Ukraine.
The most famous dessert in Ukraine is tort Kyjivskyj. It was created in Kyiv in 1956 by the Karl Marx Confectionery Factory (now a subsidiary of the Roshen corporation). This Kyiv cake became very popular all over the Soviet Union and every time someone had to come to Kyiv the main thing that they brought back home was tort Kyjivskyj. Even now I can see people traveling from Kyiv carrying this cake.
If you have a sweet tooth you can buy this cake at any Roshen store (there are a lot of them in Ukraine).
Although borscht is a the number one traditional dish to try in Ukraine, I prefer solianka. It is a hearty, spicy soup made of different types of meat, including smoked ribs and pickles and olives. The soup is served with sour cream and a slice of lemon.
This traditional soup will blow your mind with the combination of tastes and it will make you feel warm and full after just one small bowl. If you are going to Lviv than I have a suggestion for you. The best solianka (my opinion, of course) is served in the restaurant Gasova Lampa.
Liver cake is Cody’s favorite Ukrainian food. One which my grandma cooks on big holidays. What is it exactly? Ground liver with spices, some flour, and fried into thin crepes. These are stacked on each other with homemade mayonnaise, garlic, and spices between the layers of liver crepes.
Liver cake is very rich and heavy, and you won’t be able to eat more than two – three slices.