As Ukraine struggles to reclaim its territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s full-scale invasion, many in Europe are beginning to learn more about the country. They’re learning that Ukraine has a long history of famine and war, but also that it’s one of the world’s top exporters of grain, sunflower seeds and wines. They’re learning that Ukrainians have a deep love for music, art and food. And, perhaps most importantly, that a large number of Ukrainians are proudly resisting the invasion and determined to reclaim their homeland and their place in the West.
The world has quickly come to admire the courage of Ukrainians and their refusal to capitulate to Putin’s military assault. As a result of this and the many reports about their bravery, many people are curious to learn more about Ukraine and its culture.
For many, this begins with the cuisine. A lot of Ukraine’s favorite dishes are quite familiar to anyone who has experienced Eastern European food. Borscht, a hearty soup made with beets, is a common dish that is served during the week and at special occasions like funeral wakes. Dumplings, known as varenyky in Ukraine, are filled with savory or sweet fillings. These may include anything from mashed potatoes and sauerkraut to curd cheese and berries. They are typically served with a big dollop of soured cream.
Another Ukrainian staple is holubtsi, which are shallow-fried pancakes made from grated or ground potato and matzo meal or flour and a binding ingredient such as egg or apple sauce. They can be flavored with any of a variety of seasonings, most often garlic or onion. Some varieties are stuffed with vegetables such as carrots or mushrooms. Holubtsi are a great comfort food for cold weather or after a long day at work.
Most Ukrainians are also passionate about their cooking and a good amount of their meals are cooked at home rather than in restaurants. As a general rule, locals eat soup and/or salad as appetizers and then enjoy a main course followed by dessert. When dining out, Ukrainians hold their forks in their left hands and knives in their right as they eat.
Then comes dessert and, of course, a drink. For alcoholic beverages, Ukraine has its fair share of favorites – most notably horilka, a strong spirit infused with herbs, berries or roots. A popular non-alcoholic drink is uzvar, which is a refreshing concoction of dried fruit and berries.