The Best Food and Drinks in Ukraine


As the largest country entirely within Europe, Ukraine offers a unique blend of history and modernity. Its first decade of independence was calamitous: at least five million Ukrainians died in an artificial famine engineered by Stalin; World War II saw devastating devastation, including the Chernobyl nuclear disaster; and a post-Soviet civil war left deep divisions among the population. Since regaining its independence, Ukraine has sought to balance integration with Western institutions and to bridge divisions between its predominantly Ukrainian-speaking west and the Russian-speaking east.

The Dnieper River, with its hydroelectric dams and huge reservoirs, dominates the central portion of the country. It is followed by the Pripet (Pryp’yat), Donets, Southern Buh, and other major rivers. Most of Ukraine’s mountains are situated in the northeastern and southeastern regions, with Mount Hoverla at the top of the range. These mountains are generally low in elevation, and their tops are covered by dense forests and rolling grasslands.

Traditional Ukrainian cuisine includes many hearty, meat-rich dishes and soups. The national staple, borscht, is made from beets—which give it its signature red color—carrots, tomatoes, and other vegetables, typically served with a dollop of sour cream on top. Almost every region and family has its own version of this classic dish.

Yeast-based dumplings are also popular in Ukraine. Pampushki, or pelmeni, are small dumplings stuffed with minced meat and spices (traditionally beef, but pork is also common). They’re served with sour cream and garnished with dill. They’re often eaten for breakfast or as a snack with a drink.

Another common dish is cabbage rolls. These are a bit similar to the Polish dish, latkes. They’re filled with ground beef and grated carrots, wrapped in softened cabbage leaves and baked. They’re a very popular dish and are commonly found in restaurants that specialize in Ukrainian food.

Ukrainians also love a good salad. A favorite is kohunya, which features boiled potatoes, cucumbers, carrots, mushrooms, and red bell pepper pickled in a simple vinegar and sugar solution. It can be tossed with mayo or sour cream, and it keeps well in the fridge for a day or two.

Other favorite foods include holodets, which are savory gelatin-like dishes made from seasoned meat and placed in a glass to set. They’re usually served garnished with dill and are sometimes served for breakfast or lunch.

Buckwheat is a beloved food in Ukraine. Most of the time it’s cooked as a porridge, but in western Ukraine, it’s used to make grechaniki—a kind of meat-stuffed cutlet. They’re made with a mix of meat, buckwheat, eggs, a little flour, onion, and some other ingredients, then fried or braised.

Although large supermarkets have sprung up in Ukraine, most Ukrainians get their food from their own gardens or local farmers, and many still rely on family recipes. In the cities, you’ll find more fast-food options, but most people enjoy homemade meals and snacks. For dessert, try kyiv cake—a light and airy sponge cake with a crunch, sandwiched between soft layers of dough.