The Hearty Cuisine of Ukraine


Located in Eastern Europe, Ukraine is a large country with vast fertile agricultural plains and pockets of heavy industry. Since gaining independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine has sought to align itself more closely with Western institutions while balancing Russia’s interests, which often see Kyiv as a threat to its own hegemony. Despite Ukraine’s tumultuous recent history, polls suggest that Ukrainians—particularly those in the west of the country and those outside of the contested areas—support closer integration with the EU and NATO.

Ukrainian food is hearty and comforting, showcasing generations worth of traditions founded by hardworking people. The cuisine blends humble ingredients with influential flavors from neighbors like Poland, Belarus and Russia. Cabbage and garlic are common staples in savory dishes, while deliciously sweet desserts round out the menu.

Borscht is one of the most famous soups in Ukraine. It’s a rich, red broth made from a variety of vegetables and a bit of meat. Beets are a staple ingredient here, which makes for the vibrant red color of the dish. The addition of sour cream and caraway brings the flavor profile to another level. The dish can be served as a starter or main course, and it pairs well with breads like rye or pampushky.

Pampushky are yeast-raised buns or doughnuts, which can be savory or sweet. The savory variant is often topped with chopped garlic and served as a side to soups and stews, or alongside borscht. The sweet version, which is dusted with powdered sugar and stuffed with berries, jams, or povydlo (plum spread), can be served as a light dessert.

Varenyky are dumplings that are a comfort food all over the world, but particularly in Ukraine. They can be filled with a wide range of savoury and sweet fillings, from mashed potatoes and sauerkraut to curd cheese or fresh berries. Traditionally, they are served with a dollop of soured cream, but beetroot can also be used to give them a distinctively Ukrainian flavour.

The 20th century was calamitous for Ukraine, with an artificial famine engineered by the Stalin regime responsible for at least 5 million deaths and subsequent bombing by Germany and the Soviet Union killing many more. However, the nation has rebounded and is today a prosperous and largely democratic country. Ukraine is a safe destination, though the government still struggles to deter crime and corruption. Police and emergency response services fall well short of Western European and U.S. standards; in rural areas, it can take several hours for emergency calls to be responded to. Medical facilities are generally inadequate; the Embassy recommends that travelers carry health insurance with coverage in Ukraine and seek treatment at private hospitals rather than public ones. Medical staff speak little or no English. Ambulance crews have been known to request bribes from patients. Those who travel to Ukraine should make arrangements with an insurer that covers medical evacuations, as the state-owned ambulance system is notoriously underfunded and understaffed.