Food in Ukraine: National Cuisine and Modern Eating Habits
Written April 2014
Ukraine's geography and climate are optimal for the production of many kinds of foods, making it a historical "breadbasket of Europe." Ukraine is a major producer of grains, meat and dairy, eggs, fruits and vegetables, nuts, and vegetable oils. Many kinds of fresh and salt-water fish (from the Black Sea and Azov Sea) are also harvested on Ukrainian territory.
This article will look at the eating and drinking habits of modern Ukrainians as well as traditional Ukrainian cuisine, which includes well-known dishes like borsch and chicken Kiev.
What do people eat in Ukraine?
With the advent of globalization the eating habits of different nations are gradually becoming more and more similar. If you go to any supermarket you will find a large range of processed foods identical or similar to those you would find in any other country. Many people eat lots of sweets and/or fast food. Obesity rates are quite high and rising, especially among youth.
The average Ukrainian's diet consists of relatively inexpensive and bland staple foods, traditional Ukrainian dishes, fast/junk food, and a few personal idiosyncracies. Low-budget staple foods include: bread, oatmeal, rice, buckwheat, porridge, noodles, sunflower oil, vegetables in season, sausages, eggs, sauces, etc. We'll get to traditional dishes later.
Ukrainian fast food
American-style fast food — burgers, fried chicken, fries, soft drinks, shakes, etc. — has become quite popular. There are both American brands (McDonald's and the like) and local knock-offs. There are also local varieties of fast food: inexpensive baked or fried pastries or pies, shaurma (lavash with vegetables, sauce and meat broiled on a vertical spit), etc. Many people like to nibble sunflower seeds or eat watermelon and other fruit in season as a kind of "fast food" (you can't exactly call watermelon "fast," though...).
Ukrainian-style cafeterias have become very popular in the past 10 years (e.g. Puzata Khata, Zdorovenki Buly, Drova and others). Here you take a tray and ask for servings of food that includes salads, soups, garnishes (side dishes), meat, vegetables, bread, and a variety of desserts. Prices are very reasonable and the food is generally quite good. Middle and high-end Ukrainian restaurants are also available, though higher-end restaurants tend more to offer international cuisine (sushi, Italian, mixed European, etc.).
Drinking plain water has become more common in the past decade but used to be rare. Ukrainians drink a lot of tea and, increasingly, coffee. Sweetened drinks such as lemonade (inexpensive) and juice drinks are popular, while kvass has become less popular than in Soviet times. Beer and wine consumption has gone up since the fall of the USSR, while harder drinks like vodka and cognac are a bit less popular (sorry, I don't have statistics). People still drink "Sovetskoe shampanskoe" champagne during holidays.
Vegetarianism is somewhat popular in large cities, and veganism is gaining popularity as well. Raw food diets have been around for decades but have relatively few adherents. Abstinence from alcohol is surprisingly common given common stereotypes about Ukrainians' affinity for vodka. Low-carb diets are just beginning to make ground.
Ukrainian chocolate (Roshen and Korona brands and others) is excellent and is exported to many countries in the region. Various creamy layered cakes such as "Napoleon" and "Kievskiy Tort" are popular and often consumed with champagne (a terrible combination, in my opinion!). Many different kinds of wrapped candies are available, as well as a wide range of inexpensive cookies. Ice cream is not as popular as in the U.S. and is mostly eaten as a dessert when eating out (or at McDonald's) and not so much in the home.
Traditional Ukrainian cuisine
Many traditional Ukrainian dishes have counterparts in neighboring countries (particularly Poland, Belarussia, and Russia). Here is a pretty full list:
Bliny, or pancakes or crepes —
Borsch — a thick vegetable soup made with beets and usually served with sour cream; meat optional
Buzhenyna — a lump of cold baked pork
"Chicken Kiev" — a cutlet of boneless chicken breast that is then pounded and rolled around cold garlic butter with herbs, then breaded and either fried or baked
Deruny or "Potato pancakes" — fried cakes of grated or ground potato with flour and egg
"Green borsch" or sorrel soup — a soup based on sorrel leaves and broth, often with eggs and vegetables
Halushky — thick, soft dumplings made with wheat or corn flour
Holubtsi or Cabbage rolls — cooked cabbage leaves wrapped around a filling of meat, rice, and spices
Homemade sausage — (self-explanatory)
Kapustniak — vegetable soup made of sauerkraut and/or white cabbage
Kartoplianyky — fried potato cakes with added flour and eggs, served with sour cream
Kholodets or "Aspic" — jellied meat
Kholodnyk or "Cold borsch" — a beetroot soup that is served cold with sour cream
Krovyanka or "Blood sausage" — a sausage made with cooked blood, usually with a buckwheat filler
Kruchenyky — meat rolls with a vegetable filling
Kulesh — a rich millet soup
Kutia — a rich, sweet grain pudding
Nalysnyky — thin crepes wrapped around a filling of curds, mushrooms, meat, jam, berries, etc.
Oladky — a thicker pancake with yeast or soda, served with sour cream
Pampushky — deep-fried pieces of dough; may be sweat or salty
Pechenya — ("zharkoe" in Russian) fried and steamed meat served in a clay pot
Salo — cured slabs of pig fat
Shkvarky or pork rinds — friend pork rinds (skin)
Sychenyky — fried cutlets of minced meat with bread crumbs
Syrniki — fried pancakes with quark (curds) served with sour cream, jam, or honey
Tsybulnyky — fried onion patties with flour and egg
Varenyky — dumplings containing curds, potatoes, cabbage, meat, or fruit
Vatrushka — ring-shaped pastry formed with curds in the middle, often with raisins or bits of fruit for sweetening
Verhuny or "Angel wings" — sweet strips of dough fried in lard or oil
Vushka — small dumplings usually filled with mushrooms and/or minced meatYushka or Ukha — a clear fish soup usually continuing sliced vegetables
Zrazy — meat pies stuffed with rice, buckwheat, mashed potatoes, etc.