Do you want to discover the deliciousness of Ukrainian food culture? Then it’s worth trying some of the unique and amazing dishes that originate from this part of the world. Located in Europe, but distinct from the European Union, Ukrainian food really does have its own distinct personality.
Much of the food eaten in Ukraine is found in other parts of eastern Europe but authentically Ukrainian cuisine always has a distinctive flavor. This food is bold, uncompromising, and often less than healthy. However, if you want food that comforts you, fills you up, and gives you plenty of energy, Ukraine is the place to find it.
European culinary powerhouses like France and Italy may get all the attention but don’t neglect Ukraine. It has its own incredible food culture that is well worth exploring. Learn all about it by reading about our nine favorite Ukrainian dishes below.
Table of Contents
An excellent example of Ukrainian food culture is deruny. Deceptively simple, there are few foods as comforting as potato pancakes. These can be eaten with eggs for breakfast or as a side dish for any other meal. While many countries have some form of this dish, the Ukrainian version may just be the most delicious.
The potato is generally ground or grated, then formed into a pancake shape and shallow-fried. To make it even more delicious, the mixture is bound together using egg or applesauce and then seasoned with garlic. Traditionally, Ukrainians will then top the potato with their favorite accompaniments. This could range from sour cream and cottage cheese to apple sauce or just plain sugar. Yum.
A contender for Ukraine’s national dish and certainly its most popular and famous food, borscht is a must-try. This is a soup like no other, with a bright reddish-purple color, which is created by the heavy inclusion of beetroot. You may have consumed a similar meal in a nearby country like Poland. However, what is referred to as borscht is unmistakably Ukrainian.
The origin of this recipe can’t be traced because it’s just so ancient. Originally, it would have been made from pickled hogweed stems and leaves. Over time, different flavor combinations were tried until the population settled on beetroot. The Russian empire was particularly keen on this cuisine, exporting it out of Europe to other continents, which is why you may find it around central and eastern Asia as well.
There are just so many uses for potatoes but one we often forget about is potato salad. Now, this is a dish that you can get across the Western World. However, Ukrainian food culture embraces this substance and arguably makes the best potato salad on Earth. Known locally as olivye, this is a traditional Ukrainian recipe that has been passed down the generation. Like all family recipes, it’s open to interpretation and experimentation.
Traditionally, it will be made with some hearty meat like ham. Add eggs, pickles, carrots, and peas, and you’re getting close to this amazing Ukrainian classic. Whenever you’re in the country, try to order this. The exact recipe will be different every time but it will be made with love and care to be as delicious as possible. Top with dill or chives to lift the whole meal and give it a light freshness.
If you thought potato pancakes were good, then just wait until you hear about syrniki. Soft and fluffy on the inside, their interiors are bursting with cheese. This will be a local Ukrainian farmer’s cheese and therefore a world away from American singles. Nevertheless, this is a creamy and succulent treat that’s probably unlike anything you’ve ever tried.
The filling tends to be just a little bit sweet, contrasting with the normally salty taste of cheese. You can then top them just like regular pancakes with syrup, cream, and berries. Once you’ve filled up on borscht and potato salad, this is the perfect dessert. It may seem like a strange kind of dessert compared to what you’ve had before but you’ll get used to it in no time.
Another sweet dessert that you just have to try while in Ukraine is nalisniki. This is another kind of pancake and is therefore incredibly versatile. Fill it and top it with your most favorite foods. This is different from the kind of pancake you find in North America, though. It’s more like a French-style crêpe with thin and light pastry.
Of Greco-Roman origin, it’s now a quintessential component of the Ukrainian diet. Typical fillings include fruit and sugar, though you can easily top it with chocolate sauce and cream. Alternatively, why not make a savory version, filling it with meat and pickled vegetables?
You probably think of soup as being a hot meal to warm you up on a cold winter’s day. However, in Ukraine, it’s common to make cold soup – perfect for a light summertime lunch. Okroshka is the perfect example of this. It’s light – both in flavor and in color – and extra creamy. It’s usually made of delicate vegetables like cucumber and potatoes but you can always cook some beef or sausages in there as well.
The whole thing is then topped with sour cream for taste and texture. If you’ve never had cold, creamy soup straight for a Ukrainian fridge, then you’re missing out. This is a wonderfully delicious use of ingredients. It’s packed with nutrients and will keep for ages, as well.
Dumplings are a hugely popular cuisine around the world, from pierogi in Poland to jiaozi in China. Ukraine has its own distinct variety and they’re known locally as varenyky. These are some of the most versatile foods in the world, simply because you’re able to fill them with just about anything you fancy. There’s no excuse, then, for not being able to find something you like.
Meat-lovers can try ham, bacon, pork, or chicken. Vegetarians could stuff them with any number of vegetables, including cabbage, beetroot, or carrots. Sauerkraut and mushrooms are also popular choices among Ukrainians. Even better, if you’re looking for a tasty treat, why not fill your varenyky with fruit or chocolate?
If you wanted to sum up Ukrainian food culture in one word, then you might go with salo. Known as Ukrainian bacon, this is a cut of meat that trims off the layer of fat just underneath the skin on a pig’s back. Yes, salo is pretty much pure lard. The fat is cured in salt or brine and then seasoned. When fried up nice and crispy, it makes for a delicious snack.
The curing of the meat preserves it for a long time, which was necessary in the days before refrigerators. It can be eaten raw if you’re into that or mixed with garlic to create a condiment for borscht and other local dishes. The high fat content means you can render it down in a pan and use it to flavor other foods as they cook in it. This creates a flavor that isn’t often found outside of the Slavic world.
Chicken is among the most consumed foods in the world, largely because of its versatility. The Ukrainians have their own unique version, which is like nothing else. Named after the country’s capital, the chicken Kiev has become a popular meal all around the world. If you’ve never tried it, then where have you been? It’s just mouthwateringly good.
A chicken fillet is pounded to make it flat and tender. It’s then wrapped around flavored butter, guaranteeing flavor and juiciness. Dip the fillet in egg, cover in breadcrumbs, and it’s ready to cook. Frying is traditional, although these days it’s usually baked to make it at least slightly healthier. The combination of chicken and garlic and herb-infused butter is just sublime. While in Kiev, seek out a traditional joint to try this wonderful Ukrainian gift to the world.
What is traditional food in Ukraine?
Like much of eastern Europe, Ukrainian food is hearty and full of bold flavors. It centers around meat, cabbage, and potatoes, which are designed to warm your insides and keep you feeling satisfied.
What is Ukraine’s most popular food?
The most famous and delicious dish from Ukraine is borscht. This is a type of soup made from beetroot with a bright and distinctive purple color.
What is a traditional breakfast in Ukraine?
Ukrainians like a protein-rich breakfast of eggs and meat. Omlet is common and is often served with mushrooms, tomatoes, and sausage for a calorie-heavy start to the day.
What makes the food in Ukraine unique?
Ukrainian food is uncompromising, with plenty of heavy flavors and fatty content. It takes inspiration from Russian cuisine as well as food eaten in eastern and southern Europe. Ukrainians have a clear sense of their own identity, though, and this is reflected in the uniqueness of Ukrainian food culture.