Although some popular Ukrainian recipes such as borscht have become famous around the world, many travelers visiting the country for the first time are not sure what to expect from the food culture in Ukraine.
The answer is a wide range of traditional dishes whose ingredients vary between regions, many influenced by Polish, Turkish, and Crimean Tatar gastronomy, washed down by one of many locally brewed beverages.
Find below a complete guide to what food to buy in Ukraine and the best traditionally bred drinks,as well as some advice for eating out on a budget.
Famous Food from Ukraine
The best advice for tourists traveling to Ukraine that locals could give would be as to try as much Ukrainian cuisine as they can while in the country.
Traditional dishes, which can vary in ingredients and preparation by the region of Ukraine, include a large range of soups as well as meat-based aperitifs such as Salo, brine-cured slabs of pork fatback.
If traveling to Ukraine in the summer, visitors should try the classic cold soup Okroshka, a mix of raw vegetables and boiled potatoes with eggs and cooked meat such as beef, ham, or veal.
Christmastime visitors, meanwhile, should make the effort to sample the seasonal Ukrainian dessert Kutia, made with a combination of poppy seeds, nuts, honey, and wheat.
One weird Ukrainian food that tourists tend to stay away from is Kholodets, strange savory gelatin filled with cuts of meat, although those who do dare to try it are often impressed by the flavor.
These are just a few examples of the varied dishes you can find in Ukraine, and a full breakdown of some of the most famous dishes can be found below.
Borscht with Smetana
A popular staple that can be sampled all over the country, Borscht is a hot Ukranian soup made with beets that often contains a meat broth base but can also be made vegetarian.
Borscht is traditionally served with Smetana, kind of sour cream from Eastern Europe similar to crème fraîche, and garlic fritters called pampushki. Although usually a bright red color, in the spring Ukrainsa also prepare a special green-hued borscht.
Although now a famous dish served all over the world, Chicken Kyiv is a must-try when traveling to Kyiv, the capital of the country.
Considered a house specialty in many Ukrainian restaurants, this mix of fried chicken fillet stuffed with herby butter is best sampled in its homeland, where the recipe has been mastered over countless years.
Deruni Potato Pancakes
Traditionally served on Sundays as either a breakfast dish or for dinner, Deruni are savory potato pancakes popular in north Ukraine. Usually accompanied by either baked yogurt or a sour cream sauce prepared with mushrooms and fried onions.
Paska Sweet Bread
A traditional sweet bread, Paska is traditionally served at Easter and baked in almost every kitchen in Ukraine during the holiday. You’ll also find Paska for sale at almost every market in Kyiv if traveling to the city for an Easter break.
The process of making Paska involves a particularly curious Ukranikaian tradition: according to legend, the baker should whisper positive mantras while kneading the dough in order to attain a sweeter end product.
Also known as Pierogi, Varenyky are dough dumplings filled with a huge range of different ingredients, both sweet and savory, and either pan-fried or boiled in water.
Common fillings include cottage cheese, minced meat, potatoes, or sauerkraut, while more adventurous varieties may be filled with pumpkin, olives, strawberries, or even nettles.
Pierogi are also often served with a topping such as fried onion, melted butter, or, like borscht, Smetana sour cream.
Traditional Ukrainian Drinks
While a range of alcoholic drinks are produced in Ukraine, including wine in the Crimea and local beer in a number of provinces, the most popular come from traditional recipes.
Some of the most popular alcoholic beverages in Ukraine include:
- Horilka – The national drink of Ukraine and often served at many traditional festivals in the country, horilka is a strong spirit that often comes in a variety of flavors including herbs, spices, and different kinds of fruit. One of the most unique variations is infused with red peppers and honey.
- Mead – Made using honey, the flavor and alcohol of this common fermented beverage depend on a variety of factors including the method of preparation, the type of yeast added, and the type of flowers the bees frequent.
- Nalyvka – A type of homemade wine commonly used in Ukrainian baking and cooking, Nalyvka can be made with a variety of different fruit including raspberries, gooseberries, plums, and cherries.
There are also a number of impressive non-alcoholic beverages traditionally brewed in Ukraine that visitors should try during their stay:
- Kompot – A sweet fruity beverage made with or berries or dried fruit boiled in water
- Kvass – A sparkling drink brewed from yeast, sugar, and dried rye bread
- Uzvar – A kind of Kompot made using dried fruit, particularly apples and pears.
Tips for Dining Out in Ukraine
Ukraine is considered one of the cheapest places in Eastern Europe for a restaurant meal or to go out drinking: the average price of a beer in the country is just US $0.75 (or 20,33 Ukrainian hryvnia the local currency in Ukraine).
Therefore, those visiting Ukraine on a tight budget don’t need to forgo the chance to sample a wide variety of the country’s traditional dishes.
One of the best options for eating out is to visit cafeteria-style Ukrainian restaurants, where helpings are generous and reasonably priced without sacrificing the quality of the food.
There is also a variety of filling and inexpensive Ukrainian street food travelers could try as an alternative to a restaurant meal, including shawarma lavash, as well as a range of cheap pastries and pies.