What will the food be like?
This is one of the first questions people ask when traveling to a new country. Some ask in anticipation of new delicacies on their tongues and unfamiliar aromas tempting their noses. The less adventurous fear and wonder what horrible, offensive meats or other dishes will be set before them.
Trying new foods is one of my favorite activities when we travel. The world amazes me with its variety of tastes and smells. Granted, some I love and others are hard to stomach. But you don’t know until you try! Well, maybe some of you disagree.
We live in Ukraine, and we LOVE Ukrainian food. I thought I’d share some of our favorites with you!
This is what you think of when I say Ukrainian food, right?
Borscht is famous for its red or even purple color, due to beets. It’s a soup made from meat and a combination of fried and stewed vegetables, simmered together in a delicious broth. Any meat is fine, but beef is a favorite. Vegetables include beets (of course), carrots, onions, tomatoes and cabbage. We also throw in spices and herbs. It simmers for hours and is honestly even better on day two.
Borscht is like chicken soup or chili in the U.S. Everyone has their own recipe. In my completely unbiased opinion, my Babusya (our adopted Ukrainian grandmother) makes a borscht that can be topped by no other. She loves to tell the story of one American visitor who ate four bowls of it in one sitting!
Borscht is best served with smetana (sour cream) and pampushki (garlic rolls). But beware – you WILL reek for days afterwards!
This is the other classic Ukrainian dish people usually know. Chicken fillet is tenderized and rolled into a cutlet, with herbed butter in the center. We bread and fry the cutlet, taking care that no holes allow the butter to seep out in the cooking process.
Take your first cut into the finished Chicken Kyiv and watch the butter ooze temptingly onto your plate! I like to eat mine with a spicy tomato sauce and some fresh dill.
In much of the world, these dumplings are better known by their Polish name, pierogi. A simple dough is filled with the ingredient of choice – ground meat, mashed potatoes, fried cabbage, cheese, and the list goes on. My favorite is a combination of potatoes and lamb’s meat. Varenyky can also be sweet, filled with cherries or strawberries. Whether sweet or savory, we typically eat them with sour cream, like so many other Ukrainian dishes!
My husband LOVES these stuffed cabbage rolls! I have not been brave enough to make them yet, but I’ve watched many times as my Babusya carefully selected and prepared the cabbage leaves. After boiling them, she filled them with a mixture of rice, ground meat, tomatoes and spices. Her recipe includes a rich and creamy sauce, made of tomato base and, you’ll never guess – sour cream!
Image by Kunetskiy via Wikimedia Commons
One of my personal favorites! We combine curds, flour, sugar and eggs and then form small patties, which are fried. Serve them with sour cream or jam and a little sprinkling of sugar on top. My mouth is watering just writing this!
A little personal story for this dish. I once asked a Ukrainian friend if she could teach me to make syrniki. Her husband smirked at me and stated, “A woman will never get married if she doesn’t know how to make syrniki.” I was 25, single and well beyond the acceptable marrying age for a woman in Ukraine. I know this because all the women around me had gradually stopped asking about boyfriends or dating or “didn’t I realize how old I was getting?” I responded in good humor to my friend’s husband: slapped my palm to my forehead and shouted, “So THAT’S what I’m doing wrong!”
Banosh with Brynza
Image by Trzewik via Wikipedia
I grew up in central and eastern Ukraine and never heard of this dish until we moved to L’viv, in the west. Banosh originated in the Carpathian Mountains, where shepherding is a major lifestyle. It is a kind of thick porridge made from corn flour, sour cream and brynza (salty sheep cheese). Shkvarky (pieces of fried pork fat) are usually sprinkled on top. A friend of ours made us banosh with brynza and pork, and it was incredible!
Image by Wikimedia Commonsvia
I started this post recognizing that we sometimes fear or at the very least doubt what we eat in other countries. After more than twenty years of experience in Ukraine, I can’t say that I’ve adjusted to holodets. Popular for holiday meals, holodets is a jellied form of meat broth, with pieces of meat or fish and vegetables inside.
I assume that every country has its share of foods that seem strange to foreigners, and this is simply one of those in Ukraine. I wish I was more culturally adapted to enjoy it, but I’m just not there yet.
Now it’s your turn.
What are your favorite truly ethnic foods? Have you eaten anything particularly noteworthy while traveling? Have you ever eaten Ukrainian food, and if so, what did you think?