An aerial view of a bowl of okroshka, with cucumbers and other vegetables.

Travel Guide: Experience the Traditional Cuisine of Ukraine

The Breadbasket of Europe

Every culture and country has its own traditional cuisine, one that represents the lives and customs of its people. Food is a crucial factor in a country’s identity, and can be an easy way to learn about another culture as well! If you ever plan on visiting Ukraine or want to learn more about its history and people, food can be an important stepping stone in that process. Located in Eastern Europe, Ukraine is known as the “Breadbasket of Europe” for its foods rooted in wheat and grains. The Ukrainian cuisine is the result of the rich soil, the climate, and the Slavic people all coming together to produce a unique and unforgettable experience. Here is a travel guide for the eager visitor on the most popular and traditional foods of Ukraine!

A map of Eastern Europe, showing Ukraine highlighted in orange and its surrounding countries.
A map of Ukraine’s location in Eastern Europe; Image source: Britannica

A Menu for this Meal

This guide offers a menu-style experience of the different traditional Ukrainian cuisines, which you can choose from to create your own customized Ukrainian meal! Starting off with soups and appetizers, we will move on to the main courses, and of course end with the unmissable desserts and beverages. It will be sure to inspire your own trip to Ukraine to taste these delicacies first-hand!

An outline of Ukraine that has pictures of traditional foods inside.
There are many traditional food options within Ukraine; Image source: Chef’s Pencil

Soups

There are several types of Ukrainian soups to start off this traditional meal, but two of the most common are borscht and okroshka. With either of these soups, you can get a mouthwatering start to your Ukrainian cuisine journey.

Borscht

We are starting off with one of the most well-known Ukrainian dishes, borscht. This is a soup that is beetroot based, which is what gives it its iconic red coloring. Borscht is a dish that can be eaten for any occasion, big or small. Ukrainians traditionally prepare borscht with lots of vegetable ingredients, which can number up to 30 at times! The chef can adjust borscht to their liking, which can be seen in the many varieties and versions of this dish that exist throughout Ukraine. If you want to explore different types of borscht, visit here!

Meat broth acts as a base to this soup, although vegetarians can use a vegetable-based broth instead. Borscht is a must-eat on the Ukrainian traditional menu, and traditionally is served with garlic fritters/rolls, known as pampushki. Another type of borscht is green borscht, a spring version of the dish that includes sorrel leaves — giving it the alternative name of “sorrel soup”.

An aerial view of a bowl of borscht, with beetroot, vegetables, and sour cream on top.
The Ukrainian soup borscht is colored red because of beetroot and topped with sour cream; Image source: Tatyanas Everyday Food

Okroshka

If you’re looking for a lighter, more refreshing soup to suit the hotter weather, then okroshka is the soup for you! It is of Russian origin, and is served cold as a refreshing meal starter.  Okroshka is made with raw vegetables like cucumbers and radishes, boiled potatoes, meat, and eggs. These ingredients are then mixed with the drink kvass (which is described later on in our menu guide). Like borscht, it can be garnished with sour cream on top. Because of its salty and sour flavor combination, okroshka is the perfect soup for a pick-me-up on a summer day!

An aerial view of a bowl of okroshka, with cucumbers and other vegetables.
The Russian summer soup okroshka is refreshing and cool during the summer; Image source: Maria Ushakova

Appetizers

Ukrainians enjoy a variety of appetizers. From salads to bread to meat, the traditional Ukrainian appetizers do not disappoint!

Salo 

Salo is a national dish of Ukraine, and it is thinly-sliced, cured pork fat that is seasoned with pepper or other spices. While it can be added to other dishes such as borscht, salo also acts as an appetizer when placed on rye bread. Some people snack on salo along with vodka or other alcoholic drinks as well. Salo is so popular in Ukraine that it has many festivals and events dedicated to it! Since it originated from local Slavic tribes relying on preserved pig meat to survive the harsh winters, salo now holds a special place in the hearts of Ukrainians.

A wooden cuttign board with sliced salo on top and spices for garnish.
Salo is a national dish and snack that is widely enjoyed by Ukrainians; Image source: Ukrainian recipes

Holodets

If you are willing to be an adventurous eater, then this next appetizer is one to definitely try! Holodets can be simply described as meat jelly — in other words, a pork leg is boiled and made into a meat broth, which is then frozen into a jelly. Because of this preparation process, holodets has a very interesting appearance. The bones and cartilage of the pork leg can be seen through the jelly, and provide a kinesthetic experience for the eater in addition to a flavorful one. Ukrainians serve holodets at any celebration or event taking place in the community. A visit to Ukraine should include a taste of holodets, if you’re up for the challenge!

A plate of meat jelly holodets on a blue table.
The pork leg meat jelly called holodets is a central part of any Ukrainian celebration; Image source: Adobe Stock

Paska

A special appetizer Ukrainians make for the holiday of Easter is a sweet bread known as paska. The name paska itself means Easter! You can learn more about Easter in Ukraine here. Paska bread includes eggs and is decorated with religious symbols. Since Ukraine is a country that is dominantly of the Eastern Orthodox religion, paska is often taken by people to church on Easter. There, it is blessed along with other specially prepared foods. Different types of traditional decorative designs on the paska include swirls, twists, crosses, and braiding. Paska is common among other Eastern Slavic countries as well, and is a treat that anyone will enjoy!

A circular loaf of paska bread with braided designs on top.
Paska has many decorative and intricate designs on top, and is prepared for Easter celebrations; Image source: The Spruce Eats

Main Courses

There are many main dishes in traditional Ukrainian cuisine! Mostly bread- and wheat-based, they include lots of vegetables, meat, and interestingly, sour cream. Some main course options highlighted in this menu guide are: varenyky, deryny, and nalysnyky.

Varenyky

Varenyky is a dish of boiled, then lightly pan-fried, dumplings with a variety of possible fillings. The beauty of this dish is that the fillings are all up to the chef’s preference, so it is very customizable for the eater’s experience! Some examples of varenyky fillings are: potatoes, cabbage, sauerkraut, mushrooms, cottage cheese, cherries, and more. Therefore, savory and sweet is encompassed within this one dish. This allows varenyky to not only be eaten as the main course, but also as a dessert if it has a currant or fruit filling. It is most commonly served with sour cream on the side for a nice addition to your dish. Make sure to try out these half-moon-shaped and tasty dumplings yourself if you are ever in Ukraine!

A shallow wooden bowl with white-colored dumplings, next to a wooden spoon and glass jar of sour cream.
A bowl of Ukrainian varenyky dumplings next to a jar of sour cream, served together; Image source: Ukrainian recipes

Deryny

Another main course option are potato pancakes, a staple traditional Ukrainain cuisine. They are known as deryny, and can either be baked or fried. In Ukraine, deryny is commonly a Sunday meal, and people eat it for either breakfast or dinner. Made of grated potatoes and onions, the batter has added sour cream, flour, and eggs. Deryny is also served with sour cream and topped with spring onions. Potato pancakes are a simple dish that can be made by anyone at home! If you would like to try your own hand at it, explore this recipe here.

A ceramic plate with a ring of potato pancakes and a cup of sour cream in the middle.
Deryny is a potato pancake dish that is eaten with fresh sour cream; Image source: PAN UKRAINE – DMC for Ukraine

Nalysnyky

If you want a different type of Ukrainian pancake that is not potato-based, then definitely try eating nalysnyky! It is prepared with a mixture of cornmeal, wheat, and buckwheat flour that is then rolled up with a filling inside. This filling, similar to varenyky, varies depending on the chef — ranging from berries, to fried mushrooms, to cottage cheese. Interestingly, nalysnyky is traditionally eaten at the end of the main course, right before the dessert. Keeping with the religious culture of Ukraine, people also popularly eat nalysnyky during Shrovetide, which are the days leading up to Lent. Read more about Shrovetide festivities in Ukraine here!

A close-up view of rolled up pancakes with blueberries and sour cream on top, with a glass of drink next to the plate.
The nalysnyky pancake rolls can have a variety of interesting fillings that change their flavor; Image source: CulturEatz

Desserts

What meal is complete without dessert? Especially a dessert that is traditionally prepared and sweet to the taste buds! Here are two of the many special and unique Ukrainain desserts that are delight to the senses.

Syrnyky

Who says dessert can’t be eaten for breakfast? Syrnyky is a Ukrainian dessert which is sweet and nourishing. These cottage cheese pancakes are made of flour, cottage cheese, eggs, and sugar. For a finishing touch after frying, Ukrainians serve syrnyky with jam, and (of course!) sour cream. The use of cottage cheese, or “quark” (curd cheese), stems from the farming and agricultural history of the people. Just a small taste of syrnyky will leave you wanting more, so make sure you wrap up your meal well with this sweet dish!

A plate of cottage cheese pancakes ringed around a cup of sour cream, and topped with fruits like strawberries and blueberries.
Syrnyky is served for dessert or breakfast along with sour cream, jam, and fruits; Image source: Ukrainian recipes

Kutia

If you are looking for a dessert that is truly traditional and representative of Ukrainian culture, then look no further than kutia. It is a wheat berry pudding, made traditionally for Christmas Eve in Ukraine and Eastern Europe. Prepared with wheat grains, poppy seeds, walnuts, raisins, and honey, kutia has a deeper symbolism within Christianity. It represents unity among past and future generations, and is said to bring prosperity, fertility, and life to the family. Read more about the significance of this dish in Christian religion and Ukraine here. A dessert to truly take your meal to the spiritual level, kutia is a must-try on this menu guide!

An aerial view of a bowl of wheat berry pudding.
Kutia is a wheat berry pudding that is traditionally served on Christmas Eve; Image source: Natasha’s Kitchen

Beverages

Drinks are always necessary to go along with your food, and Ukraine has just the beverages to suit the traditional spread of foods it offers. There are both alcoholic and non-alcoholic traditional beverages — we can look at horilka as an example of the former, and kvass as an example of the latter.

Horilka

A strong alcoholic drink, horilka is a traditional Ukrainian spirit that is a solution of purified alcohol and water. Often paired with appetizers to increase appetite, horilka is now a representative drink of the country. There are rules associated with drinking horilka, such as it being served within 8-10℃. The life of any Ukrainian feast, this beverage is popular and present in every city and village within Ukraine. So when in Ukraine, drink (responsibly) as the Ukrainians do!

A half-filled bottle of horilka next to a filled shot glass, on a table with white tablecloth.
Horilka is a traditional alcoholic drink consumed at Ukrainian feasts and celebrations; Image source: Culture Trip

Kvass

As mentioned earlier in the preparation for the soup okroshka, kvass is a traditional non-alcoholic Ukrainian drink. It is made from fermented rye bread, which is what gives it its dark coloring. The fermentation process creates a low enough alcohol content that it is available for anyone to drink safely. People can prepare kvass with different flavors by adding ingredients such as berries, mint, and raisins. This drink has a long history in Russia and Eastern Europe – existing since the Middle Ages!  You can read more about the history of Kvass here. Although it takes time to prepare and ferment, the end product is a refreshing addition to your meal. If ever in Ukraine, be sure to try out the different variations of kvass that the country has to offer!

A full glass of kvass next to sliced rye bread on a wooden table.
A staple addition to a traditional Ukrainian meal, kvass is made from fermented rye bread; Image source: Peter’s Food Adventures

A Taste of Ukraine

Ukraine has an abundance of delicious and mouthwatering cuisines to offer, from soups to desserts to drinks! This guide to a menu-style experience of a traditional Ukrainian meal is just a small taste of the variety and depth of foods in this Eastern European country. If you are ever looking for a food adventure that will open up your mind to new tastes and a new culture, then your next stop should be Ukraine. There, you will find that food really is a representation of a people, a culture, and a country — in the best way possible!

An aerial view of a table filled with traditional Ukrainian food.
Ukraine has many traditional cuisines to offer the world; Image source: Matador Network

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