If you are looking for authentic, Soviet-style food in Belarus and Ukraine, the Chernobyl exclusion zone is the place to find it! On our one day tours, we enjoy the same type of lunch that has fuelled workers since the Soviet Union and continues to do so today. On our two day tours, we enjoy breakfast, lunch, and dinner in various places within Chernobyl from cafes and canteens. Vegetarian options are always available, Vegan options are significantly harder to find.
Both Belarus and Ukraine are often referred to as the “breadbasket of Europe” and the local cuisine emphasizes the importance of wheat and grain to the Ukrainian and Belarussian people and its often tumultuous history with it. The majority of cuisine in Belarus and Ukraine descends from medieval peasant dishes based on plentiful grain resources such as rye as well as staple vegetables such as potato, cabbages, mushrooms, and beetroot. Local cuisine incorporates traditional Slavic techniques as well as other European techniques, this is a result of years of foreign jurisdiction and influence.
When it comes to breakfast in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, you’ll find that Ukrainian and Belarussian people eat quite light and save their appetite for lunch and dinner. Breakfast in the zone is similar to a continental European breakfast. The workers eat a lot of cereals for breakfast. For example, a common breakfast will include boiled buckwheat, rice, or oats. Corn porridge is also quite popular and is commonly eaten with white cheese. Bread with salo (pork fat) is a common addition for any meal. The drinks can include tea, Turkish coffee, or kompot (which is a very sweet fruit drink).
For lunch in Chernobyl, we eat in a Soviet-era cafeteria manned by an array of formidable women who work hard to fuel the workers dismantling the Chernobyl reactors.
This is how it works: you take a tray and move down a line of food that is manned by serving staff. You are given servings of food that includes salads, soups, side dishes, meat, vegetables, bread, and a range of desserts. The food is placed in front of you to take. It is hearty and generally good. Most importantly, it’s easy to navigate without advanced Russian or Ukrainian as you simply take the food in front of you.
When it comes to dinner you won’t forget anytime soon, we recommend the infamous Hospital Bar in Kyiv. Palata 6, as it’s locally known, is renowned for its eccentric cocktails which range from wearing a helmet on fire to being tied to a gurney whilst a scantily clad nurse feeds you vodka. The food is also awesome here and it’s very cheap and affordable. But book a table, as it can get extremely busy on weekends.
Alcohol in Chernobyl
Like many Eastern European countries, Ukraine and Belarus are home to a variety of different alcoholic drinks with many of them dating back hundreds of years. The following are our top three favorite alcoholic drinks to try when in Ukraine and Belarus:
Krambambulia – This is the national Belarusian drink and dates back to the 18th-century. Krambambulia is a blend of red wine and various kinds of liquor, including rum, vodka, or gin. Naturally, it’s wise to drink responsibly with this particular beverage.
Horilka – This traditionally Ukrainian beverage is seen as the purest alcoholic drinks in the world. Made with a mixture of herbs, berries, and roots in strong alcohol, this drink has certain rules for drinking! it is best to drink horilka chilled after having it in the fridge for 2-3 hours. However, if Horilka is too cold, you can get drunk very fast due to the water freezing on the walls of the bottle which means you’ll be drinking what is practically pure alcohol.
Varenukha – Like Spotykach, Varenukha is also made using vodka and spices. It’s origins lie in the 1500s of Central Ukraine. To make Varenukha, dried fruit is placed in clayware, and vodka is subsequently poured all over it. After this, a range of spices is added such as hot pepper, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and honey. After this, the Varenukha is placed in an oven and cooked for 10-12 hours before it’s ready.
Top 5 foods to try in Chernobyl
Chicken Kyiv – arguably one of the most famous dishes in Ukrainian cuisine and is enjoyed by many people outside of Ukraine. Traditionally, the chicken bone is retained, but the boneless version is increasingly more popular. To make a Chicken Kyiv, a chicken fillet is flattened and wrapped around cold garlic butter. Then, the chicken is first coated with a mix of grated cheese, parsley, dill, mushrooms, and pepper, dipped in beaten egg yolk, and fried.
Varenyky- These traditional Ukraine and Belarussian dumplings are similar to the “pierogi,” which can be found in Poland. Varenyky are traditionally made with savory fillings such as meat, potatoes, mushrooms, and cabbage. Sweet varenyky also exist and are filled with jam or cottage cheese topped off with sour cream and sugar.
Draniki – these are traditional Belarussian potato pancakes. They’re tasty, filling, and easy to make. They’re generally served with sour cream. They can be eaten anytime but they taste best on cold winter nights!
Kasha/porridge – In Russian and Ukrainian language alike, the word “kasha” can mean any porridge, but is usually used to describe buckwheat porridge. The flavors of this age-old dish are versatile – it can be sweet when served as a main dish or savory as a side dish served with meat or fish. Kasha was the staple food of Red Army soldiers during the Second World War.
Salo – Whilst it sounds unusual, Salo is a staple dish of Ukraine and Belarus and has since made its way to other post-Soviet states. It is made of salted pork fat, which is sometimes complemented with spices. The skin is retained as standard, however, a lot of locals prefer to eat their Salo without the skin. Salo is traditionally served with Garlic rye bread, borscht, and washed down with a glass of horilka.