The food in Ukraine is one of our favorite aspects of visiting this fascinating country. Ukrainian cuisine is heavily influenced by the rich dark soil, known locally as chernozem, from where the ingredients are grown.
Ukraine is often referred to as the “breadbasket of Europe” and the local cuisine emphasizes the importance of wheat and grain to the Ukrainian people and its often tumultuous history with it. The majority of cuisine in 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 Ukrainian 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, you’ll find that Ukrainian people eat quite light and save their appetite for lunch and dinner. Breakfast in Ukraine is similar to a continental European breakfast. Ukrainian people eat a lot of cereals for breakfast. For example, in cities, a common breakfast will include boiled buckwheat, rice, or oats. In Western Ukraine, 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). But of course, dishes vary from person to person and family to family.
For traditional food when you’re on the move in Ukraine, there are a variety of local fast food places serving great local fare for affordable prices. Ukrainian-style cafeterias have become very popular over the past few years. Some of the big brand names are Puzata Khata, Zdorovenki Bully, and others. These places are influenced by a Soviet cafeteria-style (but don’t worry, the food has improved massively since then!).
This is how it works: you take a tray and move down a line of food that is manned by serving staff. You ask for servings of food that includes salads, soups, side dishes, meat, vegetables, bread, and a range of desserts. Prices are very reasonable and the food is generally good. Most importantly, it’s easy to navigate without advanced Russian or Ukrainian as a simple polite point to what you want will be understood.
We recommend these places for lunch and not dinner as by the end of the day the food isn’t always in the best of shape. Lunchtime is always fresh and hot. It may be busy, but don’t be afraid to ask if you can sit at a seat with some Ukrainians if there’s an empty space. It’s how it works here.
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 Ukraine
Like many Eastern European countries, Ukraine is 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:
Horilka – The 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.
Spotykach – This sweet Ukrainian drink dates back to the 1800s and made with berries, spices, and vodka and infused for around two weeks . Spotykach is unique in the sense that it is still created using the largely untampered with manufacturing methods of the heating of ingredients. There are four types of Spotykach you can try: berry, lemon, mint, and rowanberry.
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 Ukraine
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 Ukrainian 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.
Deruni – these are traditional Ukrainian potato pancakes. They’re tasty, filling, and easy to make. Ukrainian Deruny is 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 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 Ukrainians 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.