Ukrainian foods – the essence of Eastern Europe! And why travel there if you’re not going to indulge in these delights?
Many have said that the locals use Ukrainian foods as a means to show off their fertile soil, bountiful harvest, and healthy livestock. Besides, their specialties and culinary experience represent the rich traditions and history of the country.
So when you have the chance to visit Ukraine, besides admiring stunning scenery with majestic mountains, remember to enjoy their unique traditional dishes, like the ones I have listed below!
The Introduction of Ukrainian Cuisine
In this part, you can delve into the fascinating Ukrainian cuisine, explore its traditional ingredients, and discuss the unique customs and etiquette that surround it.
1. A Brief History of Ukrainian Cuisine
Ukrainian cuisine has been formed by the country’s unique geographical location, climate, and history.
The influence of other cultures, such as those of neighboring Poland, Hungary, and Romania, can be seen in some dishes. Still, Ukrainian cuisine has maintained its distinct flavors and traditions.
2. Traditional Ingredients in Ukraine
More than 50% of Ukraine’s land is suitable for agricultural crops, ensuring a year-round supply of wheat, sugar, and potatoes. Thanks to the abundance of wheat, you will find many kinds of bread in this country.
Moreover, the Carpathian Mountains have large meadows for cattle to graze, providing high-quality beef products for many Ukrainian recipes.
On the other hand, traditional dishes often contain herbs, which add depth and flavor to the food.
3. Ukrainian Food/Drink Customs and Etiquette
Dining in Ukraine typically starts with a soup or cold appetizer, followed by a main course and dessert. Regarding table manners, locals hold forks in their left hands and knives in their right hands while enjoying our food.
For the drinks, the country’s love affair with alcohol is no secret. Horilka, a strong and versatile spirit infused with herbs, berries, or roots, is a must-try. For non-alcoholic beverages, Uzvar – a refreshing concoction of dried fruits, most commonly apples and prunes- is ideal.
Ukrainian Appetizers, Side Dishes and Snacks
Before exploring the main meals in this European cuisine, let’s check these appetizers, side dishes, and snacks below to learn what the Ukrainians usually eat.
1. Salo – Cured Pork Fat
Everyone knows the Ukrainians love their Salo, not only for its unique taste but also for the health benefits it brings. Pork fat is high in vitamin D and A, which helps with brain function, digestion, and detoxification.
Although this dish is quite unusual, Salo is frequently regarded as one of Ukraine’s primary icons. In fact, it is so well-loved that the locals hold two annual festivals for this dish, one in February and one in September.
Salo can be eaten raw or cooked. The locals frequently fry or coarsely mince it with garlic and pair it with a famous traditional beet soup called Borscht. The people in Ukraine love to eat this nutritious snack with Horilka (a popular Ukrainian beverage).
Another option is to slice Salo thinly and place it over garlic-rubbed rye bread.
2. Holodets or Kholodets – Meat Jelly
This gelatinized pork dish served with horseradish is prevalent in Eastern European nations, not just in Ukraine. Although, yes, the term “meat jelly” may not be that enticing, you would change your mind after just one bite!
The name of Holodets comes from the Ukrainian word holodnyii, which means “cold”. It is also called Kholodets or meat Aspic. You can often see this dish at important celebrations like New Year’s Eve.
The locals often use beef chuck, pig’s feet, hocks, bone broth, and other aromatics to achieve this exciting meat jelly dish.
Back in the day, people had to cook meat for a very long time to turn it into jelly. Nowadays, using store-bought gelatin is more common since it is less time-consuming and more convenient.
3. Olivye or Olivier – Ukrainian Potato Salad
The original form of the salad was created in the 1860s by a Belgian-born chef named Lucien Olivier. He served this refreshing appetizer to the regulars of his restaurant called the Hermitage, which is one of Moscow’s most renowned restaurants.
This salad immediately became a favorite at the Hermitage. It eventually became the restaurant’s hallmark dish and one of Ukraine’s most famous appetizers.
The recipe for Olivye calls for diced veggies (the main one is potato), eggs, dill pickles, and some types of meat. After mixing these ingredients, it will be coated with mayonnaise and seasoned with mustard, salt, and pepper.
Quick fact: According to the Ministry of Health, Ukrainians consume 120 kg of potatoes per person annually.
4. Pampushky – Ukrainian Garlic Bread
Pampushky is the epitome of garlic bread! With a soft pillowy texture and flavorful garlic toppings, Ukrainian garlic bread will surely make your mouth water.
These lovely yeasted buns from Ukraine come in both sweet and savory varieties. The sweet form is frequently loaded with jam, berries, cottage cheese, and fresh fruit, while the savory variant is usually seasoned with garlic sauce and eaten with Borscht (Ukrainian beet soup).
German colonists may have been the ones who brought Pampushky to Ukraine. These delicious buns became a popular national dish at the end of the 19th century, eventually gaining “status” as a typical Ukrainian dish.
5. Bublik – Ukrainian-style Bagel
If you consider yourself a bagel fan, Bublik is undoubtedly a must-have! Bublik is a term used in Eastern European nations, primarily Ukraine and Russia, to describe a round, yeasted bun that looks identical to an American bagel.
Although the appearance of Bublik is similar to American bagels, this Ukrainian treat is denser and chewier in texture. Plus, Bublik is not considered a breakfast item like bagels.
Many believe this famous Russian appetizer originated in Kraków (a city in Poland) since it was first mentioned in the Community Regulations of this city in 1610. The bagel moved across Poland to all locations with a significant Jewish population and eventually reached Ukraine.
This Ukrainian breakfast dish was first sold on the street, where it was hung on street carts and handed out to passers-by. But now, it has become a light appetizer or a typical snack that everyone can enjoy with a cup of tea or coffee.
6. Kysla Kapusta – Sour Cabbage
Kysla Kapusta’s origin involves the widespread practice of fermenting and preserving cabbage across Eastern Europe. The result is a dish similar to sauerkraut.
FYI, as the Slavic language, “Kapusta” literally translates to “cabbage,” it’s no surprise that this humble vegetable takes center stage in this dish.
Next to cabbage, carrots and seasonings are common components to make this dish flavorful. All ingredients will then be fermented in a super clean jar.
Kysla Kapusta is typically served cool and as a side dish. It is also a great addition to Varenyky, an iconic specialty of Ukrainians, which I will tell you later.
7. Knyshi or Knishes – Stuffed Buns
Knyshi – a culinary treasure that is very common in Western Ukraine. With its delightful rounded patty or bun-like shape, Kniyshi is an ideal snack or light meal option.
The primary ingredients for Knyshi include flour, warm milk, sugar, and yeast, which together create a dough. The true star of Knyshi, however, is the flavorful filling.
These fillings may feature a variety of components, such as tender meat, hearty buckwheat with cracklings, creamy cottage cheese, or even sweet jam.
Knyshi’s flavors are as diverse as its fillings. When filled with meat or buckwheat, the dish delivers a savory experience, while the cottage cheese and jam options provide a sweet and tangy alternative.
Ukrainian Main Dishes
The main courses in Ukraine are usually full of protein with soups and other meat-based dishes. Beef, pork, or chicken; this place has it all! So there will definitely be at least one dish that perfectly matches your preference and current mood.
8. Goulash – Meaty Stew
Ukrainian Goulash, also known as Guliash, is a heartwarming stew that has firmly established its place in the rich tapestry of this cuisine.
Goulash’s origin is Hungary, where it was initially created as a humble shepherd’s meal. Over time, this scrumptious dish has spread across various European countries and become even more famous in Ukraine’s Hutsul cuisine.
Overall, Goulash is a meat and vegetable stew seasoned with paprika and various spices, offering a symphony of flavors that dance upon the tongue. This dish is often enjoyed as a main course, and it is best served warm with noodles or bread.
9. Okroshka – Summer Soup or Cold Soup
Okroshka is called a “cold soup” for a reason! Overall, Okroshka is a super refreshing dish that combines the lightness of raw vegetables and the fresh taste of Kvass (an authentic Russian drink) made from fermented rye bread).
Despite its Russian origin, you can’t deny the popularity of this classic soup in Ukraine and nearly every other nation across Eastern Europe and North Asia.
The locals love to enjoy this soup during the summer to combat the heat in Ukraine. They always serve it cold, and sometimes they even put ice cubes into it to maintain its coolness in hot weather.
10. Borscht – Traditional Ukrainian Soup
This may not be the first time I have mentioned the name of this dish, but this iconic soup deserves more spotlight. The most well-known version of this soup calls for fermented beetroot juice, sautéed vegetables, and bone or meat stock.
There are also many variations of this famous nationwide dish. Some are made with fish, while others use a variety of vegetables. Apart from Ukraine, beet soup is also a well-loved dish in Moldova.
Despite the difference in the choice of broth from region to region, fermented beetroot juice is an irreplaceable element of this dish. The beetroot or beetroot juice adds a distinctive crimson color to the meal and a sweet and sour taste that everyone loves.
Borscht can be a hearty everyday meal; however, it can also be served on holidays and even funeral wakes.
11. Solyanka – Sweet and Sour Soup
Ukrainian cuisine is heavily influenced by the gastronomy of Russia, its neighboring country. That is why many well-loved dishes in Ukraine originated in Russia, and Solyanka is one of them.
This dish usually comes with sour cream, lime slices, and dill. It is also an effective hangover treatment due to the amount of pickle juice in this soup.
There are three versions of Solyanka: meat Solyanka, fish Solyanka, and mushroom Solyanka. All of them are delicious and unique in their own ways.
The meat version has ham, beef, chicken breast, and sausages as the main component. It also contains other ingredients like chopped tomatoes, onions, cucumber pickles, and olives.
The fish Solyanka requires salmon, sturgeon, and freshwater crayfish. The veggies are similar to the recipe for meat-based Solyanka.
Moving on to mushroom Solyanka, the locals use cut cabbage, tomatoes, cucumber pickles, and of course, mushrooms. They also briefly bake the soup with breadcrumbs and butter to flavor it.
12. Kotleta Po-Kyivsky – Chicken Kiev
If you’re craving a chicken dish, perhaps you should give Chicken Kiev a try. This dish is pretty simple to make at home, just take a flattened chicken breast, roll it in cold herb butter, cover it in breadcrumbs, and fry it well.
Although the modern dish calls for cold herb butter and boneless chicken breast, it used to be made with more stuffings and bone-in chicken.
Despite its popularity in Ukraine and many other countries, no one knows where Chicken Kiev originated or how it earned its name. However, most people believe Russian cooks around the 19th century developed it.
It peaked in popularity near the 1970s, but with the development of nouvelle cuisine in the late 1980s, it swiftly faded from favor.
13. Deruny – Ukrainian Potato Pancake
There are many delicious potato dishes in Ukraine, but the most well-known one has to be these delightful fried potato pancakes. In Russian, they are known as Draniki or as Latkes in Yiddish.
Deruny can be found at any Ukrainian restaurant across the country. However, you can easily make some at home using simple ingredients.
With a soft interior and crispy exterior, Deruny is definitely a must-try for all the potato fans out there. Remember to eat the pancakes while they’re still hot and pair them with a dollop of sour cream.
14. Holubtsi – Ukrainian Cabbage Roll
Almost every nation in this world has its own version of stuffed cabbage rolls. For example, Turkey has Sarma, Romania has Sarmale, and China has Báicài Juǎn. At the same time, the dish is called Kaalikääryleet in Finnish gastronomy and Holubtsi in Ukrainian cuisine.
Depending on what’s available in the region, cabbage rolls can be stuffed with minced meat, veggie, or a blend of the two. The filling of the stuffed cabbage rolls in Ukraine usually contains grain, such as rice.
Besides, the way the Iranians use cabbage leaves is not the same in different regions. Some places use an entire cabbage leaf, while others divide the leaf into small pieces. Sometimes, people will substitute cabbage leaves with beetroot leaves or young grape leaves.
In Right Bank Ukraine, this dish is considered a holiday meal, whereas it is just an everyday meal in other regions.
Holubtsi is one of the most well-known Ukrainian dinner dishes. So if you are looking for a healthy and light dinner option, learn how to roll some Holubtsi. Similar to Deruny, these delicious rolls pair amazingly well with sour cream.
15. Banush – Ukrainian Hutsul Dish
This silky Ukrainian corn porridge is not only a widely enjoyed dish across Ukraine, but it is also an essential part of the traditional cuisine of this nation.
Originating in the Carpathian mountains, Banush was once linked with the Hutsul minority, with males being assigned to make the meal.
This traditional Hutsul dish is made using maize flour and sour cream. Sometimes, it is elevated with toppings like fried bacon pieces, crispy cracklings, mushroom sauce, and crumbled Bryndza.
16. Kutia – Sweet Grain Pudding
When it comes to well-known holiday delicacies from Ukraine, you can’t ignore Kutia. This sweet grain pudding is usually served as part of a 12-course Christmas Eve dinner, despite being created before Christianity.
This yummy treat calls for wheat, almonds, poppy seeds, raisins, and fruit. Kutia can also be sweetened with honey or sugar.
The way the locals consume this Christmas dish is also quite interesting. The Kutia is left on the table all night with spoons for the departed ancestors after dinner. The Ukrainians also used this dish to bribe Father Frost and ensure agricultural prosperity in the following year.
17. Varenyky – Ukrainian Pierogies
These soft, cheesy dumplings will satisfy your craving. Varenyky is the Ukrainian spin of the worldwide famous European dish Pierogies, and it plays a vital role in Ukrainian culture. The city of Cherkasy even dedicated a monument to this dish!
Because of their crescent shape, Ukrainian ancestors equated Varenyky with a young moon and used the dish in pagan and sacrificial rituals. Farmers also believed that Varenyky could bring a plentiful crop so they used to take some to the fields.
Cottage cheese, potato, cabbage, peas, and beans are the most common traditional fillings for Varenyky.
In the past, Ukrainians utilized fermented milk (or Kysle Moloko) to glue the dough together, setting it apart from similar Pierogies from other nations. However, the locals tend to use eggs instead since they are cheaper and more accessible.
This dish often makes its appearance at traditional celebrations in Ukraine, such as Christmas Eve Supper. But it is also a standard everyday meal, either as a filling main course or a fun appetizer.
18. Kulesha – Corn Meal Mush
The Ukrainians use cornflour, butter, salt, and water to make this dish. Once ready to eat, it will be sliced with a knife and served with Bryndza cheese (a traditional treat in Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, and Poland), bacon, pork rinds, or mushrooms.
This delicacy has several names. In the central area, it’s known as Mamalyga, but the Carpathians people call it Kulesha. Despite the name difference in different regions, the dish for this Ukrainian corn meal mush remains the same.
19. Pirozhki – Ukrainian Hand Pies
If you are looking for a simple yet filling Ukrainian lunch recipe, go for some Pirozhki! These yeast-leavened boat-shaped buns are the ultimate comfort food in this country, especially when served with a hot bowl of soup.
Although this recipe originated in Russia, the fame of these hand pies in Ukraine is undeniable. The recipes for Pirozhki are the same in the two countries as well.
Pirozhki can be baked or fried, and it is available in both sweet and savory flavors. Savory pies contain eggs, ground meat, mushrooms, onions, rice, or cabbage. On the other hand, sweet fillings require jam, quark cheese, and fruit.
Let’s end this article with the most well-known and well-loved Ukrainian desserts. From typical cakes or bread to unique festive dishes and cheesy sweet treats, these desserts will surely put a big smile on your face.
20. Pysanka – Ukrainian Easter Eggs
Easter in Ukraine won’t be complete without these colorful Easter eggs. The name of this treat derives from the verb pysaty, which means “to write” or “to inscribe” since the designs are written with beeswax rather than painted on.
Ukraine is not the only place that carries on this Easter tradition. Several other ethnic groups in Central and Eastern European also inscribe or decorate their eggs for Easter using wax resist.
Many experts believe that the art of wax-resist egg decoration dates back to pre-Christian times. But since the eggshells are fragile, there are no ancient proofs of an authentic Pysanka.
21. Paska – Sweet Easter Bread
This sweet and aromatic Easter bread is considered a delicacy in this country. As the name suggests, Paska is often a must-have during Easter time. It is a tradition in Ukraine to fill a koshyk (Easter basket) with Paska and Pysanka, along with other ceremonial foods.
The recipe for Paska only calls for simple ingredients like flour, egg, butter, and milk. However, some families might add citrus juice, ginger, rum, vanilla, or raisins to make it extra tasty and unique.
The Ukrainians believe whispering positive thoughts when working on the dough will make the bread become tastier.
Traditionally, the bread’s surface was adorned with celebratory ornaments like flowers or crosses, while modern versions are generally decorated with a pure egg-white glaze, sprinkles, or poppy seeds.
The inside might be a swirl of yellow and white; these colors represent Jesus’ resurrection and the Holy Spirit, respectively.
22. Nalesniki or Nalysnyky – Cheese Crepes
Here is another classic breakfast option in Ukraine that is elevated with cheese: Nalesniki! It is very similar to Blintzes, which refer to thin and filled pancakes with Eastern European Jewish origins.
These pancakes can be filled with various ingredients, like canned berries and sweet cottage cheese. You can even top them with sour cream and extra berries.
In some cases, these thin pancakes can be stuffed with savory fillings like Bryndza cheese, salted fish, pâtés, and mushrooms. The savory version of Nalesniki is typically eaten at the end of the main course.
Nalesniki usually makes its appearance on special occasions and holidays in Ukraine, like Shrovetide or Maslenitsa.
23. Syrniki or Syrnyky – Cottage Cheese Pancakes
For those who enjoy a sweet, light, and healthy breakfast, Syrniki won’t disappoint! Syrniki originates from the Eastern Slavic culinary tradition. Besides Ukraine, it is also well-known and enjoyed in Belarus, Russia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Although pancakes are an everyday meal in many other nations, the ones in Ukraine still stand out with the addition of cottage cheese.
The main ingredients in Syrnyky are quark or curd cheese (sometimes called farmer cheese), flour, eggs, sugar, and vanilla. The mixture is shaped into small and thick pancakes, then fried in hot oil. That’s why they have an attractive golden brown color.
In addition, it is a versatile dish that you can enjoy at various times, like breakfast, as a snack, or as a dessert. Syrnyky is commonly enjoyed with toppings like sour cream, fruit preserves, or fresh fruits.
This traditional Ukrainian dessert can be found in nearly every cafe and restaurant in this country. So be sure to order some during your visit.
Quick fact: The term “syrniki” stems from the Slavic word “syr”, which means “curd cheese”.
24. Walnut Stuffed Prunes
When people think of desserts, they usually think of cakes, sweet buns, and candy. However, there is a distinctive Ukrainian dessert that you must try at least once when you visit this country: the walnut stuffed prunes.
It is made by soaking the dried prunes in water for a few hours and stuffing them with toasted walnuts. Then the prunes are topped with sugar and whipping cream then sprinkled with chocolate and crushed walnuts.
This unique summertime treat is pretty nutritious. It can provide the body with beta carotene and vitamin K. Walnut stuffed prunes are usually served at Christmas, New Year or during the summer.
25. Kiev Cake
Kiev cake is a delightful Ukrainian dessert made from cocoa, meringue, buttercream, and hazelnuts. This light and airy cake comes with delicate decorative details and meringues as toppings.
The dessert first appeared in 1956 when a pastry chef tried to fix a batch of frozen cakes by spreading buttercream on top and decorating it with floral ornaments.
Later, in the 1970s, the recipe was perfected with the addition of different nuts, the most popular choice being hazelnut. With airy meringue layers, smooth buttercream, and crunchy hazelnuts, they together create an indulgent dessert.
26. Korovai – Ukrainian Wedding Bread
Instead of a wedding cake popularized in Western media, the Ukrainians have an extraordinary baked good that acts as the centerpiece at a traditional wedding in Ukraine.
This lavish Ukrainian bread is explicitly made for weddings. Korovai usually consists of multiple bread tiers and intricate decorative designs that are mostly inspired by nature.
Traditionally, seven married women from seven different places come together to create a Korovai for the happy couple as a way to send their blessing to the bride and groom.
Ukrainians can be pretty superstitious when it comes to Korovai. It is believed that when the bread cracks during the baking process, it signifies that the marriage won’t last. Besides that, widows are considered unfit for making Korovai as their fate will affect the couple’s marriage.
The top portion of the Korovai is given to the married couple. The next slice goes to the bride’s mother and father. The bottom portion can be shared among visitors and band members as a symbol of good fortune and future riches.
27. Kalach or Kolach – Ukrainian Christmas Bread
Ukrainians love their bread, and it shows on every special occasion. During the Holy Supper (Sviat Vechir in Ukrainian) on Ukrainian Christmas Eve, you can see Kalach used as the Christmas table’s centerpiece.
Kalach is usually made by braiding strains of wheat dough and shaped into a big ring, similar to a Christmas wreath. In fact, the word kalach is a deviation of the Old Slavonic word kolo meaning “circle” or “wheel”.
Some people think this kind of bread is similar to Challah – a Jewish special bread, which is also made from braided dough. Therefore, it is worth noting that braided bread in other cuisines is typically not considered Challah.
Kalach symbolizes prosperity, luck, and a good bounty for the upcoming year. When setting up the Christmas table, Kalach is usually placed in the middle and decorated with candles in the inner ring of the bread.
The decoration, including Kalach, is left until Christmas Day since Ukrainian tradition requires fasting until midnight on Christmas Eve.
Although this is a Christmas bread, this dish is also served with fresh fruit at funerals as a sign of the deceased’s good deeds throughout their lifetime.
Below are some related questions about the cuisine of Ukraine.
What Did You Learn From The Cuisine Of Ukraine?
As you can see, the Ukrainians take pride in their cuisine. And why wouldn’t they? After all, their traditional dishes are not only outstanding in terms of taste, but they also reflect this country’s culture and long history.
After reading this article, I hope you are inspired to travel to Eastern Europe and experience this fantastic cuisine yourself. Share this with your friends and motivate them to go on a trip with you and learn more about Ukrainian foods.
Also, remember to like this post if you enjoyed it. And if you have any further questions, I would gladly be of assistance. Have a lovely day, and thank you for reading!
Table of Contents
- The Introduction of Ukrainian Cuisine
- Ukrainian Appetizers, Side Dishes and Snacks
- Ukrainian Main Dishes
- 8. Goulash – Meaty Stew
- 9. Okroshka – Summer Soup or Cold Soup
- 10. Borscht – Traditional Ukrainian Soup
- 11. Solyanka – Sweet and Sour Soup
- 12. Kotleta Po-Kyivsky – Chicken Kiev
- 13. Deruny – Ukrainian Potato Pancake
- 14. Holubtsi – Ukrainian Cabbage Roll
- 15. Banush – Ukrainian Hutsul Dish
- 16. Kutia – Sweet Grain Pudding
- 17. Varenyky – Ukrainian Pierogies
- 18. Kulesha – Corn Meal Mush
- 19. Pirozhki – Ukrainian Hand Pies
- Ukrainian Desserts