Before I embark on a weekend of eating grilled things to celebrate the birth of America, I thought I would show you what I ate for a month while in Ukraine. These days Kyiv (and to a lesser extent Lviv) have many options. Sushi has really taken off in Ukraine. In Kyiv I lived by a place called Yellow Ocean (slightly racist), I never did have sushi over the month I was there, but it looked good whenever I walked by. I tend to live by the “when in Rome,” so “when in Ukraine, eat Ukrainian food.” I love Ukrainian food, now maybe it’s the Proust-like link to my childhood and my grandmother’s warm kitchen in upstate New York where she always let me help her chop and peel and instilled a love of food in me at an early age. So call me biased. Two very traditional dishes (you will also find variations in Russia, Poland, and other parts of Eastern Europe) are borsch, a beet soup, and varenyky, dumplings (called pierogies by Poles in English). On one of my first days in Lviv I sat on the main square in downtown and treated myself to both plus extra sour cream — you only live once.
Sour cream is one of those items Ukrainians have in their fridges at all times. Add it into soup, mix it in with salads, sweeten it with sugar and vanilla — it’s one of those ingredients that is adaptable to whatever you may be cooking or eating.
I like to think that borsch is in many ways a beautiful metaphor for Ukraine and it’s regional variations. No one borsch is the same — some people add beans or more tomatoes, sometimes the beets are cut very thin, other times you get beet chunks. Borsch is one of those dishes that everyone will say their mother or grandmother makes best — better than your mother or grandmother.
And then there’s green borsch which is totally different from red borsch. Made with sorrel and often served cold, it’s meant as a summer soup.
One thing I didn’t grow up with in the diaspora with was salo. Salo is essentially pork fat. People will slice off slabs and snack on it while drinking vodka. I actually like it when it’s mashed up with garlic and spread on brown bread. It’s one of those things you just have to try.
Some potato piroshki:
One of the cheapest places to get a Ukrainian meal in Ukraine is Puzata Hata. The chain has locations across Ukraine and for a few bucks you can get a plate of delicious varenyky, meat stuff ones pictured below.
My mom and I make varenyky every winter and it’s usually a labor-intensive two day process. They are delicious dumplings so I had more than my fill over the month.
I was also fortunate to visit Ukraine during strawberry season. In Kyiv, older women come in from villages and towns outside the capital and set up stands in markets or sit in the subway and sell their fruits and vegetables. I loved the giant, wicker baskets they would sell their strawberries out of, at least until they divided them up into plastic containers.
The green herb you see on top of the parsley below is dill. It gets incorporated into many Ukrainian dishes and salads.
One thing that I fell in love with this time around in Ukraine was pickled vegetables. Cold and briny there’s just something about that in summertime.
Plus it’s a great beer snack. I really like Ukrainian beers, so if you ever get the chance to try an unfiltered Lvivske, I recommend it. Whenever a beer has been around longer than American has been a country, it’s usually a safe bet.
My friend Sasha took me for piroshki in Kyiv. This place was incredible I had both the fish and black currant and they were to die for. The fish was savory and the dough was perfect. Piroshki are a standard if you ever find yourself in an Eastern European part of town anywhere in the world.
Some photos of the famous Besarabsky indoor market in central Kyiv — mere steps away from where the revolution happened.
Plenty of caviar:
Whenever it’s strawberry season, it’s also poppy season. Beautiful reds all around.
More to come soon about my last day in Kyiv and that time I cried for two hours on a train (don’t worry nothing bad happened).