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Korchma menu|©Validtat/WikiCommons
Korchma menu|©Validtat/WikiCommons

A Regional Guide to Ukrainian Cuisine

Picture of Maria Sibirtseva
Updated: 16 January 2018

You may be surprised, but Ukrainian cuisine is very diverse, and does not consist entirely of borscht and salo (pork fat). Different regions of the country have unique culinary highlights or cooking methods for their own traditional dishes. For example, in the northern part of Ukraine, the majority of the courses are made of potatoes, while in western Ukraine meat dishes prevail. Here is a guide to who eats what and where in Ukraine.

Central Ukraine

Central Ukraine is a part of the country where you should forget about any dietary prescriptions for a couple of reasons. First of all, it is the only region in Ukraine where you can try an authentic food, prepared in accordance with traditional recipes. Secondly, because the main ingredient that locals use is dough, and thus among the most popular dishes are galushki and pundyki. Galushki constitutes pieces of dough boiled in hot water, served as a separate course with smetana (sour cream) and butter or added to soup. Meanwhile, pundyki is a sweet dough resembling cookies. It is made of yoghurt with eggs and is cooked in a frying pan.

Another dish to try is vareniki (kind of dumplings), the filling for which can be almost anything starting with potatoes, meat, or liver, all the way to strawberries or cherries. The size of the pieces varies in proportion to the stuffing – so that pork vareniki look like small dough rolls, but sweet ones are bigger and juicier. Usually these dumplings are served as a second course, while borscht is always the first course. The central part of the country cooks the dish as rich and fat as possible. It is prepared in meat broth and includes at least 15 ingredients. It is accompanied with lush pampushki (fritters), dressed with garlic sauce and fresh greens.

Ukrainian Borschе with Pampushky

Ukrainian borscht with pampushki | © Brücke-Osteuropa/WikiCommons

Southern Ukraine

Due to the fact that most of the southern cities are located on the coast, locals have a range of recipes that include fish. Moreover, there’s no restaurant in Odessa where you won’t be able to enjoy seafood or a traditional fish soup called ukha. It is cooked with the addition of tomato juice or tomato paste and seasoned with garlic and a mix of pepper and salt.

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Fish soup | © alex80/Pixabay

Also, southern cuisine won’t be as unique as it is without gefilte fish. It takes a lot of preparation to cook the dish, namely to skin the fish properly, remove all the bones, separate the fillets, chop it, stuff it again and bake it in the oven. But it is worth the effort as the taste of the traditional gefilte fish is like no other.

Northern Ukraine

The satiety of the northern Ukrainian cuisine is definitely the key feature. Potatoes grow particularly well in this region, which has affected the specifics of the dishes. Potato pancakes, or deruny, is a must-have on any festive table. It can be baked in the oven or fried, and even filled with grated cheese, or meat. This meal is so popular in northern Ukraine that, periodically, the International Festival of Deruny is held there.

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Potato pancakes | © Daniel Spils/Flickr

When in Ukraine, don’t forget to try a roast. This surprisingly delicious Ukrainian dish is prepared and served in a clay pot. The basic recipe includes potatoes, meat, and sauerkraut, but other ingredients can be added to suit individual tastes. For dessert, pies with kalina (guelder rose) are offered. These patties are so lush and sweet that you will immediately fall in love with them. Except for deruny, roast and pies, there’s another northern dish that has acquired international acclaim – of course, Chicken Kiev. It is a piece of fresh chicken fillet stuffed with butter that has quite a tedious preparation process, as the aim is t0 bake the cutlet, but save the butter inside.

Western Ukraine

The territory of Western Ukraine, historically, was a part of Poland, Austria-Hungary, and borders with Romania and Slovakia, and so its cuisine is famous for its rich set of culinary recipes and traditions. Among the main dishes are banush, and mushroom soup. The first consists of well-smoked corn grits, fried pork fat (salo) and cheese. Banush is incredibly nourishing and has an extraordinary taste. The latter is a common soup that is usually served with smetana (sour cream). The region, especially the Carpathians, is rich with white mushrooms, therefore it is very common to include it in the food.

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Galician banush© Trzewik/WikiCommons

It is also impossible to imagine western cuisine without bryndza (cheese from sheep’s milk), which traditionally came to Ukraine from Slovakia. A dish from Romania, but popular in the region of Bukovina, is called mămăligă. It is cooked from stiffened cornmeal, which Hutsuls (residents of the Galician region of Ukraine) eat instead of regular bread.

Eastern Ukraine

Food in the east of the country drastically differs from other parts of Ukraine. As such, the must-try dish is a ham hock called goliazhka. It is baked in the oven for several hours, after being thoroughly rubbed with spices and salt and wrapped in foil. However, okroshka, a cold soup, is more famous in eastern Ukraine. There are around 50 ways of cooking of it, but the main ingredients are boiled potatoes, eggs, radish, and cucumbers, as well as onions and other greens. Some people make it with kvass, others with whey or kefir (a drink made from fermented milk), adding sparkling water to make it even more refreshing. Apparently Ukrainians are putting smetana in everything and okroshka is not an exception.