Traditions of Ukraine: Cuisine
Ukrainian cuisine features flavors of black pepper, red pepper, salt, bay leaf, parsley and dill, garlic and onion. As an agricultural country, Ukrainian food relies heavily on staples like pork, chicken, beef and fish, as well as cheese, butter, bread and milk. Many recipes stem from traditional peasant dishes, which are generally based on grains and staple vegetables such as potatoes, cabbages, beets and mushrooms. One of the most popular traditional dishes is preserved and salted pig fat, called salo, that is typically eaten as a side dish. Borscht is the most easily recognized dish, which originated in the Ukraine though it is very popular in the surrounding regions, including parts of Russia and Romania.
The tumultuous political history of the Ukraine greatly influenced the country’s cuisine, with each outside element leaving its signature. During the rule of the Ukrainian tsars, foreign chefs from France, Italy and other parts of Europe were called in to cook for banquets and celebrations. New spices, ingredients and richness of flavor mixed with the traditional rural dishes to create what is now typical Ukrainian cuisine.
The country’s rich black soil and fields of wheat, rye, oats and millet earned the Ukraine the nickname of “Breadbasket of Europe”. Today it is the world’s largest exporter of sunflower oil and the third-largest exporter of grain. Bread was and remains the central fixture of the Ukrainian table. It is eaten alone, with soup, as dessert, and in special holiday rituals.
Food plays a large role in traditional Ukrainian Christmas customs, which are based both on Christianity and on pre-Christian, pagan culture and religion. Again, bread is central. A special circular, braided Christmas bread called kolach is placed in the center of the table. Traditionally, three consecutively smaller kolach rings are placed one on top of the other, and a candle is set in the center of the top ring. The three rings are said to symbolize the Christian Trinity and the circular form represents Eternity. A jug of twelve kinds of stewed fruit, called uzvar or God’s Drink, is also served.
Vodka is common in most of the country as are popular moonshine-like infusions of fruit, spices or hot peppers. Mead, a fermented alcohol made from honey, water and yeast is also widely enjoyed.