Ukraine (known as Kievan Rus back then) reached its zenith and Golden Age in 11th century, under the leadership of Slavic and Scandinavian elites. By that time, it had become the largest state of Europe, formidable military power as well as thriving center of culture, arts and trade. Kiev prospered from controlling three main trade routes of Eastern Europe: the Volga trade route from the Baltic Sea to the Orient, the Dnieper trade route from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea (from the Varangians to the Greeks), and the trade route from the Khazars to the Germans. The end of the Viking Age and decline of Constantinople weakened Kiev, and final disintegration was brought upon by the Mongol Invasion of early 13th century. History of Ukraine has been very turbulent since then – for centuries it had been part of Lithuania and Poland, before being absorbed by the Russian Empire in 17th century.
Bearing in mind Ukrainian’s history, it is easy to see that the national kitchen is somewhat similar to other Eastern European cuisines (with some added Turkish, Tartar and Cossack influence), yet there a lot of unique features. Abundance of rich farmland, livestock as well as hunting and fishing made Ukrainian menu very diverse.
One of the most famous Ukrainian dishes is borsch. It is quite a complex dish, beet-based, and involving up to 20 different ingredients. There are many types of borsch in Ukraine, with or without meat.
Vareniki are another famous Ukrainian dish. They are somewhat similar to Siberian pelmeni and Caucasian manty, but instead of forcemeat, vareniki are usually filled with vegetables or berries. For example, there are vareniki with cherries, potatoes, cabbage and cottage cheese.
Pork plays a very important role in Ukrainian cuisine. Invading Turks and Tartars usually took domestic animals and livestock away from local population, but did not touch pigs, considering them “dirty”. This allowed many Ukrainian families to survive during these tough times. Pork (especially fatback) is used in wide variety of dishes.
Traditional Ukrainian drinks are mead, kvass, beer, grape wine, gorilka (vodka) and various infusions. First written records mentioning kvass date back to 10th century. Kvass contains vitamins B1 and E, quenches thirst well and is easy to make. Although bread is usually used to prepare kvass, it can also be made with berries or vegetables.
Mead is old and legendary drink. Ancient pre-Christian Slavs first used it for religious rituals. It is made with yeast, honey, hops, spices and berries. Mead’s alcohol content is similar to wine, and it is usually consumed as aperitif.
Modern Ukrainian cuisine is famous for its beverages, such as honey vodka with pepper, famous not only in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus, but in Western Europe as well.