Part of the joy of being location independent is getting to immerse yourself in the culture. Sadly, even in places as far east as Ukraine, we see Western travelers lining up for their Big Macs and McFlurrys at McDonald’s. Don’t skip out on trying Ukrainian food!
Lifestyle is infinitely better than “traveling” like a tourist. This means cutting out the comfort of Western chain restaurants and diving head-first into the local cuisine.
It means struggling a bit with understanding the menu. It means dealing with a certain ingredient you don’t like without complaint. It means to show respect to the new country’s culture and traditions.
With that being said, here are the Ukrainian foods you simply must try while you’re in Kiev, Ukraine.
7 Ukrainian Foods You Must Try
First off, here’s a quick 101 on Ukrainian cuisine.
They’re extremely proud of it. Especially the old grannies!
There’s heavy amounts of sour cream, oil, and dill used. You can find a variation of almost every dish which includes these things.
Sometimes the meat and potatoes in Ukrainian food can be a bit on the oily side–you’ve been warned.
Drinking water in Ukraine is expensive. When eating out, you should stick to coffee or tea. Bottled water will be more expensive–and you can’t drink the tap water in Ukraine.
Probably the most famous Ukrainian food.
Borscht is a soup with quite a few different variations. It’s popular all over Eastern Europe. Ukraine, Russia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland–you name it. But the Ukrainian version of borscht is the one commonly referred to in English. It almost always contains beetroots and is eaten as an appetizer at a lot of meals.
There are different variations in color such as green, which can be an interesting experience to try out! In addition to the beetroots, there are a lot of other ingredients. Usually some type of beef or pork is involved, and other sautéed vegetables.
Nearly every place will have their own special take on borscht, so don’t expect to ever get it the same way twice.
#2: Chicken Kiev
Chicken Kiev is the equivalent of Southern comfort food in Ukraine. When you think of Southern comfort food, you think of things like mac ‘n cheese, chicken dumplings, warm buttermilk biscuits, etc.
Chicken Kiev is simply baked chicken, wrapped around with breadcrumbs. Inside the wrap contains the chicken, as well as butter, herbs, and spices. When you slice it open, most of that oozes out and makes a great dipping sauce for your sides (it’s usually accompanied by either fried or mashed potatoes).
In fancier restaurants (the above picture was taken in one of the nicest restaurants in Kiev, and still only cost about $6 USD), chicken Kiev is garnished with plants on top, or sauces on the side as you see.
#3: Vareniki (Dumplings)
Vareniki are noodle-based dumplings that come with every flavor imaginable. If you venture into some of the Soviet style kitchens (as indicated by their hideous wallpaper and staff attire), you’ll see entire menus of these dumplings.
Common fillings include:
Variety of meats: pork, chicken, beef, sausage
Fruits: cherries, berries
Baked blood (yes, you heard it correctly!)
Of course, some Vareniki have some of these things mixed together into a delicious combination. The dumplings are usually either fried or boiled (we recommend trying one of each cooking style as the portions are often small) and served on the top or side with sour cream.
The Vareniki above is a baked blood-based dumpling.
Shashlik is generally more of a Caucus region specialty (think countries like Georgia–more on that below), but has made it’s way all across Europe, and is especially popular in Ukraine.
Shashlik is simply skewered kebabs. They were originally made with lamb, but you can also get them with beef, pork, chicken, and vegetarian style. The shashlik is usually cooked over a charcoal barbecue, giving it a rich flavor.
It’s usually topped with vegetables such as onions, tomato, or eggplant, and served with some spicy dip or pita bread.
Shashlik has gotten extremely popular in Ukraine, especially at some of the higher end restaurants. It’s a good alternative to their usually heavily-oiled based cooking. Many Ukrainians own summer homes or cottages where they have their own shashlik barbecues.
#5: Georgian Food
Okay, okay…we know this isn’t Ukrainian food.
Here’s the deal: Kiev has a high population of people who have migrated from Georgia and the Caucus region, and now live in Kiev.
They have brought a lot of their local culture and cuisine to Kiev, and it’s simply spectacular. From khinkali (dumplings) to shashlik to khachapuri (a pizza-like dish baked with Georgian cheeses)–Georgian food is incredibly unique to most Westerners.
Because it’s so unique and different, it made the cut to be on this list. You must try Georgian food for a very different experience than you can get in the Western world.
Don’t forget the Georgian wine, either. It’s excellent.
Recommended Georgian restaurants in Kiev: Shoti, Mama Manana, and Khmeli-Suneli.
#6: Fruit Based Ribs
A lot of Ukrainian restaurants have a very unique twist on ribs. Rather than grilling them and rubbing them with BBQ sauce and spices, they bake them and use fruit bases for taste.
For example, in the pictures above, one is a blueberry sauce, the other a sort of raspberry flavor.
You won’t find these types of ribs at every place, but if you see them on a menu, we highly recommend you give them a chance.
A couple of recommendations to get these type of ribs: Kiflik (you may only see it spelled as ‘Кіфлик’) and Kanapa.
#7: Potato Pancakes
A staple in the Ukrainian diet. The time of day doesn’t matter. Break, lunch, or dinner–potato pancakes are always available.
BONUS: Business Lunches
Kiev has a wonderful thing that occurs Monday through Friday, called business lunch. To draw traffic in, many of the nicer restaurants offer a discounted meal. It usually includes three to four courses and only costs $3-$7 USD.
That is not a joke. You’ll usually get bread, juice, a soup, a salad, and a main meal. You can then order coffee or dessert for a crazy discount too (usually 50 cents to a dollar).
The only downside is that it’s a set menu. It’s not usually a problem because there are usually three or so choices for different business lunches.
Some of our favorite business lunches in Kiev are: Pervak, BEEF, Capo di Monte, and Mario’s.
Ukrainian Food – Overall
There are lots of good dining options in Kiev. While much of Ukrainian (and Eastern European food) in general can seem quite bland, once you find the right dishes and right places, it’s actually incredible.
Like everything good, it just takes patience. Eat Ukrainian food while in Kiev – stay away from McDonald’s.
Travel junkie turned blogger. Location independent. From the Midwest, but often based in Latin America. Big on beaches, rumba, and rum. Addicted to the gym. Committed to showing a different style of travel – one that involves actually interacting with locals and exploring different cultures.