Ukraine is filled with old ladies that want nothing more out of life than to feed you. A country that relies heavily on meat, potatoes, cabbage and beets, Ukrainians have been concocting combinations of these primary staples for centuries. Here's what babushka is planning to shove down your throat.
Many countries have handheld dough balls on the menu but none do it as hearty as the Ukrainians. These are bigger than your average donut hole and come stuffed with a big helping of homey ingredients. The most popular version is filled with ground meat or potatoes but many other varieties are available, including ones stuffed with slightly sour cabbage. Piroshki are widely hawked on the streets; look for the most wrinkly old lady to get yours.
Using greens as wraps may sound like a trend started by carb-haters. Don't be fooled; there's nothing light about galuptsi. The dish starts with a combination of well-seasoned ground meat combined with cooked rice. A palm-sized meaty lump is then placed in the center of a steamed cabbage leaf, rolled, and cuddled together in a baking dish. Everything is then topped with tomato sauce and popped in the oven to bubble away for a while. These are served with a heaping spoon of sour cream and as you cut through the cabbage to the meat, the cream becomes intertwined with the tomato tang, transforming it into the perfect bite of Ukrainian tradition.
Fundamentally, these are Ukrainian dumplings. Realistically, these are fucking brilliant pockets of hot juicy goodness. The basic elements remain the same: dough stuffed with meat, potatoes or cabbage. But ask anybody from the Soviet block how they eat theirs, and you'll have a full on food fight on your hands. Ukrainians keep their toppings relatively light, adding a bit of butter, vinegar, and black pepper to moisten the path from plate to face. The further north you move, the more sour cream, butter, and cheese you'll find smothering your pelmeni.
A cross between fried rice and risotto, plov is a Middle Eastern-inspired dish that's heavily-laced with lamb, carrots, and sometimes dried fruit. The dish is slow-cooked to infuse the gamey flavors of the lamb into the rice. This may sound like an one-dish meal, but don't be surprised when it's served with a side of carby fried potatoes and a breaded pork cutlet.
Perhaps the one Ukrainian dish that the world has heard of, borscht is the country's biggest source of culinary pride. In the states, the soup is often made more palatable by being run through the blender. In Ukraine, they dig the super chunk and wouldn't let an s-blade near their borscht. Packed with stain-everything beets, beef, and cabbage, this soup has had the whole nation pissing pink for eternity. To properly consume, don't skimp on garnishing your bowl with sour cream and dill.
OTP Fun Fact: Not all borscht is beet red. Green borscht, made with spinach, omits beets altogether and is a milder, brothier soup often consumed during the not-so-frigid months.
Ukrainians don't fuck with leafy greens when it comes to salads. Their bunny food comes fully-loaded with meat, mayo, and an array of chunky vegetables. The heaviest of the spread is Salat Olivier, a thick concoction of potatoes, eggs, ham, and peas, held together with a bucket of mayo. Invented by a Belgian chef in Moscow, this salad is popular all over Europe, especially Ukraine. A little lighter on the artery clog, vinigret is comprised mostly of beet chunks swimming in olive oil and vinegar. The most refreshing thing you'll find on a Ukrainian menu is a classic salad with chunky tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions, tossed in olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Use it to cut through the accumulating grease fest in your gut.
Not a small Frenchman, but a cake that'll make you wish your mouth took up more of your face. The classic version contains at least 15 layers of flaky dough layered with gobs of creamy custard. The ingredient list is short but the assembly process is labor-intensive. Sliced into squares, get a big one from the center and let that custard fall off your chin and into your winter coat.
Vodka and Zakuski
Ukrainians believe that no meal is complete without 100 grams of vodka, paired with a bite of food (zakuski) to help the booze reach its destination more smoothly. Zakuski can be anything from cold cuts to blini (mini-pancakes) with sour cream and caviar. Most commonly, people chase shots with something pickled. While a bite of pickled-cucumber will suffice, Ukrainians often switch it up with pickled tomatoes, cauliflower, carrots, mushrooms, peppers, garlic root, and herring.
In Ukraine, you will have bread with everything. None of that bullshit Texas toast white. These parts are all about their dark ryes. So dark, it's straight black. Rub yours down with a little garlic on the crust to impress the old ladies that'll be glaring at you to make sure you've cleaned off your plate.