Food / Travel / Ukraine

It All Started with Chicken Kyiv

Chicken Kyiv

My first encounter with Ukrainian cuisine was at a Howard Johnson’s restaurant in Chicago – of all places! I was a junior in high school, my family had just moved to the “Windy City,” and I’d started my after-school job as a waitress at HoJo’s.

One of the employment perks was permission to try any dish on the menu. Although my Mom was a great cook, my palate was a tad limited. So I decided to sample unfamiliar foods. That’s when I discovered Chicken Kyiv (or Kiev as it was spelled then). Now, I know that HoJo’s is no paragon of authentic, international cuisine, but the breaded, cheese-oozing delicacy I had that day was delicious … and the memory stuck with me! I knew that someday I had to see this place called “Kyiv.”

* * * * *

Fast forward to when we were planning our fall travel and looking for new Eastern European destinations. The first words out of my mouth were “Chicken Kyiv.”

James, totally confused, looked at me with raised eyebrows. As I explained my teenage fascination, he grinned, nodded, and said, “So be it! Kyiv it is!”

And that’s how many of our journeys get launched – on a whim – a seed planted long ago.

We hear that Ukrainian food is delicious. Our friends have assured us that we need to try:

Borshch

Borshch (Borscht) – a traditional Ukrainian soup made from red beets and up to 20 other ingredients. Folklore says that no Ukrainian girl will be able to get married, if she doesn’t know how to prepare borshch.

Ukrainian Cherry Varenyky

Varenyky – crescent-shaped stuffed dumplings that can be savory or sweet. They’re often filled with mashed potatoes, mushrooms, meat, cabbage, or onions. However, we have been assured that it’s the Cherry Varenyky we want – the luscious treat filled with cherries and served as desert. What’s not to like?

Does anyone out there have any more suggestions for Ukrainian food we should try?

Cheers!
Terri

P.S. Evidently, Varenyky is so popular that the folks in Cherksay, Ukraine have erected a giant monument to this tasty dish! I guess that would be “Roadside Ukrainiana.”

Monumental Varenyky

Giant Varenyky in Cherksay, Ukraine

Photo Credits:
1. Jason Lam  2. Liz West  3. Olga Gorchichko  4.  Вальдимар

54 thoughts on “It All Started with Chicken Kyiv

  1. When I was there in 2006 red caviar was cheap and delicious, don’t know whether it’s still cheap. I particularly loved breakfast blinis and missed them when I changed countries. Also, borscht isn’t necessarily red, at least in the Crimea. Where else are you going in Ukraine?

    • We’ll have to check out the caviar Kathy – I haven’t had the red stuff in forever! And I can’t wait to sample some blinis. I was just reading about all the different variations on borscht. Rght now Kyiv and Lviv are on our list. We hope to do Crimea on another trip. ~Terri

      • I loved Lviv! Especially the Lychakivsky Cemetery. I ate well at the charming Cafe Amadeus, but I’m sure the dining scene has changed a lot in seven years. Are you taking the train on to Krakow? If so, I hope buying a ticket has speeded up a bit

  2. I’ve only just made the connection between the Ukraine and Chicken Kyiv for some reason. That old favourite? I must question the cultural origins of my food more often.

  3. I’d be tasting anything that looks interesting (or I’d never tried before).

    I couldn’t bear to go to a new country and not try their local delicacies.

    • Tricia, we arrived in Kyiv a few hours ago and so far we’re both impressed. Riding in from the airport we first saw the golden domes of St. Michael’s and the enormous Motherland statue. There were also old soviet apartment blocks and fascinating architecture – all the things we were hoping to see. The city is hilly and bigger than we expected. I understand it can be pretty chilly in the winter. 🙂 ~Terri

    • Jennie, I’m so glad to know that! Kathy (above) mentioned that it’s a green version in the Crimea. And you’ll be so glad to know that we flew over with a group of young, bright-eyed Peace Corps volunteers … and I thought of you. They were so excited and I was so proud and happy for them. So I told them war stories of working in the Sudan at their age and we had a great conversation. ~Terri

  4. Chicken Kiev! That was one of the first recipes I ever made growing up and was a staple in our school cafeteria– you had to cut it just so to prevent the juices from squirting (something the elementary aged boys loved to do). So sad it has become untrendy, you’ve inspired me to dig out that old recipe. Can’t wait to read your report and learn how the “real” version is! Wonderful post, I googled hojo’s in hopes of finding a restaurant still open (I have fond memories of the fried clams) but it looks like there are only two left in the entire country!

    • Kiki, I love the school cafeteria story – oh those boys! I don’t remember having it in our cafeteria – we were always having things like “Jean Marzetti” – whatever that was! I had no idea there were only 2 Hojos left in the country! Wow! And I too imprinted on the Hojos clams and still love them to this day! We’ll be keeping our eyes open for cool souvenir ideas for you. ~Terri

  5. My first experience with HoJo’s was traveling east to teach in Philadelphia after I got out of the Peace Corps. In those days, Denny’s dominated the West and HoJo’s the East. HoJo’s meant my destination was close. BTW, love the plastic fork. It is sculpture worthy of Burning Man. (grin) –Curt

    • What a great Hojos memory Curt. Kiki (above) tells me there are only 2 left in the country! Hojos was my first real job (other than babysitting and lawn mowing … and snow shoveling 🙂 ). I remember the distinctive turquiose and white houndstooth-checked uniform I had to wear, and Rosie, the take-no-prisoners former preacher cook. It was an eye-opening adventure for a 15 year old. But then there’s the Peace Corps. I wanted to tell you that we flew over with a group of young Peace Corps volunteers stationed in Ukraine. They were so excited. ~Terri

      • Peace Corps Volunteers in the Ukraine speaks just to how much the world has changed. But, for the most part, the Peace Corps experience is still similar: lot’s of idealism with a touch of pragmatism. I am hoping to finish the book on my own Peace Corps experience this fall. The take-no-prisoners preacher/cook sounds like an interesting character. (grin) –Curt

  6. Ha! “Roadside Ukrainiana” made me laugh out loud! I’m very curious to know how the varynyky differ from pierogi. They sure look similar. And although I’d heard the term chicken kiev, I never knew what the dish actually consisted of… wonder if I could make a veggie version with breaded eggplant. …Or is that Ukrainian blasphemy?

    • Miranda, I think you were the only person who got it! For my money, varenyky are very similar to pierogi – since we’re also going to Poland, I’ll be able to answer that. Do they make pierogi with cherries because those were great! And an eggplant version of Chicken Kyiv sounds delish. So how’s the new house? ~Terri

    • Hi Amanda! We were really looking forward to the food in Kyiv … and it didn’t disappoint! I had my first Varenyky and some delicious Chicken Kyiv, so now I can say I had the real thing.:) So glad you stopped by. ~Terri

      • Hi Terri, I was planning an adventure to Poland anyway and realised I could wangle a side trip to see Chernobyl, something I’ve been fascinated with for a long time. It’s only three weeks away now so I really should learn some basic Russian!

    • We had wonderful food in Kyiv Hayley. There’s a popular buffet in town (don’t remember the name – just ask around) that serves only local dishes. It’s perfect because the prices are reasonable and it gives you the chance to sample lots of different dishes. We went there 3 separate times and had something different on each visit. Oh, and the beer is very tasty as well. It makes me hungry just typing this message. Enjoy! ~James

  7. I am so hungry for Varenyky right now! My family is German but before immigrating to Canada they lived in what is now Ukraine. I was raised on borscht. You will love the food.

    • Darlene, I didn’t grow up eating German food, but as an adult, I’ve developed quite a taste for it. Eastern European paprika-spiced, cabbage and sausage stews are delightful, and they’re the perfect cool weather dish. My rationalization is that the unhealthy sausage is offset by the healthy cabbage. We’ve had these hearty stews under many names all over Eastern Europe, and have never disappointed. We developed quite an addiction to wonderful Spanish smoked paprika (the real smoky stuff), and luckily, we found a source for authentic spice here in the the US. It’s one of our regulars. ~James

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