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.”
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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 (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.
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?
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.”