Borscht and Co.

The most delicious onion soup was served at a pizza place in the Lukyanivka neighborhood.

It did not matter that it was an Italian restaurant.

You could get fantastic French cheese soup at a downtown restaurant on Shota Rustaveli street. One of the steakhouses on that street, named after the famous Georgian poet, also served amazing steaks.

At the same time, your go-to place for khinkali and khachapuri was “Tbilisi”: it was fascinating to watch how deftly the chefs held the khinkali by the tail or how skillfully they kneaded the dough for khachapuri Adzharia style.

A restaurant around the corner served gazpacho, even though it might have been more atmospheric to sip it in Spain.

Burgers and french fries taste just as good anywhere you go, but McDonald’s does not operate in Ukraine due to the war.

You could study geography at Kyiv restaurants. At the same time, it was only at home that you could feel the real taste of Ukrainian cuisine.

I pull out a pen and a recipe notepad. Then I make a phone call: “Hi mama! Could you please tell me how to make…”

Onions, carrots, beets, potatoes.

Meat, tomato paste, cabbage.

Bay leaf, salt, pepper.

Borscht is infused during the day, acquiring a richer taste. Made according to the same recipe, it tastes differently every time.

Borscht recipes can be found on Google. You can choose the one with prunes or beans. Based on veal or pork stock. Whatever you like best. But this is not the way people in Ukraine make borscht. Borscht is like a dowry that you inherit and pass on; like an old photo of your relatives who came from different regions but had borscht for lunch every day all their lives. Most probably, they had it with pampushky because your mama serves it that way.

Borscht is infused during the day, acquiring a richer taste. Made according to the same recipe, it tastes differently every time.

Your relationship with this dish undergoes a transformation: as a child, you are pressured into eating it; then you wish that someone will cook it for you; finally, you start making borscht yourself or look for a restaurant serving national cuisine.

“Good evening. Are you ready to order? What can I get for you?” a friendly waiter asks you.

“We haven’t tried borscht here yet. Let’s go for it now!”

The terrace of the oldest Ukrainian restaurant in Kyiv. Music is playing. The city has not been bombed yet. Visitors order varenyky, borscht or deruny. Ukrainian borscht is served with wheat toast, salo, and garlic on the side.

People take their foreign friends here to show off the national cuisine and treat them to the food that makes us stronger.

“Eat borscht to grow up strong,” we have being told since childhood.

The most delicious Ukrainian borscht is served at home.

The dish that has recently been inscribed on UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage — as it deserves to be.

Author — Svitlana Stretovych, essayist, program director of Litosvita

Translator — Hanna Leliv

Illustrator — Victoria Boyko

Editor — Maryna Korchaka

Program Directors — Julia Ovcharenko, Demyan Om

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