8 Must-Try Comfort Foods Of Ukraine

Long before Ukraine became indelibly associated with war and heartache, it was celebrated for its rich culture and food. Everything from its famed tradition of intricately decorated Easter eggs to iconic dishes like chicken Kyiv reflects a passion for embracing everyday pleasures. The country's food is also a reflection of its location: While fertile land and skilled farmers have given Ukrainian cooks a bounty of fruits, vegetables, and grains to work with, the region's long, cold winters have also required them to master food preservation techniques such as smoking, curing, and pickling. This means Ukrainian food features both hearty, wintery dishes such as stuffed cabbage, along with tangy, vegetable-forward preparations.

Ukraine's cuisine is also influenced by its neighbors, and many favorite dishes in the country closely resemble those popular in Russia and Eastern Europe. Numerous variations of borscht, for example, can be found in Ukraine. There are both hot and cold versions of borscht, as well as versions with and without beets. Ukrainian cuisine is also colored by the cultures of historical invaders, such as Turkey and Germany. However, several features set Ukrainian cuisine apart from that of its neighbors. Beef, for example, is less common in Ukrainian cooking than in neighboring Russia, since Ukrainian cattle were used primarily as draft animals. But while the history of Ukrainian cuisine is complex, the end result is easy-to-enjoy comfort food.


Stuffed dumplings are beloved across Eastern Europe, and in Ukraine, varenyky are the dumpling of choice. These little treats are not only one of Ukraine's most famous traditional dishes, but they are so popular that the town of Bukovel hosts a festival every year to celebrate them.

At first glance, varenyky — which can be filled with either savory ingredients like mushrooms or meat as an appetizer, or with sweet ingredients such as fruit for dessert — bear a close resemblance to Polish pierogi. However, varenyky are typically smaller and have thinner, more delicate skins. They are made with a dough of flour and eggs that's rolled thin and cut into bite-sized rounds, which are then folded into half-moons over the filling of your choice. The filled, sealed bites are then boiled until they float to the surface. Depending on the flavor you choose, these easy-to-eat bites can be mild or packed with flavor, making them comfort food for every palate. But whichever version you prefer, in our opinion, serving it with sour cream is non-negotiable: Some Ukrainian cooks wouldn't even think of making or serving varenyky unless they had sour cream in the house.


Always a welcome and comforting breakfast, pancakes are enjoyed around the world. In Ukraine, syrnyky, or fried cheese pancakes, are the breakfast pancake of choice. Smaller than American pancakes — each one is just a few bites — they are also richer and denser, meaning you need only a few of the tasty treats (along with some sour cream, jam, or fresh fruit) to feel properly nourished.

One reason syrnyky are such a popular breakfast in Ukraine — besides their delicious flavor — is that they're even easier to make than American pancakes, provided you can find the right type of cheese. Syrnyky are traditionally made with syr, a Ukrainian-style farmer cheese that is mild, white, and crumbly — but while syr is easy to find in Ukraine, U.S. cooks might have to seek it out through a specialty purveyor or make it themselves, as Ukrainian cooks sometimes do. Once you've acquired the cheese, mix it with flour, egg, and a little sugar to make a soft dough (by tradition, the pancakes are molded by hand). Shape them into biscuit-sized disks and fry in hot oil on both sides until golden brown, then serve with the toppings of your choice. The combination of warm, slightly sweet cheese and tangy-sweet fruit offers the same comforting vibe of a good cheesecake.


The term "comfort food" often evokes rich, warm, cold-weather dishes like macaroni and cheese or potato casseroles. But comfort is needed in warm weather as well, and sometimes lighter, more vibrant dishes offer just the soothing-yet-refreshing experience needed when the summer doldrums hit. While cold-weather comfort food feels like a warm blanket on a chilly day, warm-weather comfort food should feel like that first gust of air conditioning upon stepping into a friend's beach house.

Ukrainian cooks understand this, and while they're renowned for their stick-to-the-ribs wintery comfort foods, they also offer plenty of comforting and refreshing dishes for the warmer months. Among these wholesome treats is okroshka, an invigorating chilled soup made of eggs, boiled potatoes, sour cream, dill, and finely chopped raw vegetables such as cucumbers and radishes. Kvass, a tangy fermented beverage made from rye bread, adds a distinctively refreshing flavor accent. To further enhance okroshka's cooling effects, some cooks even add ice cubes to the finished soup. If you're feeling worn out on a hot day, nothing will make you feel more nourished or cared for.

Chicken Kyiv

Chicken Kyiv is arguably the best-known example of Ukrainian cooking to diners around the world. This elegant dish of breaded chicken stuffed with herbed butter — which forms a tantalizing sauce that pours out from the chicken when cut into — has become a staple on banquet and restaurant menus, as well as in frozen-food aisles.

But as is the case with many good ideas, a number of different parties have fought over credit for the dish. Russians have claimed chicken Kyiv as their invention, while French food lovers have also staked a claim, with some chefs saying the dish was originally made in Paris with veal instead of chicken. A far less verifiable — though fun — origin story places its creation in Great Britain, specifically in the product development department of Marks & Spencer, where the pursuit of novel convenience foods led to its birth.

Whatever the real story behind its origins, chicken Kyiv remains comfort food par excellence. Its familiar, easy-to-like flavors are presented in an unusual but approachable package.


Stuffed cabbage is a popular dish across Eastern Europe and Turkey, and Ukrainian cooks have created numerous variations of this regional favorite. The Ukrainian name for the dish, holubtsi, is derived from the word for pigeon, reflecting the dish's aristocratic origins when pigeons were wrapped in cabbage leaves and grilled for traditional banquets.

Over time, creative cooks replaced the pigeon with a range of other fillings, such as meat, vegetables, and grains like buckwheat, but the dish continued to be considered a special-occasion food — reserved for events like weddings and significant holidays including Christmas — for a long while. Eventually, cooks began offering the dish as an everyday meal; its combination of savory cabbage and rich, flavorful stuffing makes it a filling and comforting option. Both meat-filled and vegetarian versions of holubtsi abound, though most variations are topped with tomato sauce or mushroom sauce. But while holubtsi is now on regular weeknight rotation in many Ukrainian homes, it's still expected to appear on the table during traditional Christmas dinners.


Nalysnyki — thin, crispy-edged, buttery crêpes traditionally made with wheat, buckwheat flour, or cornmeal —are another beloved comfort food in Ukrainian homes. Like the better-known French crêpes, they're made by mixing eggs, milk, flour, and melted butter into a smooth batter, then letting it rest for a few hours before cooking. The thin batter is then ladled into a hot pan and cooked on both sides to form brown-edged crêpes.

Nalysnyky can be filled with a range of options, from savory ones like meat or mushrooms, to sweet ones such as jam or fruit. A special favorite among many families, however, is farmer cheese sweetened with sugar and flavored with vanilla and raisins. To fill your nalysnyky the traditional way, spread a thin layer of the filling onto each pancake before rolling it into a tight tube. Sweet nalysnyky can be served as breakfast or dessert, and they are sometimes even served between the main course and dessert. Whether you try the sweet or savory version, you'll enjoy a rich, satisfying dish that's sure to please.


While potatoes are now a staple crop and cooking ingredient in Ukraine, this is a fairly recent development. Even though potatoes have been cultivated in the country since the 18th century, for a century or more, they were primarily used to make alcohol and starch. It was only in the 20th century that Ukrainian cooks discovered how tasty and comforting potatoes could be, and they quickly became a favorite ingredient — so much so that in 2020, Ukraine was ranked the world's third-biggest producer of potatoes. 

Potatoes are prominently featured in deruni, or Ukrainian potato pancakes. These pancakes often star as the main course in meatless meals (whether for breakfast, lunch, or dinner), but they can also make a hearty and flavorful side dish. Like most potato pancakes, deruni — golden and crispy on the outside, soft and savory within — are wonderfully comforting to eat, but they're made with very finely grated potatoes, rather than with larger potato shreds. The potatoes are then flavored with grated onion and bound with eggs and flour, while a touch of baking soda lightens their texture. To make them into an even more substantial main dish, top them with a sauce made of sour cream and cooked mushrooms and onions.


If there's ever a time your body screams for comfort, it's after a long night of partying. And if you're at a traditional Ukrainian celebration, you might be invited to partake in shots of horilka, a vodka-like drink distilled from grains or potatoes. The fact that the word "horilka" derives from a Ukrainian word that means "to burn" should give you an idea of its effects. (Hint: All those tiny little shots add up dangerously fast.)

Should you find yourself in need of morning-after comfort (or an emergency hangover cure), follow Ukrainian tradition and seek out a bowl of solyanka: a tangy, deeply flavorful soup that often features multiple types of meat including bacon, sausage, and beef. To this already deeply flavored soup base, the defining ingredient of the dish — cucumber pickles and a substantial quantity of pickle juice — are added. The bracingly sour notes contributed by the pickle juice, along with other flavorful ingredients such as tomatoes, onions, and capers, are what make solyanka Ukrainians' go-to dish for post-party self-care.