Anthony Bourdain in Ukraine:
9 Ukrainian Foods Tony Ate
Many people a surprised to learn that the name “Ukraine” comes from an old Slavic term for “borderland.” The Polish term Ukrajina first emerged during the 16th century and by the 18th century, the French introduced the name l’Ukraine – a name that was used until the 1990s when “The Ukraine” became the independent nation of “Ukraine” (source). As a borderland, Ukraine has been strategically important, and the subject of global attention in the 2020s due to Russian aggression in the “borderlands” they share with Europe.
Ukraine: Europe’s bread basket. A large and quite beautiful former Soviet republic still wrapped in a complicated and uncomfortable embrace with its former overlord.Anthony Bourdain
Anthony Bourdain visited Ukraine to film episode 14 of season 7 of No Reservations; it was his only on-screen visit to the former Soviet state, and he was accompanied by friend and many-time travel companion Zamir Gotta – who claimed family origin to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014 (three years after their visit). The pair start by visiting Crimea, then head to Chernobyl before ending in Kyiv, the capital.
This destination recap is a little bit different; due to the war in Ukraine and general difficulty verifying the places that Tony and Zamir ate, I decided to focus instead on the food rather than the places. In this post, you’ll see a list of Ukrainian foods you should seek out if visiting Ukraine (hopefully someday when it’s safer to do so), or to try in your own community if you can support a Ukrainian restaurant.
Ready to sink your teeth into some of the foods tried by Anthony Bourdain in Ukraine? Here’s a list of some of the best options.
Want to watch the episode where Anthony Bourdain visits Ukraine?
The No Reservations episode is available on Amazon, Hulu, and Apple TV.
Ukrainian Black Bread
Throughout his trip to Ukraine, Anthony Bourdain mentions that the bread he eats there is delicious. Ukrainian Black Bread, a dense form of rye that’s darker than other varieties, is a popular accompaniment to other dishes.
I found this recipe for traditional Ukrainian Black Bread if you love baking and want to try making it yourself.
Pictured above, Salo is one of Zamir’s favorite Ukrainian foods; he enjoys it so much that Tony actually asks to skip it for a few meals in favor of other dishes. Salo is cured slabs of fatback (or occasionally pork belly, as Bourdain notes), and is particularly popular in Ukraine.
Herring with Boiled Potatoes
I did a lot of research to see if this dish has a Ukrainian name, but as far as I can tell, herring with boiled potatoes is just exactly what it sounds like. In the version Bourdain tried, the herring was fried and served with potatoes and onions as an appetizer to help absorb the copious amount of vodka that he and Zamir drink.
I found this recipe for a marinated version if you’re planning a similar culinary (and drinking) experience.
Around the world, you can find many examples of delicious, hand-held meat pies – and Ukraine (specifically Crimea, where Tony and Zamir start the episode) has its own version, called Chebureki. Specifically, Chebureki is considered a national dish of Crimean Tartar cuisine, and you can find it as a street food in former Soviet states, including Eastern Europe, Central Asia (like Uzbekistan, which they also visit), and Russia.
Chebureki is a deep-fried turnover with a filling of ground or minced meat and onions, and the place they eat it is called “Sala Sheik Restaurant,” though I can’t verify if this restaurant still exists or is open to visitors.
If you’ve heard of Varenyky before, it might be because there’s a Russian dish of the same name – but as this is a guide to Ukrainian food that Anthony Bourdain ate, I’ll stick with the Ukrainian spelling.
Varenyky are dumplings boiled in salt water; the most common filling is potato, but Tony tries ones with ground beef filling, sprinkled with dill, and with a side of sour cream. He tries this food at a restaurant in Kyiv called “Аэ Борщ,” which translates as “Ah, Borscht.”
Speaking of borscht, Anthony Bourdain decides to seek out a particular version of this popular sour soup in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Green Borscht is a particular variety of borscht that’s cooked traditionally with sorrel; today you’ll find a lot of restaurants use spinach in addition or instead. The one Tony tries at Аэ Борщ is similar to the photo above, containing eggs, dill, sorrel, and meat.
Anthony Bourdain also tries one more “traditional” dish in Kyiv: Chicken Kiev. In addition to its origins, the name is also uncertain: in Ukraine, this dish is often called côtelette de volaille or котлета по-київськи (“Kyiv-style cutlet”) and likely dates back to a time when Russian chefs sought to emulate their French counterparts in the types of dishes they offered.
In any case, Chicken Kiev today is much as it was originally prepared back in the 18th century when it became popular: chicken pounded and wrapped around butter, then battered in breadcrumbs and fried. The one that Tony eats at Аэ Борщ doesn’t particularly impress him, and probably counts more as tourist food than a local option – but it’s still going to be on a lot of menus if you’re looking for a low-risk option.
Last but certainly not least on the list of Ukrainian foods Tony Bourdain ate during his visit, he and Zamir head to Старий квартал (“Staryy Kvartal”) in Kyiv, for a necessary Bourdain food: street sausage.
In the Ukraine, that comes in the form of Perepichka, which basically means a hot dog cooked inside a “piñata of dough” (Tony’s words). Bourdain is mildly impressed, though probably not by the long line of people he had to wait in to get this snack.
Ukrainian Horilka (Vodka)
No list of Anthony Bourdain’s exploits in Ukraine would be complete without mentioning the drink he and Zamir partake so much of: Ukrainian vodka, or horilka. Zamir orders several bottles of this over the course of their travels in Ukraine and is particularly fond of a “pepper vodka” that the pair try a few different times.
Where Anthony Bourdain Ate in Kyiv
Though I said I wanted to focus on the Ukrainian food Tony ate, I thought it would be helpful to list the three restaurants I mentioned above in one place:
- Аэ Борщ (Closed?) – A restaurant that specializes in a variety of Ukrainian dishes, including (as the name suggests), borscht.
- Старий квартал – A street food stall where Anthony Bourdain eats his essential street meat in Kyiv: perepichka.
- Besarabsky Market – A market where Tony and Zamir stock up on food for a picnic, including fresh bread, sausage, pickles, apples, cucumbers, smoked sturgeon, and Russian caviar.
- McFoxy – I didn’t mention it because it’s a direct competitor of a fast-food restaurant with a similar name, but Tony and Zamir have a meal here too, of “Foxy balls,” nuggets, fries, and fast food sandwiches.
Have any other questions about the Ukrainian foods eaten and places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Ukraine? Please let me know in the comments.