At the beginning of March, a book entirely devoted to the specialties and culinary customs of Ukraine was published, published by La Martinière editions.
The author, Olena Braichenko, now back in Kiev, talks about her book. Specialties, export products, sharing, culinary transmission…
First of all, how are you and where are you currently?
Olena Braichenko : I just got back to a suburb of Kiev which was partially destroyed. Russian troops do not occupy the area. I have projects in Czech Republic and in Britain, so I would like to travel again. At the moment, however, it is difficult to see long-term projects… At home I have a extensive library† I like to take the time to digitize them. I really don’t want to lose them…
How did the project to write a book presenting all the peculiarities of Ukrainian cuisine come about?
At the request of the institution promoting the image of Ukraine abroad, I formed a team of researchers and leaders to: demonstrate the richness and uniqueness Ukrainian cuisine† Many people think that it is a version of Soviet gastronomy or that Ukrainian cuisine simply did not exist. The project first took on a digital form. I have been working in the food industry for ten years.
What is the difference between Ukrainian and Russian cuisine?
I must confess that I don’t like answering this question, at least when it’s phrased this way. It would be absurd to compare, for example, the cuisine of northern France with that of the south. My tension rises more when I hear this question than when a siren sounds… This is the notion of comparison which is sensitive.
What are the basics of Ukrainian cuisine?
The seasonality is essential in the DNA of Ukrainian cuisine. When the watermelons arriving, we know that this heralds the approaching arrival of fall. Winter becomes concrete when we enter the markets vegetables which will be used for fermented recipes. This concerns the cabbage for example. In my village, which was recently liberated, the inhabitants returned hastily so as not to miss the moment when it was time to plant the plant. potatoes† In a few weeks we will get the new potato, which we will cook with butter and dill. It is served with the first salads of cucumbers† It is a harbinger of summer.
In addition, the Ukrainian population has a very strong relationship with the animals† When my village was occupied by the conflict, the Russian soldiers interrogated my neighbor, who had stayed behind. They couldn’t understand why she hadn’t left the village. She replied : “I have two cows. I can’t go away and abandon them!”† There is a lot respect for the living†
One of the other peculiarities of Ukrainian cuisine is its ability to rationalize consumption† We know the store to make them last and store for a long time.
That is why the fermentation process is essential in the culinary culture of your country…
Absolutely, and there’s the to dry and the to smoke† It’s about apples, pears, cherries…
Is the concept of sharing important?
extreme hospitality is also part of our culinary culture. You cannot leave a Ukrainian family without being well fed. You will be offered a cake, such as a kind of pound cake with whipped cream, or small canapés for example.
To trade with you I had to go to a village with an internet connection. For the occasion I moved in with my sister. I had breakfast this morning, of course, but she didn’t fail to bake me some cakes! It’s part of him housewife duty†
In addition, when someone is invited, the latter must leave with a piece of what was prepared† It can be a dish to eat right away or to devour later. Food is a language of care and love. It is a way of showing your attachment to this person.
How does culinary transfer take place within your culture?
Ukrainian families are used to writing in notebooks their own recipes. These notebooks then pass from one woman to another. There are not many cookbooks devoted to Ukrainian gastronomy. The transfer actually takes place through exercise† First we observe how the cook works. Then you are invited to get your hands dirty.
Is the kitchen the prerogative of women or do men also go behind the stoves?
It is estimated that the kitchen more of a women’s affair† This is one of the qualities of a good housewife in Ukraine. Yet it is many men who run the professional kitchens.
Because of this conflict, many readers have discovered that Ukraine is rich in resources, especially wheat and rapeseed. What are the other emblematic culinary productions that we absolutely must know?
the rapeseedthe maize and the sunflower are indeed the flagship products exported by Ukraine. But there is also the Honey and berries like raspberries and the blueberries or even the cherries and the watermelons† And then, in the last five years, the country has developed a production ofsnails† 80% is destined for foreign markets. Ukraine finally exports poultryin particular from chicken to Europe, Japan and the United Arab Emirates.
Since the beginning of the conflict, several million refugees have been received throughout Europe. We will learn about their culture. Which specialties and recipes do you think they will teach us first in the kitchen?
They will definitely teach you how to make a borscht† They will cook too varenikipotato ravioli, but also stuffed cabbageby Ukrainian cutletswhich are breaded as for the Milanese version.
You mentioned borscht from the beginning. Is this the most emblematic recipe of your country’s culinary culture?
This is the dish that best represents the diversity of Ukrainian cuisine. It is prepared by a family and you can also find it à la carte at restaurant† It is also prepared for daily meal only for important events such as a wedding or after a funeral.
This conflict seeks to destabilize Ukrainian identity. Do you believe that the cuisine plays a role in representing and preserving Ukrainian identity?
Ukrainian identity is mainly based on values† It’s not just about cooking. We stand for freedom! We want our free and independent country†
(“Ukraine, cuisine and history” – Olena Braichenko, Maryna Hrymych, Ihor Lylo and Vitaly Reznichenko – Chefs: Yaroslav Artyukh, Vitaliy Guralevych, Denys Komarenko, V’Yacheslav Popkov, Oksana Zadorozhna and Olena Zhabotynska – Editions de La Martinière)