UKRAINE: Coffee, tea, and herbal teas

Ukraine is mainly a tea country, with the strong traditional black tea culture, but coffee and other tea drinks are popular too. Taya Ukraine has a bit of an explanation of contemporary caffeine culture in Ukraine from Jan 2020 (the before times!). Those seasonal winter coffee and mulled wine stalls look really lovely.

There’s also a lot of herbal teas drunk in Ukraine, including made from local ingredients. I picked up a few from imports from Lakomka Deli – really just picking ones at random from Ukraine that look interested. Let’s see what I got!

Chicory with rosehip – Roasted chicory root has been used as a coffee substitute for centuries – the taste is similar, though there’s no caffeine. I’ve had it blended with coffee before (makes a nuttier coffee) but this is straight chicory, with some rosehip in it. I’m having it black – it tastes like a lighter coffee, with a bit of a citrusy tang from the rosehip. It’s quite pleasant, and nice for coffee flavour in the evenings.

Naturalis Uro-Natur – Meant to be good for your urinary system, this herbal tea is a mix of birch and bearberry leaves, knotweed, nettle, yarrow, and a bit of green tea in for good measure. Birch grows all over the northern hemisphere, and can be tapped like maple trees. I’ve had birch syrup and birch water, but I’ve never tried the leaves for tea. Very mild tasting tea, slightly bitter and herbal, but doesn’t taste like much. Birch leaves do have a long history as part of traditional medicine, as it can be a diuretic (hence the brand) and contains a mild amount of salicylates, which are a precursor to painkillers like aspirin.

Naturalis Seagull – Why seagull? No idea, it’s not a translation error, there’s one also on the box. It’s a herbal tea violet, licorice, and marshmallow root, plus some eucalyptus and chamomile, with another dusting of green tea. It’s very nice, the licorice and eucalyptus gives it a stronger, slightly medicinal taste but in a good way. Some brief googling shows that sometimes violet roots are edible and sometimes …poisonous? These ones are fine, though!

Liktravy Pine Buds – A lot of people aren’t aware that conifers are edible – and tasty! You can make tea year-round from the needles of almost all species of pine, spruce, and fir (not yew or hemlock, though, so make sure to ID correctly) and even eat the needle shoots raw in the early spring. This tea made from the buds of a Scotch Pine, which grows in Eurasia and is invasive in Canada. The buds take a while to steep, but they release this wonderful strong pine resin flavour. I absolutely love this, it’s like a walk in the woods in a cup. I think once I’m done this box, I’ll do my civic duty to stop invasive species by pilfering more buds from the woods.

UKRAINE: Zelenskyy’s May 9th speech

I’m rarely topical, but President Zelenskyy’s speech today reclaiming May 9th as Victory Day for Ukraine is worth a listen. It’s extremely powerful counter-propaganda, as Russia and Ukraine are both trying to use USSR’s victory over Germany in WWII to frame the narrative on the current war.

Also, most world leaders age quickly when they get into office, but that prior footage is less than a year old! Though, in all fairness, most world leaders aren’t actively being shelled in their own capital by an invading army.

UKRAINE: Kievan Rus and St. Olga of Kyiv

Like many pieces of history right now, there’s a deep divide over who it truly “belongs to”. The Kievan Rus are claimed as foundational nations by Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, and is part of competing narratives over Ukraine and an independant nation vs. a “brotherly nation”/subset of Russia, as the Kievan Rus were based in Kyiv, and originated Russian royal families. However, the Kievan Rus’ foundational dynasty were originally Varangian – Swedish vikings that had traded, raided, and settled down the rivers into Eastern Europe, and they largely held a loose confederation of land, not a single unified empire.

One of the best stories of the Kievan Rus is the tale of St. Olga of Kyiv – a woman who was probably sainted to stop her from murdering more people (this actually happened a lot in the late viking era). Her story is likely largely embellished in the historical record, but boy it is a hell of a tale. This is where the reference of “sending pigeons” from Ukrainian stand-up comes from – to destroy an enemy city by requesting a bird from the rafters of each house of the city as her wedding gift, then tying burning cloth to all the birds and letting them fly back to the thatched roofs. The whole great gory story is here, worthy of an action movie:

UKRAINE: Pampushky

I had never made bread successfully from scratch before starting Locally Foreign. I had my first real success with Uzbek non, but I think this one is my biggest bread triumph so far: Ukrainian garlic buns called pampushky. I used this recipe from Leite’s Culinaria. It was surprisingly easy, though the first proofing is overnight, so you need to plan ahead. I went on the absolute minimum of proofing time – 8 hours for the first, and 1 hour for the second, and they still turned out fluffy and soft. Basting the garlic oil onto the hot buns right out of the oven had a satisfying sizzle, and using the remaining oil for a dip was a galaxy brain move – I still have garlic coming out of my pores the next day. Totally worth it.

UKRAINE: Hrechanyky / baked kasha

This was one of those culinary failures that had a successful salvage. Buckwheat is a hearty countryside staple of Ukrainian cuisine, and it’s often cooked as kasha – cooking the grain with veggies and meat and other good things. However, I had scored a bag of toasted Ukrainian buckwheat, and I was feeling clever. I was aiming to make hrechanyky – cutlets made out of boiled buckwheat and meat, browned in a pan, then baked in the oven using the recipe from Authentic Ukraine.

I know where I messed up, and the fault was totally mine for not reading the recipe thoroughly. I measured out the uncooked weight of buckwheat instead of cooked – and kasha is kind of like rice for expansion of volume and weight, so I ended up with WAY more kasha than meat….or anything else. While I did increase the eggs, the patties just weren’t really holding together, and I got maybe one or two to make it through the bowl to the dredge to the pan to the oven. They did come out delicious, though.

Not good, but tasty

So instead, I put the rest of the buckwheat / meat / egg / onion mix into a baking pan and threw it into the oven. Boom! Baked kasha – I had improvised myself into a version of a different Ukrainian dish, and it worked well enough. I originally boiled the buckwheat in broth to increase the flavour, and I had a homemade smoked chicken broth in my freezer that really added to the toasty flavour already there.

UKRAINE: Jungle in a castle / Ukrainian hardstyle

The Crimson Room at Pidhirsti (1871) by Aleksander GryglewskiSource

I’m adding to my list of DJ sets in unusual locations – first up a mountain in winter in Finland, then by a lake of liquid asphalt in Trinidad, now at an abandoned castle in Ukraine! Pidhirsti Castle dates back to the 1600s when the area around Lviv was part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. There’s some great drone shots of it in the video.

As for the set, it’s a really fire collab between Ukrainian DJs Nastia and Daria Kolosova – very heavy driving jungle / drum&bass, slightly industrial.

When you think of electronic music in Eastern Europe, hardstyle more often comes up (including hardbass, a subset that emerged in Russia, and is used in memes). Like metal, there’s fine-grained stylistic differences between genres – d&b is faster and syncopated, hardstyle is more harmonic and distorted, usually with vocals. Here’s a whole mix of hardstyle from Ukrainian musicians, in case you want to keep the dance party going.

UKRAINE: Stand-up comedy in a bomb shelter

Felix Redka in Sumy, March 21, 2022 – Source

The war in Ukraine has had some very incongruous moments, scenes that could be from WWII but with modern technology. One of these is stand-up comedy in bomb shelters, professionally edited and uploaded online, despite the bombardment outside. There’s several videos out there with subtitles, more without, but I really recommend this set by comedian Felix Redka in a bomb shelter in Sumy – he’s quite funny, with dark wartime gallows humour, and the English subtitles are excellent.

UKRAINE: Snacks

Understandably, with the active fighting, the refugee crisis, and the war economy, exports from Ukraine have dropped off very quickly in the last two months. I still wanted to try Ukrainian snacks (I try to get exported snacks from every country if possible), so I had to rely on things already exported to Canada when the invasion happened. I put in a big order from Ukreations, a Canadian supplier of Ukrainian snacks, apparel, and handicrafts, and then got a haul from Lakomka Deli, a really good Eastern European grocery here in Ottawa. I’ve got enough for several posts this month (and so much that I’ll be treating coworkers for weeks).

33 Cows sour cream cookies – The English and Ukrainian sides of the wrapper say sour cream, the French and import label just say cream flavoured cookies, so it’ll be a surprise! These are tasty little cookies with the consistency of arrowroot biscuits and a sweet, vanilla, condensed milk flavour – there’s a little bit of a citrusy tang to them too. Smetana it is!

Roshen Karolina Orange Cake – Roshen is a huge snack manufacturer in Ukraine, named after Petro Poroshenko, who came from a classic oligarch background of snapping up state snack companies in Ukraine after the fall of the Soviet Union. However, that name may be more familiar for a different reason, as Poroshenko was President of Ukraine from 2014-2019. He helped solidify Ukraine’s turn away from Russia and towards NATO/Europe after the loss of Crimea, but also was implicated in huge corruption scandals – and was about to run head to head against Zelenskyy over possibly politically-motivated treason charges in January this year. However, Russia invaded shortly after, and Poroshenko was last seen commanding a military battalion in the Ukrainian defence forces. As for the cookies? They’re identical to Jaffa Cakes: soft cookie, chocolate, tangy orange filling. Very tasty.

Roshen Korivka – I really like the old school wrapper with the pretty flower and cow design. These are soft caramel bars, with an intensely sweet caramel sugary-texture outside and toffee fondant inside. I selling point is that the filling is supposed to stay liquid, but I think it solidified in the long trip to Canada. These are intensely sweet in the “eat a spoonful of sugar” kind of way.

Roshen Crazy Bee – Soft, chewy candies with a jelly filling. Really satisfying texture, and the flavours are all tasty, though it’s a surprise what each one will be, the wrapping is all identical. There’s orange, grapefruit, sour cherry, wild berry, lemon-lime, and strawberry. Too easy to eat the whole bag!

UKRAINE: Jewish Chernobyl

The ruins of Chernobyl’s synagogue – Source: Pierpaolo Mittica

The town of Chernobyl didn’t just spring out of nowhere on April 26, 1986 – it was a long-standing town in northern Ukraine. Chernobyl the town is about 15km south of the power plant (most plant workers lived in Pripyat, the company town built around the reactor). The town has a deep Jewish history, and has been a site of Hasidic pilgrimage for decades – there still is the Chernobyl Hasidic dynasty today.

The Jewish community in Chernobyl, like other Jewish communities in what was the Pale of Settlement, faced pogroms and violence through the centuries. The majority of the Jewish population was murdered during the Holocaust. After the war, the surviving Ukrainian Jews faced the repression of organized religion in the Soviet Union, and many left for Israel or North America. Those who emigrated over the years still feel deep ties to the region, like the Twersky family of Chernobyl Hasidic lineage (warning: Holocaust footage):

When the nuclear disaster happened in 1986, the town of Chernobyl was evacuated and abandoned, with the Ukrainian and Jewish populations scattering across the Soviet Union. Most of the USSR’s Jewish population would later emigrate to Israel, the US, and Canada at the end of the Cold War, though there still is a solid Jewish population in Ukraine today, including Ukrainian President Zelenskyy.

Ukraine still remains an important site of pilgrimage for Hasidic Jews, including the Chernobyl dynasty’s tombs (as well as the location of many family graves). For a personal account of reconnecting with Chernobyl, I’d recommend the article “Why Chernobyl’s Jewish History Still Matters — 31 Years After The Accident” by Anna Khandros, plus Pierpaolo Mittica’s photoessay “Chernobyl before Chernobyl: The Hasidic Jews’ Pilgrimage“.

If you’re interested in learning about other Jewish communities in the former USSR, I covered the Bukharan Jewish community in Uzbekistan last year.