Tales of a Recovering Vegetarian

3 Nov 2010 by admin, 3 Comments »

Before coming to Ukraine I had been vegetarian for five years and anyone who has lived with me can also attest to occasional forays into veganism. I had decided long before coming to Ukraine that I would break my vegetarianism when I moved here. Once my departure was official, I started reintroducing meat into my diet. My roommates from this time can tell you that me trying to learn how to cook meat was usually the entertainment of the night.

I personally decided to start eating meat again for one main reason: I didn’t want to be seen as rude or difficult. If you are planning on moving to Ukraine and are vegetarian I would highly recommend considering your options. If you are planing on just visiting Ukraine and maintaining your vegetarianism here are some tips:

  • Study your food words in Ukrainian and Russian
  • Your soup will be meat-broth based, except this and move on.
  • The breakfast of champions is a Snickers and bag of chips
  • Your options in winter are going to be fewer then your options in summer
  • Expect meat to pop up in places you wouldn’t think it would be
  • ?????? (potato pancakes) is usually a safe bet.

For my carnivores I have advice for you too. My top three favorite foods that include meat in Ukraine:

  • ????? (borscht) – If Ukraine had a national food it would be borscht. If you visit Ukraine and don’t have borscht at least once I would have to say you didn’t really experience Ukraine. Every restaurant, even the Italian ones, have borscht on the menu. Excellent with a side of ???????? (papmpushkas), fluffy garlic rolls.
  • ??????? (holypsi) – Cabbage rolls stuffed with rice, onion, and ground-up meat simmered in a pot of tomato broth. These are the first Ukrainian food that I will make for my friends and family back in the states.
  • ??????? (shashleek) – The Ukrainian version of barbeque. Juicy chunks of pork slow cooked over charcoal. A dish that defiantly calls for a cold beer or a few shots of vodka.

Being a vegetarian in Ukraine is not impossible. I know many Americans who live here and have maintained a vegetarian diet. I also know a small handful of Ukrainians who are vegetarian. I remember one conversation with a Ukrainian where she told me she is the only vegetarian in her family and is viewed as an anomaly. The way I see it is this: there is a Ukrainian word for vegetarian so people here are aware of the concept but will still give you a hard time when you tell your food preference. You should see the looks I get when I explain veganism.

Julia Grebenstein is a Peace Corps Youth Development Volunteer working in Central Ukraine. To read more about her experiences in Ukraine, follow her blog at http://jgrebenstein.wordpress.com/.


  1. Kevin says:

    Vegetarians are indeed considered either sickly or insane by most Ukrainians. But it wasn’t always the case. Pre-revolution, there was a burgeoning vegetarian movement among the intelligensia. Tolstoy was the most famous of this bunch.

    The communists, unfortunately, somehow found vegetarianism (with its pacifist overtones) to be a threat to their political philosophy, and it was suppressed along with deistic religion.

  2. Sue says:

    Julia! I forgot all about you doing this until I read your post. I am so glad that it is working out for you, but we can still make some vegan delectables when you come back to visit if you want! I didn’t tell the local Ukranians 😉 that you will be back to visit – so you can surprise them with your language skills! Can’t wait to see you.

  3. […] In other news I have a guest post up on Travel to Ukraine Official Blog called Tales of a Recovering Vegetarian. […]

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