Next Stop: Ukraine 🇺🇦
What does Ukraine actually look like? Plus, my BBC story on vegetarian Ashkeanzi cooking
Ukraine is on my mind for obvious reasons. I’ve only spent a day in the country, crossing the border by foot from Sighet, Romania and returning later that evening. As a friend later told me, I had a meal there so I can officially say I’ve been to Ukraine. (I also had coffee and cake. Look at me go!)
But I did more than just have a meal (coincidentally one of my favorite of the trip––a collection of roasted veggies served in a hot stone bowl with a side of warm bread). I visited as an extension of my heritage trip to Sighet, where it seems my great-grandmother, Bertha Lax, emigrated from to the United States in the early 20th Century. One of the local researchers helping me during my stay looked over my genealogical records again and recognized the name of the towns listed as the birthplaces of Bertha’s parents (my great-great-grandparents, if you’re keeping score)––Solotvyno and Tyachiv, Ukraine.
It made sense. Back when my ancestors would’ve been hanging around, the region was better known as Maramures (still is in Romania) and was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Sighet was a bigger city and hub of Jewish life at the time, so it follows that my ancestors would’ve made their way over there.
Although brief, I really enjoyed my time in both Solotvyno and Tyachiv. It was a special, unique experience for me; an opportunity to travel someplace I likely never would’ve had it not been for my ancestors. I got a taste of small-town Ukrainian life, saw the green countryside whiz by my window, and stepped into the past as I visited the synagogues of yesteryear around the corner from Jewish cemeteries that hold the souls of Yiddishland.
I imagined myself returning sooner rather than later. Lviv and Odessa had long been on my travel wish list. Plus my experience with Ukrainian cuisine is woefully limited, so much so that I’ve relied on cookbooks just to get a taste. Last year I made pampushky, a wildly delicious pull-apart garlic bread, and I’ve got a Ukrainian borscht recipe on my radar. (Though I’ve been warned that there are as many recipes for borscht in Ukraine as there are people.)
By the by, I saw someone share the post below on what Ukraine actually looks like. I thought I’d leave it here since I think most folks from the US imagine Eastern Europe as just rows of brutalist buildings under an endless gray sky; a place where ruthless babies steal candy from other slightly less ruthless babies.
The loss of my hypothetical trips is hardly the point. Obviously, my concern rests entirely with Ukraine and Ukrainians both at home and abroad.
On that note, I want to sign off by turning your attention to a UK-based Ukrainian chef I recently learned about. Her name is Olia Hercules. Maybe you've already heard of her. She's the award-winning author of Mamushka and Summer Kitchens, both filled with Ukrainian recipes from across the country as well as her own family recipes.
This post she wrote up following Putin’s brushing aside of Ukrainian history is what first caught my attention.
“You may be rattling your sabre,” she writes. “But we have a million cloaked ghosts right behind us, sharpening their scythes, waiting for you.”
What Jew Makin’ For Dinner?
Remember a couple of weeks ago when I took you with me to Vilna, cooking up a storm in the Jewish kitchens of 1930s Eastern Europe? Well, the fruits of that labor are now up at BBC Travel; a piece where I look at the return of Ashkenazi cooking to its plant-forward roots.
Ukraine in the Membrane
Not mine, but I wanted to send readers to this write-up by Talia Lavin with some easily digestible background on Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. If you really want to go down the rabbit hole, the piece points to additional writers and reporters you can follow.
Then, put this tune on from Ukraine’s Go_A. The song “Shum” was Ukraine’s Eurovision entry last year. People who know me know that this genre is not typically my jam. But this? This is my jamb. As the youths say these days, it absolutely slays. (You can read this English explanation of the Ukrainian folklore behind the lyrics.)