East Meets West: A Blend of Ukrainian and Indian Flavours
Around the globe, every culture has a food story to tell. From hawker street food in Singapore to kimchi in Korea, modern food culture is woven from a rich tapestry of history. Universally, food brings people together, and the act of eating represents a celebration of time-honoured traditions. What would a celebration or cultural festival be without the joy of food? Throughout the generations, recipes and cooking techniques have been handed down to keep the cultural flame alive. And in an increasingly shifting and globalised world, maintaining cultural diversity has become ever more critical. Food is an instant sensory passport to people’s homelands and an essential tool for teaching children the importance of culture, family, and identity.
Until recently, Ukraine, the second largest country in Europe, was one of the world’s largest cereal exporters and the largest producer of sunflower seeds (the sunflower is Ukraine’s national flower). Nicknamed “the breadbasket of Europe”, food and agriculture are vital to this Eastern European nation. This is evident in its national flag, which consists of two panels of blue and yellow, representing golden wheat crops under a clear, blue sky. While agriculture has always been a crucial element of Ukraine’s national identity, earlier this year, the devastating conflict cast a global spotlight on the Eastern European nation. And for Doha resident and Ukrainian-born expat, Mariya, these events crystallised one thing: “people didn’t know about Ukraine before the war.”
Born in the town of Izmail, Ukraine, a strategic port on the Danube River, Mariya grew up eating an array of freshwater fish such as herring, sturgeon, and catfish. She considers such fish “very sweet compared to sea fish” and enjoys them served in a cold salad. The meals she grew up with were wholesome and filling. They included dumplings, cabbage, sour cream, and the classic Ukrainian staple, borscht—a nourishing, earthy soup made with potatoes, carrots, and beetroot. Local farmers’ markets, a mainstay in Ukraine, supplied fresh cottage cheese, milk, and meats. Year-round, her family’s greenhouse provided a bounty of homegrown produce. Seasonal fruits such as homegrown plums, raspberries, strawberries, and yellow cherries were made into luscious jams and chutney and then stored in the family cold cellar for the long winter months. Even today, Mariya’s 82-year-old grandmother (like many of her generation) continues to grow cucumbers, strawberries, greens, pumpkins, and garlic.
In Doha, Mariya has an edible garden of her own where she grows an abundant array of produce, from cauliflower to okra. For Mariya, her husband Arif, and young son Jafar, food is an essential part of family life that readily blends their cultural backgrounds. Arif, a long-time Doha resident, was born in Lucknow, the capital of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, which is famous for its rich culture and culinary heritage. Mariya and Arif agree on the importance of cultural identity for “third culture kids”—a term referring to children who spend their formative years in a culture different from that of their parents. “It’s very important Jafar knows where he comes from because he has to know his roots,” says Mariya.
With two such culturally diverse cuisines, how does the family incorporate the earthy wholesomeness of Ukrainian food with the rich, spicy flavours of Indian cuisine in their daily menu? “Jafar loves both cuisines! We try to implement Ukrainian and Indian food into our family. Jafar also loves spicy food—my husband and I not so much and we tend to keep food light and simple,” shares Mariya.
Each morning for the family starts with waffles and fruit or traditional Ukrainian syrniki —a pancake made with cottage cheese, flour, eggs, and sugar, topped with jam and sour cream. Soup, including the iconic borscht, is a daily staple. “[Ukraine] has a very big culture of soups,” she explains. Mariya usually prepares a clear soup from chicken broth or meat-based bouillon with lots of chopped vegetables. At dinner, parathas and curry are the usual family favourites. For this expat family, food is a delicious manifestation of East-meets-West and a cherished tool for honouring their cultures.
1. Beetroot salad
- 1 carrot
- 1 beetroot
- 2 potatoes
- 3 large pickles
- 1 green onion
- 1 small can processed peas
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- Remove skin from beetroot, potatoes, and carrots. Chop into bite-size pieces.
- Add to a saucepan of boiling water and cook until done.
- Drain and set aside until cool.
- In a large bowl, add cooked beetroot, potato, and carrots.
- Chop pickles and finely slice green onion. Add to bowl.
- Drain can of processed peas and add to bowl.
- Add salt and olive oil. Mix gently.
A staple in Ukraine and other parts of Eastern Europe, these sweet, cheesy treats are generally served at breakfast but are delicious any time of the day.
- 200g plain cottage cheese
- 1 egg
- 2 tbsp semolina
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp baking powder
- 2–3 tbsp castor sugar
- 1/4 cup raisins (optional)
- Sunflower oil
- In a large bowl, add cottage cheese. Mash with a fork.
- Add egg, sugar, salt and baking powder. Mix well.
- Add semolina and raisins. Mix well. Set aside for 15 minutes
- Lightly dust kitchen counter surface with flour.
- With your hands, form equal doughballs from mixture (similar size to a golf ball) and place onto flour. Flatten slightly into round disks, coating all sides with flour. Set aside.
- In a frying pan, gently heat sunflower oil.
- Add syrniki pancakes and fry on both sides until golden brown.
- Serve with sour cream or yoghurt.
Indian Mango Cream
This refreshingly light and easy dessert can be ready in minutes.
- 2 cups of heavy cream
- 3 tbsp condensed milk
- 3–4 mangoes
- Mint (Optional)
- Peel and slice half the mangoes. Set remaining mangoes aside.
- Add to food processor and blend until smooth.
- In a large bowl, add cream and condensed milk. Whip until firm.
- Add blended mangoes. Combine well.
- In small serving cups or bowls, equally distribute mixture.
- Peel and slice remaining mangoes. Add to top of mango cream.
- Decorate with fresh mint.