Who Really Owns Borsch ?

In Canada, our homegrown beets are being harvested now and many of you, like myself, are making Borsch. I ran across this article from a Travel website. Instead of weighing in on the discussion, I thought you would enjoy reading it and then you can decide.

Food Wars is a series from BBC Travel that invites you to feel the heat when passions flare around beloved dishes that shape a culture’s identity.

• By Andrew EvanS

15 October 2019

Soup should never be your go-to weapon in a food fight. As projectiles go, a bowl of chunky liquid proves messy and lacks precision. Fist-size bread rolls are more effective – or, say, chocolate pudding catapulted from a spoon. In Russia though, the latest food fight is all about soup, and it’s being hurled from the walls of the Kremlin via Twitter.

The soup war boiled over into social media this year, when @Russia (the official Twitter account for the Russian Federation’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs) tweeted: “A timeless classic, #Borsch is one of Russia’s most famous & beloved #dishes & a symbol of traditional cuisine”.

To the average Twitter skimmer, Russians broadcasting about borsch may seem obvious and innocuous, but for Ukrainians, who consider borsch to be their national dish, the Russian tweet is wartime propaganda, especially considering the current occupation of Crimea and the latest territorial conflict in eastern Ukraine that’s been raging since 2014. The Ukrainian Twittersphere responded with anger and humour, with comments like “As if stealing Crimea wasn’t enough, you had to go and steal borsch from Ukraine as well”.

A war over who owns borsch has boiled over on social media this year (Credit: Denis Karpenkov/Alamy)

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Borsch (борщ in Cyrillic) is a hearty soup, usually coloured red from beetroot (though green and white varieties of the soup exist), and for centuries, it has been a daily staple in the Ukrainian kitchen. For many, Russia’s claim on such a quintessentially Ukrainian dish embodies a much larger trend of Russia’s historical oppression of Ukrainian language, politics, and, above all, independence.

According to Alex Kokcharov, a London-based political and economic risk analyst of Belarusian descent, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s chest-beating around “Russian” borsch is, “another attempt at cultural appropriation by Moscow”. He explained that while “a number of cultures claim borsch to be theirs – Ukraine, Belarus, Poland and Russia – Ukraine has the strongest claim for the dish.”

“Borsch is most definitely from Ukraine,” said Olesia Lew, a New York-based chef and head consultant for Veselka, the iconic Ukrainian diner in New York City’s East Village, who is proud of her Ukrainian heritage. “I say it’s Ukrainian, not just from a nationalistic point of view, but because the soup hails from the land of Ukraine, and those ingredients have been found in the country’s archaeological record into the distant past.”

Borsch is usually coloured red from beetroot (Credit: barbara cameron pix/Alamy)

So, what about the millions of ethnic Russians who insist the red soup they love is most decidedly Russian?

“Yes, Russian people claim it’s their food,” said Lew, “But it’s a food they developed through occupation.”

According to Lew, borsch did not simply leak across the collective consciousness of Russian cuisine, but most likely entered the Soviet mainstream in the Stalinist era as a result of a concerted effort by the Kremlin. In his attempt to collectivise the largest country on Earth, Stalin tasked his Commissar of Food, Anastas Mikoyan, with establishing a Soviet national cuisine that catered to the more than 100 different “nationalities” (the Soviet term for the diverse ethnic populations) found in the USSR.

Russian people claim it’s their food, but it’s a food they developed through occupation

Mikoyan’s official study of cultural melting pots and mass food production led him to the United States, where he fell in love with hamburgers, hot dogs and ice cream. On his return, Mikoyan launched factory-produced ice cream across the Soviet Union and popularised efficient kitchen meals like kotleti (minced meat patties) in everyday cooking. In 1939, he published the propaganda-heavy Book of Tasty and Healthy Food, a standardised cookbook that was often gifted to newlywed couples in the Soviet Union from the Communist Party – a book that is still in print to this day.

“Mikoyan needed to mass-produce a cultural identity for these Soviet foods,” said Lew. “It’s fascinating to read what he picked from each place – be it Ukraine or Georgia – while remaining vague (eg “add meat”), since at the time most ingredients were not widely available across the Soviet Union. The cookbook made all these dishes part of Soviet culture and thereby ‘Russian’, since Russia was the most important culture for the Soviets.”

While Russian people claim borsch as their own, it has been a daily staple in Ukrainian kitchens for centuries (Credit: Olga Nikiforova/Alamy)

So what exactly does this Soviet food bible say about borsch? Chapter 6 (“Soups”) starts with cabbage-based Shchi, listing six different recipes, after which comes “Borsch”, then “Summer Borsch” (featuring squash, celery and beetroot greens), followed lastly by a differentiated “Ukrainian Borsch”. (Imagine an American cookbook with multiple recipes for tacos, finishing with “Mexican tacos”, and that’s what it sounds like.)

According to Mikoyan’s recipe, standard borsch contains meat, beetroot, cabbage, root vegetables, onions, tomato paste, vinegar and sugar, while “Ukrainian” borsch contains meat, cabbage, potatoes, beetroot, tomato paste, carrot, parsnip, onion, bacon, butter, vinegar and garlic, garnished with sour cream and chopped parsley. The Ukrainian recipe, framed as a separate iteration of the standardised version, is by far the most well-known today.

While the broader world may consider borsch as a quintessentially “Russian” food, very few non-Russians are acquainted with the much less-exciting Russian variant shchi. As a basic cabbage soup, shchi is effectively borsch without the beetroot.

An 1823 Russian dictionary of Ukrainian words defined borsch as “the same thing as shchi”, while an 1842 book of Russian etymology differentiates between Russian shchi (referring to sour cabbage) and Ukrainian borsch, a word that in fact references the soup’s traditional ingredient of hogweed, or borschevik. Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) grows throughout Eurasia, but the plant flourishes in the marshy areas around the Danube and Dnipro (Dnepr in Russian) river deltas. Long before the modern-day countries of Russia or Ukraine existed, the people of the Black Sea region boiled soup from the pickled stems, leaves and flowers of the hogweed plant. Recipe books show that the Ukrainians added beetroot.

Borsch likely entered the Soviet mainstream when Stalin’s Commissar of Food, Anastas Mikoyan (right), established a Soviet national cuisine (Credit: TASS/Getty Images)

Similar-yet-separate culture and geography make the untangling of Russian and Ukrainian history an almost impossible task. Pro-Russian ideologues use the region’s complex past to promote a rewritten history that draws a straight line from the current Russian regime back to the original Slavic civilisation. To that end, in its tweet, the Russian Foreign Ministry doubled down on its historical bias by reframing of the origins of borsch from “Russian” hogweed that dates back to the “Ancient Rus” of the 10th Century.

The problem with this statement is that Ancient Rus was centred in Kyiv (Kiev in Russian), now the capital of Ukraine. Over the past millennium, Ukraine’s largest city has been defined by repeated invasion, occupations and violent uprisings – often against the stronghold of Russian influence over Ukrainian politics. Rebranding Ukraine’s national food staple as Russian is even more ironic and offensive in light of the Holodomor, Stalin’s manmade famine of 1932-33, when forced collectivisation, aggressive grain procurement and confiscation of food stores led to the starvation of millions of Ukrainians. The exact number of dead, and whether the famine should be considered a genocide, remains a sticking point that is still debated and denied by Russians.

The cookbook made all these dishes part of Soviet culture and thereby ‘Russian’

The battle over borsch and its meaning continues online, most notably around the soup’s official definition. Ukrainian Wikipedia lists borsch as “found in Ukrainian, Belarusian, Polish, Lithuanian, Iranian and Jewish national cuisines,” but fails to mention Russian cuisine. Meanwhile, Russian-language Wikipedia says: “Borsch is a type of beet-based soup, giving it a characteristic red colour. A traditional dish of the Eastern Slavs, it is a common first course in Ukrainian cuisine.”

Admittedly, the wider, non-Slavic world views borsch as Russian, while Poles know it only as beloved Polish barszcz. This is also problematic since at least half of Ukraine was occupied by Poland for several centuries. Meanwhile, the common English spelling of borscht (with a “t”) derives from the Yiddish transliteration, since the soup was introduced to the west primarily by Jewish refugees fleeing Eastern Europe. Food travels with people, which is why borsch is now popular worldwide.

Mikoyan’s Book of Tasty and Healthy Food included recipes that catered to the more than 100 different ethnic populations in the USSR (Credit: Bernard Bisson/Sygma/Getty Images)

“The soup is everywhere now,” said Dima Martseniuk, head chef at Veselka. “Maybe like 5% of Russians say it’s theirs, but the other 95% know that borsch is Ukrainian. I mean, I’m not going to pick a fight over it.” More than nationalism, what matters to Martseniuk is how the soup tastes, since he makes and serves hundreds of gallons of borsch every week.

“My grandma’s classic recipe begins with pork stock boiled from rib bones. Then you have to use sweet cabbage – not the heavy kind. Then it’s important that you cook the other ingredients on the side, in a separate frying pan. You have to sauté them – the onion, carrot and shredded beetroot. Then you add sunflower oil, butter, spices, ketchup or tomato paste. And be sure to add something acidic – white vinegar or lemon juice – that helps preserve the deep red colour.”

His less-traditional tip? “Try making borsch in a pizza oven,” Martseniuk said. The open flame apparently does wonders to the cooking and it tastes really good.

The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food’s chapter on soups begins with shchi, which is effectively borsch without the beetroot (Credit: Vladislav Gudovskiy/Alamy)

Variation is the real beauty of borsch, and across Ukraine, I’ve encountered countless varieties of the soup – with or without meat, beans or certain spices.

“There are as many versions of borsch as there are Eastern European grandmas,” said Tom Birchard, owner of Veselka. “People have an emotional attachment to the soup, and everybody has their own idea of what it is.”

There are as many versions of borsch as there are Eastern European grandmas

I learned how to make borsch while living in Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine less than 30km from the Russian border. My teacher, Tanya Karabanova, was a bona fide babulya (Ukrainian grandmother) who insisted that the best borsch came from careful cutting and separate cooking of each ingredient so that every subtle vegetable flavour comes out. She was adamant that I never chop the cabbage into squares, resulting in what she called “stolovaya”, or “cafeteria-style”, borsch – the kind of soulless, watery-brown sustenance ladled out in schools, military bases or prisons. Instead, she told me to “rotate the cabbage downwards while shaving finely along the edge, forming long, fine, crescents of translucent cabbage”.

“With borsch, everyone is right,” Lew explained. “Ukrainians are fiercely independent and defensive about their food and how authentic it is. For me, the key thing is to have the right beets – young, sweet summer beets. I’m a big fan of meatless borsch – and I like beans in my borsch because that’s the way I was raised. Sour cream, absolutely, and I like a bit of kvas (a fermented beverage) in the back note – the sour offsets the sweetness and richness of the beet.”

Ukrainian borsch, made with meat, cabbage, potatoes and beetroot, is by far the best-known version (Credit: Deb Lindsey For The Washington Post/Getty Images)

Lew buys her ingredients in the farmers’ markets of New York City, insisting on using the freshest ingredients. Descended from an immigrant family, Lew admits that like borsch, her own life story has spread across the globe.

“Food is part of culture and identity, but people move,” she said. “Food can be shared, and it can unite people – but food can travel. Things get sticky when you try to deny people the food that they have been raised on for generations, and I would never want to deny someone their cultural heritage simply because they were raised in Soviet times.”

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Happy Easter 2018

It has been a busy Holy Week and we celebrate Easter this weekend with our family and friends.  I took the Easter basket of special foods to church today to be blessed and our family will be sharing it for our breakfast.

In addition to the traditional foods, I included eight of my newly written pysanky. Why so many?  Well, I like to give away my pysanky and I will not give them to anyone until I have taken them to church to be blessed.

For many years now, I have been trying to improve my pysanky writing skills.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I started writing pysanky with my mom at the age of two.  I was asked last week if I have made the pysanky every year.  To this I had to say no.  Like many of you I started out learning the Ukrainian traditions at home when young.  But as a teenager, it really wasn’t so cool to “be Ukrainian” so I stopped writing them with my mom.  And as the years went by, my career took over much of my time and unfortunately I didn’t make any for a number of years.  But this all changed when I became a parent myself.

When my children were old enough to hold a crayon, I knew that they could also hold a kistka.  It was time to teach them to learn about the traditional art of pysanky.  We started out hand-over-hand and as you can see, they didn’t do too bad at all.  Yes, I’m a proud mom and yes, I have saved all of my children’s eggs.  I’ve included a couple of them in this post.  Also don’t forget to check out my Pysanky photos on my Home page.



Happy Easter everyone!

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Wedding Rushnyk Journey

Since the last post that I did on stitching the Ukrainian Wedding Rushnyk, I have made a lot of progress.  Well, to be honest…….I am now totally finished the stitching!  And, I must say, “what a project”.  I do not think I could ever do this again!

Here it is….the last stitch!

Just a bit of a recap here.  On November 6th., 2016, I started cross-stitching a Wedding Rushnyk. Ukrainian Wedding Rushnyk

I kept at it and kept you informed.  Still Stitching !

Take a good look however and see the change I made on the top and lower border.  I decided in the last month to not stitch the roses on the border but chose a less complicated and fewer stitches band design.  It’s not as busy looking but most importantly, I have not been blinded by this project.


Seriously.  I found that my eyesight was rapidly deteriorating and I just couldn’t do any more.

My Man helped me out by setting up the brightest lights for me.  I went to see my optometrist and had prescription eyeglasses made.  But I knew that if I didn’t change-up the pattern, I would not be able to complete it.

I chatted with my friends and even my neighbour came over to see what my dilemma was.  She totally agreed with me and helped me choose a complimentary design.  I’m so grateful for her because I was feeling very overwhelmed and had the feeling that I was “chickening” out of my project. Rushnyk update #3

Want to hear what I find really strange?  I completed the very last stitch on My Man and my wedding anniversary.  To my way of thinking, it was meant to be because I sure didn’t plan it this way.  But wait, I was not quite finished yet.

Next thing that I had to do was to wash the entire cloth.  Even though I had washed my hands and kept my work space clean, oil from my hands did get on the cloth.  I had read somewhere that one had to be very careful about washing a project.  Sometimes the colours of the thread bled.  Great, I thought.  The last thing I needed now was to have the red and black colours run into each other.

Once again I asked around to seek advice from anyone who looked or sounded knowledgeable about cross-stitch.  So much information on the internet and some I knew I shouldn’t believe.

It was at my church where I found the best advice.  I knew I could trust these Ukrainian women because they had recently stitched dance outfits for their grandchildren.  Their advice?  Ice cold water for the first wash; ice-cold water for a second wash but add 1 tablespoon of white vinegar to the water; do not rub stitches or wring out; lay flat on fluffy white towel to dry.  It worked!

This Rushnyk has been stitched with love for my niece.  Even when I felt like quitting, I thought of her and her future husband.  This stitching was very hard at times.

As I stitched, I thought about how hard a marriage can be as well.

Every little step of married life is a journey.  Each day needs to be worked on with great care and kindness to each other.  Just like the stitching of this Wedding Rushnyk, there needs to be a plan and an exciting  pattern to follow.  Of course, just like stitching, there will be knots to untie, threads to untangle and even tears to shed from time to time.  But eventually, a life-long design will emerge.

So here it is!  Once again I thank all of you who followed along with me and encouraged me to keep going, one stitch at a time.  

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Celebrating Each and Every Day

Easter, “Velikdenn” – “The Great Day” is here this weekend and like many of you, I am busy preparing our Easter basket and other foods to share with our family and friends.

When I woke up this morning, I had decided to make a butter lamb for the Easter basket that I would be bringing to church to be blessed.  As I mentioned in an earlier post on Ukrainian Easter, we take a basket of special traditional foods to be blessed and then shared with our family on Easter morning.

As I prepared the ingredients and started shaping the butter into a lamb’s body shape, I thought about the time that my sister-in-law made a lamb for us.

SIL is a very special person in our family and in many ways sometimes seems more Ukrainian than I am.


SIL is English-speaking  and did not grow up Catholic.  Now over the years that she has been married to my brother, she has learned some of the Ukrainian language as well as many of the customs and traditions.  She is an amazing cook and I have borrowed many of her recipes over the years.  Her holubsti are so much tastier than mine will ever be !

But I digress.  I started thinking about her and this lamb because a few years back, SIL offered to make My Man and I a butter lamb for an anniversary dinner.  At first, I thought great…it’ll be so yummy.  I love eating lamb but had never seen it prepared like butter chicken (so I assumed).  Little did I know.  SIL laughed and said “No, no.  I’ll make you a butter lamb for your dinner table.  It’s butter and we’ll spread it on our bread and buns.”

She then proceeded to cut into a pound of butter and shape a small animal into it. The animal was a lamb.

Maybe I’m just being nostalgic this weekend but I am very thankful for my sister-in-law and I want her to know it.  I now know how to make my own butter lamb. Thank You SIL!

I don’t think we say we are grateful to our family or friends enough.

As we celebrate this Easter weekend, let’s not just think about the food however.  Let’s think about the wonderful people who share our daily lives.  Let’s celebrate these busy yet fun family and friend times now, each and every day.

“You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching,
Love like you’ll never be hurt,
Sing like there’s nobody listening,
And live like it’s heaven on earth.”

Happy Easter.  Khrystos Voskres.

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Still Stitching !

Since some of you have been wondering how the Wedding Rushnyk embroidery is coming along, I decided to do just a quick little post.

As you are aware, I am learning along the way.  It’s been a long time since I learned how to embroider and cross stitch is even harder for me.  But here it is so far.  I have completed the centre vase area, one bird and one rose.
unnamed-2I stopped stitching about two weeks ago to prepare for Christmas.  I have done a lot of baking and of course a lot of eating.  I guess it’s all a part of the season.  The Christmas dinners and get-togethers have been wonderful, but it’s time for me to get back to the cross-stitch.  I will keep you posted.

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“Manitoba at Christmas”

Greetings to all this Christmas!

I would like to share some exciting news with all of you.

Recently I was contacted by email by Wayne Chan.  This “unknown to me” person asked if I would be interested in contributing a recipe of mine to an anthology that he was putting together.  At first, I was thrilled and thought “Wow, that’s nice.  Someone had checked out my blog and was interested in adding it to his own book?”   I was feeling quite honoured.

Then I became leery.  Who was this person? Was he a legitimate writer?  Was I going to have to send him money and then get scammed?  Ha, I know…sounds silly doesn’t it?  Maybe it’s a generational thing!

Anyway, after finding out that Wayne Chan really was a writer residing in Winnipeg (my apologies to you, Wayne), I decided to trust him and gave him permission to not only reprint my Ukrainian Christmas Eve Holubtsi recipe but also to include one of my earlier Christmas posts “Oh Christmas Tree“.  Check out pages 141 and 179.

In case you are wondering, I preferred to stay fairly anonymous for this anthology and on this blog.  I use a pen name and only my family and close friends know the “real” me.  I am probably way too paranoid, but that’s just me.

I now have no doubts that this request was legitimate because I received my printed copy of “Manitoba at Christmas – Holiday Memories in the Keystone Province”  edited by Wayne Chan,  in the mail.  I am truly honoured.

As I peruse the book I see that he has gathered nearly 400 years of holiday stories and memories of how Christmas was celebrated by Manitobans, past and present.  The book is presently for sale and is available from Wayne Chan and is also being sold at McNally Robinson Booksellers (1120 Grant Avenue, Winnipeg, MB Canada R3M 2A6;   Toll Free 1-800-561-1833).

So, if you are still looking for a unique gift….please consider Manitoba At Christmas!

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Ukrainian Wedding Rushnyk

I just received some wonderful news!  It was an engagement and wedding announcement.  My eldest niece is getting married.  I am so happy for her and her future husband.  They are a wonderful couple and I wish them every happiness.

But wait!  There’s more that I can do and I have decided that I am going to include you in this little adventure that I have in mind.  I am going to cross stitch a Ukrainian Wedding Rushnyk for them.


A Rushnyk is a Ukrainian embroidered towel which symbolizes hope that the newlywed couple will never face poverty or hard times.  I think there is a saying “may the couple never stand on a bare dirt floor”.

During the wedding ceremony in church, the rushnyk is spread on the floor in front of the altar.  Traditionally it was said that whoever stepped on the cloth first would be the head of the family.  However now a days, most grooms hesitate just a second and let their bride step on it first.

The rushnyk is also used to bind the hands of the bride and groom during the ceremony to signify their union.  The priest leads the couple around the altar three times.  This procession symbolizes that marriage is a never-ending journey led by Christ. These are the first steps that the couple will take as husband and wife.

So I have decided that I will take my first steps too and cross stitch a rushnyk for them.

No, I have never taken on a project like this before.  When growing up at home, I did not learn how to cross stitch.  However, I was taught how to embroider by my mom.  Take a look at these tea towels and pillow cases.


Not bad for a little girl, right?

I am hoping that I will get your blessings and encouragement as I take on this project. I am teaching myself how to cross stitch right now and would like to share this journey with you.

I have everything I need and I have just started!  Here are my first stitches.  I’ll update you in a little while.


Wish me luck….this adventure of mine cannot become a never-ending journey for me!  I have eight months until the wedding.  But just in case I do not get it finished in time, please…do not tell my niece and her fiance that I am doing this for them.


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