The materials are published with support from donations and help from the volunteers, provided to the Centre Food Studies by the їzhakultura community. Support us on Patreon!


Modern Ukrainian consumers are provided with a wide range of fresh fish and seafood. Different types of fish are delivered to the Ukrainian fishmongers from all over the world. But in this article we are going to discuss the fish recipes which are long gone. Of course, finding the right fish would not be that easy, you would have to catch it yourself in a Ukrainian river or pond. 


Let’s go to the fishmongers market. There it is! Barrels of fresh carp and small crucian carps. Oh, look, here’s pike. Thanks, but no thanks. Cleaning the fish is messy. Best pike recipes are fried or roasted whole, but pike has a reputation for many small bones. Haddock, tilapia, and mackerel – that’s more like it: boneless fish, no need to clean. In a wink of an eye the misshapen fish covered in ice is in your shopping bag, the googly-eyed catch is heading for your kitchen.       

Today we are convinced that the food stores are absolutely packed with products, and all you need is to be able to afford it. The modern food range in Ukraine is vast, especially when we think back to the regular food shortages in the Soviet times caused by the failing of the planned economy. Now some food stores specialise exclusively sea-food products, cheeses, and meat products, offering a wide array of products at various prices.  

As a result, we look with disdain upon the food traditions of the past, indeed, what would they know about cooking if there was so little food available? You are not alone in thinking that, it was our conviction as well. Until a mutual friend showed us his grandma’s handwritten recipe book, which we have carefully studied together with another cookery book from 1913. This has changed our conviction. 


“There are no claims that Ukrainians are consuming a lot of fish; in Ukraine fish consumption seems to exist independently from the established traditions of cooking with fish”  


But this is absolutely not true! Ukraine has a lot of small and large rivers, lakes, and ponds. And until the 20th century most of the Ukrainian population followed fast days, which means – just imagine! – abstaining from meat products 250 days out of a year. Besides, traditionally Ukrainians have never followed a meat-based diet. Eating meat became widespread only recently. Anyways, within the past several millennia Ukrainians had enough time to develop their own traditions of cooking with fish. 

And now a question to test your knowledge: How many types of river fish do you know? Perhaps, you would be able to come up with 5-6 suggestions. Let’s see what the 1913 cookery book says:

“Gudgeon, roach, mud loach, Black sea roach, Danube sturgeon, starlet sturgeon, salmon trout, white bream, and striped perch; the list go on to include pike, lake sturgeon, river perch, horse mackerel, carp, catfish, pikeperch, tech, and crucian carp.”  


What is even more impressive is that practically every type of fish had to be cooked according to its own special cooking method. The carp was usually fried and eaten on its own or used as an ingredient in borshch, festive recipes included boiled carp with a dressing of roasted honey served with lemon soup. The river perch and striped perch were used to make thick soup, this first course dish was called in Ukrainian scherba, a type of cream soup. The small crucian carps were stewed in smetana until they were ready to melt in the mouth; roach from the Azov sea was perfect for making clear vegetable soup. Surplus fish was cured with salt. Pikeperch, river perch or pike are perfect for salting. The salted fish was used to make minced fish sausages. Large fish were skinned and filleted, fish fillets were minced, mixed with moistened stale bread and beaten eggs, following this the mixture was stuffed inside sausage casings and boiled. The homemakers from more prosperous households would usually boil the fish sausages in milk and fried them in a skillet; some connoisseurs would even add a side dish of crayfish tails. The pike was abundant and it was used to make cutlets. This fish has many small bones, it is dry and the traditional frying and boiling methods do not usually apply. 


“The fish was air dried, roasted inside ovens to preserve it for storage, cured with salt, dried, and smoked. The fish was served with apples, horse radish, honey, lemons, boiled eggs, simmered with root vegetables, served with gherkins, stewed in smetana, cooked slowly in sauce, fried in a skillet, stewed with vegetables and jellied.”  


This is it, now it’s time to go shopping for some cusk. This tender fish is absolutely delicious; cusk liver tastes wonderful fried. At least this is what the cookery book says. But what do we know about cusk and its recipes?




1. Зіновія Клиновецька «Страви й напитки на Україні» - К., «Час». 1991. – 218 с.  
2. Академічний тлумачний словник української мови



Illustration by Illya Uhnivenko