Throughout the former USSR, two Russian salads usually sit on New Year’s tables: Chouba, a mix that includes herring and beets, and Olivier potato salad. But in Kiev, the war obliges, many restaurants have banned them.
Tetiana Mytrofanova, owner of the “Derrière Deux Hares” inn in the historic center of the Ukrainian capital, has no doubts: ten months after the invasion of the Russian army, these dishes are doomed.
“We have to move on,” sums up this 58-year-old woman, sitting on a bench in her restaurant, where she’s organizing a New Year’s Eve party with a late-night concert.
“It will be my first year without Olivier and Shuba salads,” adds the restaurateur, who plans to serve traditional Kiev dishes instead, such as stuffed perch.
“I know that the people who come to spend (New Year’s) night with us will remember it forever,” continues Tetiana, who sees the evening as an opportunity for a “psychological restart.”
Nor is she worried by the fact that customers will not be able to leave her restaurant between 11pm and 5am, the curfew obliges: “When people come to us, they enter a new dimension (…) where the time passes imperceptibly”.
In Ukraine, culinary civic-mindedness has particularly developed since 2014 and Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, then the Russian-backed outbreak of an armed rebellion in the Donbass in eastern Ukraine.
The Russian invasion ordered by Vladimir Putin on February 24 then gave a boost to Ukrainian gastronomic patriotism, which culminated in July when Ukraine got UNESCO to include “borsch culture” in its list of intangible cultural heritage in danger , soup of which Russia also claimed authorship.
A Ukrainian victory in what has been dubbed “the borscht war”.
Named after a 1961 Soviet comedy, “Derrière Deux Hares” restaurant isn’t just changing its New Year’s menu to help the war effort.
Like other kitchens in the city, when the first bombs fell on Kiev in February, the one in Tetiana fed hundreds of people starving for food.
Then, he sent food to soldiers resisting Russian forces who were trying to take the city of Gostomel, the scene of a fierce battle for a strategic airfield on the outskirts of Kiev.
Ultimately, the Kremlin’s army will be forced to withdraw in the spring, abandoning its attempt to capture Kiev to concentrate on the east and south of the country.
“I didn’t see the commander (of the Gostomel unit) until five months later,” Tetiana says. “I haven’t seen any other of our boys, but I love them, every single one of them,” the restaurateur continues, with tears in her eyes as three of these men died in battle recently.
In the meantime, his kitchen staff has prepared lamb-shaped focaccia for the troops deployed at the front in recent days. Especially since one of the cooks has just been called and left for collection.
“Many More Salads”
Changing the menu to remove dishes associated with Russia is the least of things for chef Natalia Khomenko: “It’s possible and it’s the right thing to do,” she says.
“Derrière Deux Hares” is not alone in this logic, far from it. The Avtostantsia restaurant, for example, in the Podil district is also renewing its menu.
Here too Chouba and Olivier come out, replaced in particular by a hummus of beets and forchmak, a mixture of mackerel, potatoes, onion and pepper sour cream.
But to the chagrin of the restaurant manager Anna Selezen, this menu could not be served on New Year’s Eve, since Russian bombing and repeated power outages did not allow her team to learn how to prepare these dishes on time.
Not bad, now that the restaurant has a generator, these dishes will be served on the occasion of the Orthodox Christmas, January 7th.
“We have a lot of traditional Ukrainian dishes, no need for Russians,” says Ms. Selezen. “We can live without them, and we should have done it sooner.”
Sure, she confides, she’ll miss Chouba, but “there are so many more salads to make.”