Ukrainian cuisine finds its place at the table in Singapore.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

There are no Ukrainian restaurants in Singapore, but that has not stopped Ukraine ambassador Dmytro Senik from injecting his native cuisine into the city’s favourite conversation topic.

“There are three places you can get Ukrainian food here,” says the diplomat, with a light in his eyes. “My house, where my wife cooks,” he began. “Then, there’s Tower Club, where I convinced the general manager and executive chef to let my mother and my wife teach the staff how to prepare Ukrainian dishes. Now, they serve borscht, dumplings, cheese pancakes and of course, vodka.”

And the third place? At the World Gourmet Summit (WGS), where for the past three years, guest Ukrainian chefs have upended most diners’ notion of the nation’s cuisine. If you’ve travelled enough to know that sliced, cured fat is a beloved Ukrainian staple, there’s no sign of it at the table.

The chefs who came demonstrated that Ukrainian cuisine can be creative, refreshing and stunning. Under chef Iurii Kovryzhenko’s hands, the country’s national dish of borscht, which shows off the natural taste of beetroot, is deconstructed into beetroot jelly, puree, flowers and greens. Kovryzhenko, who studied at Le Cordon Bleu, is known for incorporating edible flowers – marigolds, violets, nasturtium – into his creations.

In 2018, it was Yaroslav Artiukh’s turn in the kitchen. All of 27 years old, the chef from Kanapa restaurant in Kiev bowled over diners assembled at Grissini, Grand Copthorne Waterfront, by serving them candles – which gradually melted into a butter dip for bread. In another dish, fish mousse and caviar topped dehydrated fish skin to render each bite an explosion of saltycreamy-crispy-umami-ness. Last year saw chef and culinary school founder Mykhailo Sosnovskyh presenting southern food tinged with Mediterranean, Greek and Turkish influences.

“Ukrainian cuisine deserves a spot on the culinary map,” says Senik. “For many years during Soviet times – Ukraine was part of the union from 1922 to 1991 – Ukrainian culture was sidelined. Now its people are rediscovering the country for themselves. Chef Iurii travelled around Ukraine, visiting villages to look for old recipes of Ukrainian dishes. He rediscovers them, innovates and modernises them.” This burst of culinary creativity is what helped Senik to persuade WGS to invite Ukrainian chefs to Singapore for the first time in 2017.

And the desire to experiment doesn’t just apply to the food. There has been a boom in craft vodka as well, spirits infused with different flavours such as cranberry, honey, and horseradish. The chilli vodka, despite its intimidating name, has a bite that is surprisingly delicious.

Next month, Senik plans to showcase Ukrainian confectionery producers, honey and berries at the Food and Hotel Asia fair, and at the end of the year, a Ukrainian culinary show.

Says Senik: “There’s another culinary world beyond traditional destinations like Italyand France. If Singaporeans want to discover something new, then it would be gastro-tourism to the Ukraine.” Until then, there is the Tower Club.

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Chefs Iurii Kovryzhenko lending a hand to his compatriot Yaroslav Artiukh.