As you will have seen from my previous blogposts, my Slavic family roots have inspired my cooking and eating habits over the years. So with my maternal family coming from Poland and my paternal family coming from the Ukraine, the Euro 2012 championships choosing both countries to host the tournament is a great nod towards my heritage.
Football aside, (let's get our priorities right - food first!) I've been asked so many times about the kinds of food you can expect to see in both countries, especially for vegetarians. Firstly, both Ukrainian and Polish foods are extremely similar, which you would expect as they're geographical neighbours. Also, they are both very carnivorous nations and so the ratio of meat vs veggie foods swings heavily towards the meat arena. But saying that, there are some fab dishes (especially if you're a potato & cabbage fan), which can also be converted into veg options with little effort.
One of the main dishes of both countries is called 'Pierogi' in Poland and 'Varenyki' in Ukrainian but they are exactly the same dish. They follow the same principle as Italian ravioli, they are little filled parcels which, when complete, are semi-circular shaped with pinched edges (think Cornish pasty-esque). Unlike ravioli which is made from pasta, pierogi/varenyki are made from dough with typical veggie fillings such as cheese & potato, cabbage & mushroom and there are modern versions in existence such as beetroot & goat's cheese or sweet potato. Whatever your filling, make sure you serve them with a sprinkle of salt and lots and lots of fried onions!
Another dish is 'Gołąbki' (pronounced: gol-omb-ki in Polish) or 'Holubtsi' (pronounced: holub-chi in Ukrainian) which again is the same dish - the name for it has the same meaning in each language which is 'little pigeon'. As the dish is in essence stuffed cabbage leaves, like cabbage rolls, when they are placed in a baking dish, they resemble little pigeons all huddled up together! Although they are stuffed with mince-meat traditionally, you can use soya mince and/or rice or any kind or grain such as couscous, bulgar wheat etc. I serve mine with a tomato and beetroot sauce and of course, plenty of fried onions!
Other good veggie dishes or veggie adaptable dishes are: borscht (beetroot soup), placki (potato pancakes) and bigos ('hunters stew') which is ordinarily heavily biased towards all kind of cuts of pork/ham, so these can be substituted with vegetarian sausages, vegetarian bacon and may be even some of the vegetarian Pepperoni-style slices that have become available recently.
I could go on forever. I hope that this has given you a flavour (literally!) of Ukrainian and Polish cuisine and also the encouragement to either make some dishes or find a restaurant that serves it. London has various places (check out sites such as London Eating for details) and as for the Birmingham region, I can whole-heartedly recommend 'The Karczma' which is a Polish restaurant in Birmingham's centre. (www.thekarczma.co.uk)
If you're interested in making some dishes, a book that I have used with success is Veselka, which is a Ukrainian eatery in New York USA that have published their recipes - check out: http://www.veselka.com/ http://www.veselka.com/cookbook/ (also Amazon sell the book).
I've found these sites and although I've not used any of these recipes myself yet, they look good:
Plus, one of my favourite celebrity chefs Nigel Slater did a great article last year about Polish food with some recipe ideas, so take a look: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/nov/27/nigel-slater-pierogi-polish-recipes
With only a few more days to go before Euro 2012 hangs up its football boots for another tournament, I hope you find time to have a kick-about in your kitchen and create some wonderfully hearty tucker! But in true Slavic style, what you make/eat, make sure you have a gherkin with it (almost an unwritten law).... :)