A Unesco battle for borscht


The current iteration of the borscht battles properly began in 2019, when the Russian foreign ministry tweeted that the soup was one of Russia’s “most famous and beloved dishes”.

It led to Ukrainian chef Ievgen Klopotenko beginning a campaign to get Ukrainian borscht recognised by Unesco.

On what grounds?

Well according to two women who are writing a book about borscht, the soup really did make its way to Russia from Ukraine. The Financial Times’ recent piece (paywall) on borscht quotes Marianna Dushar is a Fulbright scholar studying food history and sociology in the Ukrainian diaspora in the US and Aurora Ogorodnyk, a food writer and researcher, who works for Ukraine’s largest supermarket chain.

Ms Dushar  says that in old ­Russian culinary literature, borscht is usually referred to as being from Ukraine, “even though they call it malo Russ — lesser Russia”. Borscht was spread to Russia by migrants – the Cossacks, Ukrainian intelligentsia in Russian cities and merchants who travelled to Russia, all took the taste and presumably the recipe. “Over time, borscht became part of Russian cuisine. It changed and evolved. You can see it appears often with different names, like Moscow Borscht.”

As for Ukraine, say the two writers, borscht is a feature at weddings, funerals and other church rituals. “It accompanies Ukrainians through their lives” and remains deeply inset in Ukrainian literature, songs and proverbs. “Don’t over-borscht”, for example, means, don’t overdo something.

Unsurprisingly, Ukraine’s battle to claim borscht is passionate.

Others in this series: