As It Happens

Chef says borscht is '100 per cent' Ukrainian — and asks UNESCO to back up his claim

Ukrainian chef Ievgen Klopotenko says that borscht is undoubtedly Ukrainian and any Russians who think their ancestors invented the soup are wrong. And he wants UNESCO to recognize his claim.

Ukrainian chef Ievgen Klopotenko says the beet soup is distinctly Ukrainian — not Russian, or Polish

Ievgen Klopotenko (Submitted by Ievgen Klopotenko)

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Ievgen Klopotenko says Ukrainian borscht beats all the others — and he won't hear otherwise.

The Ukrainian chef insists the beet root soup is a distinctly Ukrainian dish, and he is calling on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to recognize borscht as part of his country's cultural heritage. 

"I think that it should be so — and it is so," Klopotenko told As It Happens host Carol Off. "It's 100 per cent that it's Ukrainian."

Russian claims 

After months of research to back up his claim, Klopotenko says his application is now supported by the Ukranian government.

This, despite that the Russian Foreign Ministry tweeted last year that borscht is the country's "most famous and beloved dishes."

But Klopotenko wants to be clear that he is not looking to stir up his country's already tense relationship with Russia over the dish. Since 2014, more than 13,000 people have been killed in Ukraine's battle against Kremlin-supported militants in the country's east, according to the Washington Post.

"It's not about fighting. It's about how it is — that this dish is ours. It's not Russian," Klopotenko said. "But Russians, they want to take that because they think that there is no such nation as Ukrainians."

borscht (Submitted by Ivgen Klopotenko)

In his research, Klopotenko says he traced the history of borscht and why other nations claim the dish as their own. That history only strengthened his resolve to start this campaign, he said. 

"When USSR came to our territory, it took everything. It took our religion. It took our language. And it took 90 per cent of our food," Klopotenko said. "We should save our dishes, which are a part of us."

What about other countries?

Last month, Russia's U.S. embassy tweeted a more generous appraisal of the soup's origins, saying: "Borscht is a national food of many countries, including Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Poland, Romania, Moldova and Lithuania."

It's a sentiment echoed by Russian restaurateur Boris Akimov, who told the Post borscht doesn't belong to anyone.

"We cannot say it's Ukrainian or Russian," Akimov said. "Borscht is very popular now and it was very popular 200 years ago in Ukraine and Russia. I hope that borscht can be a thing that unites these countries but does not divide."

My mother made me pizza. So what, I should say pizza is a Ukrainian dish? No.- Ievgen Klopotenko, chef 

Klopotenko knows Russia isn't the only nation with skin in the borscht game. But when asked about other heavy hitters like Poland, he remained unfazed, brushing off any other country's claim to the dish as inauthentic imitation.

"My mother made me pizza. So what, I should say pizza is a Ukrainian dish? No," Klopotenko quipped.

While it may be contentious, especially to Russians, Klopotenko says his campaign might actually ease relationships between the two countries and simultaneously reinforce Ukraine's identity as a sovereign nation.

He says since the campaign launched, some Russians have already admitted borscht belongs to Ukraine.

"It will mean that a lot of Russians will eat something Ukrainian and they will understand," Klopotenko said. "It's a very philosophical thing why I want to do this, and why I'm doing it."

Klopotenko plans to submit the application to UNESCO in March and he is confident it will go over well. 

"They will rewrite history," Klopotenko said. "But truth is on our side."

As he awaits the results, Klopotenko says thanks to the Ukrainian diaspora, it's not hard to find an authentic bowl of borscht in most cities. 

"A lot of Ukrainians who live in Canada, they can give a very nice recipe of borscht," Klopotenko said. "So I think you should find how to cook, and you should try it."

Wherever you find it, Klopotenko says every borscht starts with a good broth and balance of sweet and sour.

"It should be intense taste of beet root," he said. "And it should have, like, this wooden aroma of a wooden oven."

Another key ingredient, he says, is kvass, a fermented beetroot juice that adds funk and flavour. And as for a dollop of sour cream, Klopotenko says Ukrainians are split.

"Half of Ukrainians say if there is no sour cream, there is no borscht. And the other half says that we can eat without sour cream and it's OK."

Written by John McGill. Interview with Ievgen Klopotenko produced by Kate Swoger.

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