Is borscht Russian or Ukrainian?

Ukrainian or Russian borscht

food is the ingredient that binds us together.

If only food could indeed be the mediator as well outside of its binding essence of flavours and tastes and thereby unifying of the human existence in all the immense pleasure of it then the world would really have emerged to be as astounding a haven of residence as much it is of the epicurean. But for a world hell bent on dwelling instead on the borders of the non pulchritude, not as much territorially as it is metaphorically, even the pleasures of food are effectively coerced to lead instead to conflict instead of delivering the comfort out of a urge in all universality availing from all things culinarily amazing. For indeed the best of foods might be able to appease the taste buds and satisfy the appetite but it sadly cannot for once quieten the gluttonous rumbling of malice eating away at out souls and hearts in all our ironical humaneness.

Stating this partially out of experience, though thankfully not immediately our own, what with the current state of affairs doing the international rounds presenting us indeed a proposition of food yielding more than enough influence within its every morsel of exploration that alludes to the intricately interconnected alleys of the world we inhabit brings us to dwell therefore upon a preparation of the gastronomic, in all nativity and traditions of it, that presents itself as a delightful discourse contrary to what transpires today between two nations of shared continental physicality battling it out across the occurrences of the diplomatic. In their roots however the commonality of identity is more than evident- both are countries of Europe that had been once part of the Soviet Union leading them therefore to definitely share ties not just in geography and history and polity but also across such elements of what essentially shapes the existence of countries not as entities but as nations of people living in it through its continuance in culture and legacy of lineage and the highs and lows of history. And it is in such more than evident trail of the identical emerging from the once shared symposium pertaining to all things hearty and heavy and hinging indeed on the very realm of an universal human existence that there emerges attributes and aspects of such heartening revelation forcing us to ponder indeed upon all the love that once was and now lost but that which continues to manifest still through such elements of being rooted in the very premise of silent but stirring continuity. As starkly opposing it might seem to dig deep into the ultimate flavors of life even in the face of the ultimate battle of survival and more so of identity, there’s still scope for this bowl of shared and perhaps disputed leanings to pass around in rather assertiveness and conveniently crossover even across borders of human eking to not ridicule but in fact reaffirm the pride that remains as resilient as ever in its charting of the true course of one’s revered identity.

Borscht
Source: Wikipedia

A hearty dish of resplendent character, whether it be in its appearance in hue and sight or its essence stemming from the wide array of ingredient that concoct up this serving profuse in its amassment of health benefits and deliverance across the ultimate templates of taste and flavour, this sweet and sour assertion through which every bowl of the soupy borscht plays out its exceptional culinary properties makes for a rather common element charted out in its comfort across an expanse as continentally diverse as the specifics of Eastern Europe and Northern Asia. But despite such dynamic range of its flowing in as differently cooked up versions as possible, the very identity of the borscht passes as an Ukrainian specialty. Specifically made out of red beetroots as the primary ingredient and residing thus very prominently in a remarkably rich red color, this Ukrainian dishing of the soup is a universally adhered to belief as regards its origin and ‘nationality’ even when it is widely prevalent as one of the chief items of cuisine associated with a host of other countries as well. In the Russian and Polish context in particular, borscht commands an importance no any less exclusive than what its identity as essentially Ukrainian leads it to in that specific land of Europe where it was first recorded to have been tasted in its now capital city of Kyiv. And yet, even such inscribed bit of history does not really dampen the status of borscht in an appeal tremendous enough to have been claimed by numerous ethnic groups as their national dish or in finding place of prominence across many a traditions and customs as an indispensable element of their being. The wide attestation of its ‘legacy’ though does not spring as much of a surprise given the fact that the term borscht indeed encompasses a wide serving of sour-tasting soups sans even the ravishing red assertiveness of which it is so notable in the mere conjuring up of a vision, based as it tends to be rather on diverse an array of ingredients each accounting for therefore a specific dish of the same essence but only similar identity. But even across such contention of its status as a dish of their very own by regions and ethnicities and nations it still is the Russian representativeness of it that is most often the bone of contention, stemming as it does from such immense assertiveness of staking claim that has warranted global almost resonance in terms that essentially end up translating borscht as Russian soup instead!

There’s no denying the immense essence that borscht still explores within the Russian ambits as well but nowhere else perhaps the ‘spirited’ assertion of it is as evident as in the Ukrainian furthering of its radiant nature whether in the very compelling charms of it or across the expressive extents through which it is furthered as being a definite element eking out the very identity of the nation. Even along the many cities and towns and villages in which Ukraine resides, the borscht belief abounds in immense measure with a good many of these parlances of place taking after the identity of the soup in someway or the other. In fact in even its earliest mention in writing that which goes back to the Kyiv of 1584, the recorder German merchant Martin Gruneweg alludes to the river Borshchahiyka as having been named after the borscht market in the vicinity! And the town of Borshchiv only continues this distinctive lineage of the borscht’s esteemed legacy by imbuing into its very name the identity of ‘belonging to Borscht’. In the face of such prevailing assertion of its being in all its soupy substance, it indeed would be beyond reason to assume that borscht need not necessarily be pledging its allegiance to Ukrainian origins. And the validity of such notions in origin has been time and again upheld even by many a Russian food historians as well, particularly in their accounts embedded in the pages of many a Soviet era reference books but once Ukraine broke off from the USSR and asserted its own status as an independent nation, the collective Russian claim upon this bowl of what almost classifies as a sentient sip of succour universally no matter its ground of stemming began to take greater hold.

Borscht soup
Source: iStock

In such perspective of it that shapes us as all commonality, this long drawn duality that has come to define the borscht dilemma might appear as yet another of the multiple such discourses that countries and nations and people alike so often take to as part of asserting their dominance of cultural elements and partaking therefore of as rich a repertoire in identity as possible. And while one aspect of this borscht divisiveness might indeed be emerging out of such factors that seek to hold its reverence within the reputation of one’s own status, also prominently pertinent would perhaps be such ploys in pilfering that only places enhanced thrust upon the Russian agenda long accused of plotting to appropriate for its own identity virtually every element of what once characterised the Soviet Union or drawing perhaps even across its attempt to derive exclusive pride out of Slavic elements and influences. And helping indeed the Russian cause in its endeavor to have the soupy superiority of the borscht accrue to its own absolute might is the greater world view that seeks to somehow interpret the entire state of what once made up the Soviet Union as being largely an extension of Russia. To that extent therefore, the capturing of the borscht phenomenon as predominantly Russian smacks of an agenda guided rampantly by ulterior motives of an almost diplomatic kind even in its essence being still more than pertinent in this country of secondary stemming as far as this particular finding itself in the soup is concerned. There’s no denying the more than intricate meanderings through which the borscht allows also for explorations and evolutions to encompass its popularity across the Russian expanse, as it does in so many of a number of other primarily Slavic nations. But to accord upon borscht a nationality of the Russian allusion in its very nativity would not be so convenient a case to further in universal acceptance given that the dish found widespread popularity there only during the later years of the 18th century. Of course the versatility of this soup of comforting indeed characteristics means that there exist as many versions and variations of it as there exist groups and nations and empires claiming it as their own, whether absolutely or in sharing. But in boiling down to the core question of whether it is Russian or Ukrainian, the borscht narrative essentially comes to reside only in a (lopsided) dual dimension. To ascertain the fate of these two nations today engaged in a full fledged war of complicated basis occurs as an uncertain prospect but establishing the authentic most assertion of the borscht identity makes for a task relatively and evidently easier.