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Kitchen Kind #1
Zenon Misko

Varenyky (Ukrainian dumplings)

In our first Kitchen Kind we speak with Zenon Misko, a great friend of the Victorian Food and Wine Community; he was with the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival for nine years. Zenon is behind the Instagram account @roamingbangkok where he explores, tastes and photographs the streets and communities of Bangkok, the city in which he currently resides, with his wife Kitty and their two young children. 

Kitty Haining and Zenon Misko with their eldest child, Yuri.
What meal or ingredient speaks of love to you and why?

My mother’s varenyky (Ukrainian dumplings). They are, and will always be, my favourite.

They speak of family, tradition, hardship, comfort and love. 

Growing up in Brisbane, my mother made hundreds of varenyky each year for Ukrainian Christmas, in sweltering summer heat without air-conditioning.

She would prepare the multi-course feast for days, not without an occasional emotional meltdown – perhaps due to the fridge breaking down or a shortage of sour cream at the supermarket (a pivotal complement to the food).

While my mother now cooks with instinct, her varenyky are based on her mother’s recipe. She remembers making them together as a teenager in the late 1950’s in their weatherboard home in Newport in Melbourne.

Her memories of varenyky however are earlier than this, when migrating from Ukraine to Australia. She first tasted them in the mid-1940s as a young girl at an Austrian refugee camp, where Ukrainian women would make them.

Khrystyna Misko, Zenon's mother, as a child at an Austrian refugee camp in the 1940s.

450 varenyky (give or take) is the record for our family Christmas. The majority are filled with cabbage or potato and slowly heated in butter and caramelised onion. A smaller portion is filled with porcini mushroom for borscht (beetroot soup) and cherries for dessert.

The dish is the main event at Christmas. It’s a true sense of occasion. My four brothers and I would have contests to see who could eat the most. There were always multiple winners.

As a wine-loving family, picking a suitable match for varenyky is intellectually stimulating; the buttery pillows are well suited to full-bodied or aged white wines.

The tradition has been passed on to the next generation. My brother Yarema and brother Darian and his wife Sally are especially talented in making varenyky from scratch.

I’ve seen our family transport varenyky in suitcases by plane. But I never thought I’d see them delivered by motorbike from a Ukrainian kitchen for Christmas in Bangkok – my current home.

 I am grateful for the blood, sweat and tears my mother and father have put into making varenyky over many years and the love of food and tradition they have passed on to our family.

Find Zenon’s recipe for varenyky here.



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