Kyoto Culinary Expert Shares Taste of Ukrainian Home

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Akiko Hirano, right, and her husband, Igor Kopshyn, with the recipe book they published.

KYOTO — Akiko Hirano, a 74-year-old culinary expert from Kyoto and the wife of a Ukrainian-American, has published a recipe book on Ukrainian home cooking.

Hirano introduces about 50 recipes in her book, titled “Ukrainian Dishes” and co-authored with her husband. The recipes include borscht that she learned from her mother-in-law from Kyiv. “Through cooking, I want people to pray for those living through the ravages of war,” Hirano said, as Russia’s invasion continues.

Hirano is an author of numerous recipe books that focus on western-style pastries, and runs cafes in various towns including Kyoto.

In 2017, she married Igor Kopshyn, 57, who was born in Kyiv and grew up there before immigrating to the United States. The couple currently spend time living in both New York and Japan. Every winter, they invited Kopshyn’s parents from Kyiv to New York and enjoyed his mother Nina Kopshyna’s homemade meals almost everyday.

When the invasion began in February 2022, his parents were safe at Hirano’s home in New York, but they have been unable to return to Ukraine. As of now, Kopshyn’s parents still live in the United States.

Contemplating on if she could do anything for Ukraine, Hirano got an offer to compile a recipe book by Tokyo-based Parco Co. last spring.

“This is fate,” she recalled, and took the offer.

Kopshyn took notes of Nina’s recipes passed on by word of mouth in Ukrainian and translated them into English. Hirano then translated them into Japanese. Last November, she completed the 96-page recipe book.

In addition to borscht, the book introduces home-style dishes such as chicken meatballs simmered in sour cream sauce, a gyoza dumpling-like dish and a traditional Christmas dish called stuffed cabbage.

Borscht, for example, comes with notes: “My mother-in-law makes a potful of it once a week.” “It’s like miso soup in Japan.”

As for the dumplings, “We start making this from the wrappers, so this is a dish made on leisurely holidays,” adding Hirano’s personal memories with Nina.

“I hope that people learn the taste of a Ukrainian mom’s cooking and feel happy to be able to eat with peace of mind,” Hirano said. “If there are Ukrainians who evacuated around you, it’ll be great if you serve them comfort food from their home country.”

A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Ukrainian Embassy in Japan and other relevant groups. The book is available for ¥1,760 (including tax) at bookstores nationwide and online.