The Boršč, an authentic Ukrainian restaurant in Prague, went through a hard time when the war started, but now it has become a beacon of hope, spreading Ukrainian culture.
How did it start?
“Everything started when my husband received an invitation for work… It was six years ago,” said Natalka Bas, the owner, “the proposal offered family relocation… We sat and agreed to go.”
The Boršč was just an idea at first. When Natalka and her husband came to Prague to start a whole new life, they realized that they missed the national dishes, which seemed to be unknown to the place at that time. They wanted to share Ukrainian food.
When Natalka and her husband finally found a place for their restaurant, it was less than perfect. Natalka hated the outdated interior, so she found Mariko to start by painting the walls. Mariko was the one who created the perfect-suiting drawing for Natalka: “She was the one. I am still very happy with what she has done, and so are our customers.”
Maria “from Odesa,” as Natalka calls her, created the entire interior design with colors, pillows, and paintings. The Boršč became an authentic, cozy Ukrainian space because of the panache of these two women. The next problem was the perception of Ukrainian culture by Czechs.
Who are we?
“Czechs have always thought that Ukrainians were the cheap working class, who occupied all vacant places in factories. We wanted to change it.” These stereotypes scared Natalka and her husband, as they thought the business would not be popular among Czechs.
“We had a pre-opening party on the 24th of August, which is our National Independence Day, and it was a disaster. We were running out of products, we could not handle the flow of clients, we forgot to charge people, to give them back the change, and so on… But after six days, on the 1st of September, we opened. We wanted them to know us from the inside—our cuisine,” said Natalka.
When the restaurant finally opened on September 1, 2021, the couple was shocked. Many Czechs came to try out the new cuisine. Ukrainians who lived in Prague came from all over to try their beloved cuisine.
“Our cuisine is exotic for them; they don’t understand it,” said Natalka. People from all around were coming to the restaurant and wondering how to eat soups, syrnykys (fried quark fritters), and what salo was; despite similar, sometimes even shared, cultures, Czechs had no idea what the ingredients of the most popular Ukrainian dishes were.
“Our dishes differ from theirs, which seemed crazy even for us; when we came to some restaurants that included Ukrainian cuisine, it was all different, so we knew we had to do something with it,” said the owner.
When the war started, Natalka was in complete confusion.
“On the 24th of February, the Council of Ukraine in the Czech Republic called me as he was going to visit that day and told me that, unfortunately, he was not going to visit today… I was questioning this, but as I eventually saw the news, my heart skipped a beat. Since the war started, we have gained popularity, though I do not really enjoy it… I did not want this kind of popularity,” said Natalka.
Lots of Ukrainians came to Prague to escape the war, and most of them stayed because they either liked the place or found some opportunities there. The Boršč has become a hotspot, and sales rose drastically. People need this precious, almost saintly part of the culture: the food.
“No restaurant could compete at the time, and that was the moment when we knew we were doing right,” said the owner.
Since the war started, the restaurant has welcomed hundreds of visitors. Natalka puts her heart and soul into her restaurant: “I love this place. I haven’t ever thought that the restaurant will gain its popularity from such horrible obstacles. But now we talk about morality. I want this place to live.”
The Boršč is not just an ordinary soup shop; it is a place where Ukrainians can feel at home and newcomers can learn about the culture.