February 20, 2019

Food and Restaurants

To the American palate, Ukrainian food is somewhat mild but hearty. Potatoes, beets, carrots, and cabbage are popular in the winter and cucumbers and tomatoes are staples in the spring and summer. Apples abound in the fall. Grapes and corn arrive in August, and fresh vegetables make their appearance from May to October but remain only for a few weeks. One of the famous national dishes is vareniky, a boiled half-circled dumpling stuffed with cottage cheese, potatoes, meat, or cherries, and not to be confused with pelminy, the Russian dumpling dish shaped differently and almost always stuffed with meat. Ukraine's most famous national food item--salo or pork fat--is eaten raw or smoked, often with large pieces of garlic and black bread. Another wonderful dish is goluptsi - cabbage stuffed with meat and cooked in a wondeful tomato based sauce.

Ukrainians also very much enjoy cold salads. Salat in Ukrainian generally does not refer to a leaf-based salad such as is common in the US but refers to salads composed of three or more items chopped into very small pieces and dressed with either mayonnaise or oil. Favorite salads include: olivye (boiled potatoes and carrots, peas, ham, pickles, and mayonnaise), crab salad (corn, hard boiled eggs, boiled rice, crab sticks, and mayonnaise), vinaigrette (boiled beets, carrots, potatoes, onion, pickles, and sunflower oil), and the summer mainstay--cucumber-tomato-sour cream/sunflower oil-onion salad.

Ukrainian breakfast does not have special breakfast items like in the US. Generally, Ukrainians have hot tea, and possibly boiled buckwheat, oatmeal, fried potatoes, bread and butter, or fried eggs for breakfast. Lunch--usually served around 2:00 PM--is almost always served with soup (usually borsch, a soup made from beets) followed by a main meat dish and one side item, usually rice or potatoes. The salads referred to above are generally served before the main dish and are entirely eaten before the main dish is served. Ukrainians often don't drink while they are eating the meal. Tea or coffee is served at the end of the meal with a dessert. Supper is usually eaten around 7:00 PM or even later and consists of hearty dishes like meat and potatoes, vareniky, or open-faced sandwiches.

Mostly, Ukrainians make everything from scratch. Frozen foods and prepackaged foods, though, are becoming more popular. Larger grocery stores stock frozen French fries, pizzas, and frozen vegetables. Baking powder and most spices are available. Crystallized vanilla extract is available as is sugar flavored with vanilla. Corn syrup is not available, and brown sugar is very expensive. Peanut butter pops up in stores occasionally and may cost three times the US price; sometimes a cheaper Polish version is available.
If you like to cook (even if you don’t, you will probably have to cook often in Kyiv), make sure you bring a cookbook that assumes you’ll be cooking from scratch! Betty Crocker’s Red Cookbook is great for this, and even gives measuring equivalents and substitutions. The Joy of Cooking is also a helpful. The website www.allrecipes.com sports a horde of recipes and they can be converted to metrics as well as scaled for larger crowds. Better yet, ask a Ukrainian to teach you how to cook some of your favorite Ukrainian dishes.

As a part of their ministry, Christian workers often serve refreshments at outreach events, small group meetings, and Bible studies. Since many people don’t have much to eat or can’t afford fast food, they come to meetings hungry. Refreshments can be as simple as a kilogram of apples and a kilo of bananas. Cookies are also sold by the kilo near metros. Ukrainian soft drink brands like Zhivchik (carbonated apple juice) and the cheaper Rosinka (a 2 litre is about $0.50) are 50% cheaper than the more familiar Coca-Cola products (a 2 litre is about $0.95). Pepsi is a little cheaper than Coca-Cola products. Hot tea is a great idea in the winter, but Ukrainians drink tea all year round. Open-faced sandwiches of bread, butter, and a slice of ham, cheese, sausage, pickle, cucumber or tomato is a great treat for any group. In the summer, fresh fruit is cheap and enjoyed by all.

The Kyiv restaurant scene is ever expanding. The website www.chicken.kiev.ua has an English site and lists info about 345 restaurants and cafes. This site also provides links to restaurant websites. A great way to relax or cope with culture shock is to enjoy a nice meal. Here we recommend some of our favorite places.

  • Fast Food/Cafeteria Style - Fast food places are springing up everywhere. McDonald's dots the city landscape, and a value meal costs about $2. There are also several Ukrainian fast food venues, which cost between $2-$4 depending on how much you eat: Shvidko (typical Ukrainian national fare), Mak Smak (pizza, cold salads, and baked desserts), Rostic's (Russian-based fried chicken place), and Mr. Snack (grilled sandwiches, cold salads, and baked desserts). Several chain cafeteria-style eateries are extremely popular, especially for lunch. Dva Gusya (“Two Geese”), Domashna Kukhnya (“Home Kitchen”) and Puzata Khata offer traditional Ukrainian dishes and salads ala carte. You can fill your tray with several different selections and still pay only $2-$4 for the meal. Also, food courts, in new malls, especially the downtown Globus (shown here) and Metrograd, are fueling Ukrainians’ appetites for quality fast food. A typical meal in any of these restaurants is $3-$5.

  • Cafes - Some small Ukrainian cafes are good; however, dining at small cafes can be frustrating. All the menu items are often not available, service can be poor, and it can be very smoky. One other option for fast food is the numerous street vendors. Hot dogs stands (to be avoided) and grandmothers selling home-baked goods are concentrated near metro stations; we do not recommend sampling street food with meat. There may be serious gastronomic complications. Pastries available for sale are generally safe. Shaurma, an Arabic/Turkish import of broiled meat in pita bread or tortilla, is becoming popular; the faint of stomach, though, should avoid such treats.
  • Pizza - Two good pizza delivery places keep Italian pie cravings satisfied. The American Pizza Company and Vesuvios (235-6681) offer a range of pizzas. A large pizza with two toppings is less than $10 with free delivery to most places and will feed at least three people. Operators usually don’t speak English, though. Vesuvios also operates a relatively cheap pizzeria behind the Golden Gate. The late night pizza delivery place, which runs basically 24 hours, although it takes up to two hours to deliver during the AM hours, is Mama Mia’s. The prices are a bit cheaper than the other two places mentioned, but the quality reflects the price; their pizzas are smaller and quite thin, although they do come with four pieces of gum as an added bonus.
  • American - Kyiv also boasts numerous very good American-style restaurants, though they tend to be expensive. The most expensive, as well as the most American probably, is fittingly called [Uncle] Sam’s Steakhouse. It offers delicious steaks, served as either “lady’s size” or “man size”, as well as other dishes, but can cost over $20 a meal. Tequila House (shown here), a favorite among American expatriates and near Kontraktova Ploshad metro, offers a good selection of Tex-Mex starting at about $10-$15 a person; chips and salsa is $4. Just down the street from Tequila House is Arizona BBQ that serves some of the best traditional American foods like cheesecake and barbecue. All their food is imported, and you pay for it. A modest meal will run about $20 a person. The Baboon Cafe, located near the Universitet metro, houses a used book and video store with many titles in English, and has a coffee house feel. Local bands also play there regularly.
  • Ukrainian - Besides the fast food, a favorite Ukrainian sit-down restaurant Kobzar, themed to the Cossack island fortress, is across the street from the main Kreshatik metro station. Probably one of the very best restaurants in Kyiv is Lipsky Osobnyak, not far from the upper entrance to Kreshatik metro station. If you want to impress someone, this is the place. Try the flaming pear for dessert! It’s also one of Kyiv’s most expensive restaurants.

    The tap water in Ukraine is not potable, and can cause diarrhea and painful stomach problems. The US embassy and other agencies suggest that tap water be boiled for 15 minutes. Bottled water is readily available, very cheap, and a much better alternative than filters. Five liters of bottled water (or about 1 1/2 gallons) is around $1. Ukrainians often use tap water for hot tea, but generally boil it for less than a minute.

    Grocery Shopping
    Europeans generally shop for food every day. People often stand along sidewalks or in underground crossings and sell food items, often items they have grown themselves. Fruits and vegetables are generally more available and fresher at these street markets than at grocery stores. Government-sanctioned stands selling everything from cookies to fruits are always found near a metro station. Semiprivate storess, similar in some ways to small grocery stores or markets in the U.S., cover most of Kyiv. They usually offer some selection and some quality, but it is really hard to compare them to anything in the US. In these stores, all products are sold from behind the counter, so language skills are a must. There are several western-style stores in Kyiv including large superstores like Euromart and Billa. However, they are not very conveniently located. La Furshet Supermarket Chain boasts average prices and has many locations. Two Furshets located near metro stations, Nivki metro at Prospect Peremohy 94/1 and Voksalna metro at Starovoksalna 23, are popular among the UEC crowd. A new supermarket, Velyka Kushenye, has a large store in the basement of Ukraina department store across from the circus and offers a more Western set-up. Both Furshet and Velyka Kushenye are open 24-7.

Web www.ueckyiv.org