“It’s worth a trip to Ukraine for the food and beer alone!” – was my husband Rick’s continual comment throughout our visit. Cosmopolitan Kiev and touristy Odessa offer a large selection of cuisines and price ranges, but our choice was to seek out restaurants serving up home-style Ukrainian fare.
Traditional Ukrainian cuisine is rich with natural ingredients. Meals usually consist of hearty soups and entrées containing fish, fowl or meat flavoured with fresh herbs. And you will always remember the taste of tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, onions, apples and peaches grown on the central belt of extremely fertile soil called chernozem (black earth), which lead to Ukraine being dubbed “the bread basket of Europe”.
Speaking of “bread” – a basket of bread will automatically be brought to your table, for which there will be an extra charge on your bill. Expect a puzzled sideways glance if you refuse the basket, as bread is considered a staple with every meal.
Our favourite restaurants were mid-range for Ukraine (25 to 50 CDN for two with a beverage) and all the ones mentioned have their English translations on their menus. The restaurant names below are the phonetic pronunciation in the English alphabet, but on the streets of Ukraine almost all signage is ONLY in the Cyrillic, so if not familiar with this alphabet, it is a good idea to have a local write the name in Cyrillic.
Restaurants in Kiev
This small comfy restaurant has the best vareniki in the city! Vareniki? The Ukrainian word for what I’ve always known as “perogies” had me stumped too. Although there are a variety of fillings – this restaurant’s light-as-a-cloud dough with potato and mushroom filling is heavenly. But first things first, we started off with the borsch – full flavoured broth of scarlet beet juice, beans, peas, white mushrooms and dill weed, eaten with a dollop of sour cream thicker than butter. And of course when on Kiev soil, one would not want to miss having Chicken Kiev (kotleta po-Kievsky); breast meat crisped on the outside – exploding with succulent buttery herb-packed goodness with each bite. Yum! We questioned “why not a local brew?”, only to find Stella Artois has been brewed in Ukraine since 2001.
(off Kreshchatyk, half a block from Independence Square)
Tel: (044) 278-5628
Chateau (this restaurant’s website will appear in Russian; click translate on top right)
The Chateau’s delightful outdoor restaurant (also with an indoor section) is on Khreshchatyk, the famed commercial street that is closed to traffic on weekends – perfect for people watching. We gave this one a “nine out of ten” on the borshch, chock-full of fresh garden vegetables and a tender morsel of pork. The garlic-laden kovbasa (homemade sausage) served with a fiery mustard dip was so scrumptious it commanded a second round, along with palette cooling “Slavutich” beer, a popular local brew.
Tel: (044) 279-3704
Several kilometres from the city centre, this folk restaurant is worth the walk/taxi to experience a delightful meal. It is modelled after a village eatery; white, roughly plastered ceilings, dark wood trim, and filled with farm kitchen antiques, plus a painted life-sized cow in the dining area. A variety of homemade liquors or “horilka” (flavoured vodka) and beer (pivo) are made by a character named Misha, who may be on hand to go from table to table telling stories. And even if you don’t understand Ukrainian, his antics will have you in stitches. Be sure to call ahead to find out when Misha and fellow musicians will take to the stage for some lively folk music.
We feasted on holubsti (rice and meat stuffed cabbage cooked in spicy and herb infused tomato sauce), and a traditional sausage known as “black pudding”, a blood sausage with buckwheat and garlic (tastes better than it sounds, although the consistency is most unusual).
Expect “one for the road” – a complimentary shot of horilka before walking out the door. My choice was sweet orange and Rick went with the Misha recommended “grrrreat” breath-stopping, eye-watering horseradish.
28v Lesi Ukrainki Blvd
Tel: (044) 285-5777
Restaurants in Odessa
Note: “Lasunka” is a person with a sweet tooth; a second meaning is gourmand. With this restaurant’s outdoor seating enclosed by trellises entwined with flowers (albeit plastic) it could be likened to a village restaurant that the country’s beloved national hero, Taras Shevchenko, frequented in the 1840’s and the recipes used are said to date back to his time.
It is here that we said, “Yes to Salo!”
No description of Ukrainian cuisine would be complete without salo – cured pork fat. Garlic, salt and a variety of spices are rubbed into the skin and fat; which is then set aside for a time before using. It is eaten in thin slices (looks like cheese) on black bread, with an added briny garlic pickle and washed down with ice-cold vodka. A taste sensation! The baby-finger-sized holubsti saturated with fresh tomato sauce, spicy ground-meat filled vareniki, and slivered fried pork drizzled with mushroom bits were mighty fine too.
17 Deribasovskaya (main pedestrian street)
Tel: (048) 725-8412
Ukraine will definitely delight foodies, whether they choose restaurants with national specialties, or one of the many renowned for their excellence in international cuisine.
Smachnoho! Bon Appétit!
Written by Irene Butler for EuropeUpClose.com