One of the best ways to jump into a new culture is through the local food. The sheer act of sharing food experiences also gives you instant conversation starter material with locals. Ukrainian cuisine, like many northern cuisine, tends to be rich in root vegetables and fat. We are sure that you will find something on the menu that you’ll be missing when you head back home! Below are a few local establishments selling local food in Kyiv, both sit-down options and fast food options, that previous SRAS students would like to recommend to you!
Pushkinska St, 2-4/7
Before you even set foot inside of Taras Bulba Tarven (Korchma Taras Bulba), you can tell from the exterior of the restaurant that you aren’t walking into a hidden cache of authentic Ukrainian culture. It looks exactly like what it is — a tourist trap, and when you step inside the restaurant to witness waiters and waitresses dressed in elaborate Ukrainian folk garb, fake fireplaces, and fake flowers everywhere, your suspicions that locals might consider this place a bit on the tacky side, are confirmed. Kormcha Taras Bulba is in fact a chain of restaurants, so if you’re looking for a one of a kind Ukrainian dining experience, the kitsch level may be a bit too far over the top.
Now, taking everything I’ve said into account, let me candid with you — it’s totally fun, I had an unexpectedly good time, and you should go eat there. I owe the experience to a fellow student studying at NovaMova. I had walked by Taras Bulba at least two or three times before during my daily lunch spot searches, and bypassed it for the aforementioned reasons. However on this day I was not wandering alone, and my new friend, a Swiss guy called Olivier, lead me down Yaroslaviv Val about 4 blocks to the restaurant’s seedy doors, saying “We have to try it.”
After taking in the extreme decor, the first thing I noticed was that the restaurant was significantly less crowded than many of the cafe’s I’ve tried during lunch hours –a bonus if you’re from a smaller town like me and struggling to acclimate to city life. The second bonus for Oliver and I — English menus. Although sometimes it’s fun to play entre roulette with an all Ukrainian menu, it’s also fun to know what you’re ordering. Though our waitress spoke Russian, she spoke slowly and simply enough for me to understand at my intermediate level.
The quality of the food at Taras Bulba is comparable to the atmosphere. It’s certainly not the most delicious restaurant in the city, but, if you’re a poor international student trying to get full, I’m confident you’ll be pleased. First you get a basket of bread and hummus. Oliver chose Chicken Kyiv (somehow he’d never heard of it before), while I had a bowl of “traditional hearty borscht” with bread and something called “childhood’s favorite olive salad”. I chose the meatless option, and discovered it’s basically just potato salad. The specifically homemade mayo that menu mentions did not disappoint. I was able to get away with all of this for about 140 грн, or a little less than 7 dollars. If you manage to get out of there before your waitress has convinced you that you also need to order dessert and coffee (we caved), you’ve gotten out of there pretty cheap.
Noticing my camera, our waitress encouraged us to take the cheese level one step further, bringing me a fake flower headdress like all the waitresses wore, and Oliver a straw hat to match the waiters. Then of course there were pictures. So, if you can handle your meal ending in a ridiculous photo, then by all means, give it a try.
When my host sister and her cousin lead me to Globus shopping mall with the promise of a 100% Ukrainian, gastronomic, and secret restaurant, I was skeptical. Secret restaurant? “You will see.” Said Nadya, the cousin, smiling. “You even need a password to get in.” And so we stepped into the elevator, and Nadya selected a mysterious unmarked button. When the elevator doors opened to a simple coffee bar and boutique, my skepticism turned to confusion. Nadya walked up to the counter and said “Borietsya — Poborete” (fight and win). The password. The woman gestured to the corner. It wasn’t a corner at all, but an entrance. Here was the secret.
The hallway opened up into an impossibly large room. In front of us was a wall covered in outstretched metal hands. “You have to find the door,” A coat-check lady said. And so find the door we did, pushing on the wall until we discovered a revolving door.
Ostannya Barykada has three tastefully decorated rooms. Dim lighting, live Ukrainian music, and even a library corner, the restaurant exudes class. However, first and foremost to the restaurant’s concept, it is that it’s not simply a restaurant, but rather a club or meeting space, dedicated to free thinkers and artists “ready to defend their values, take responsibility, and change the country.” People who were born with Ukraine’s three modern revolutions, The Student Revolution on the Granite of 1990, the Orange Revolution of 2004, and of course the Euromaidan Revolution of 2014. Opened only after the latter of the three, the space also serves as a museum, to well, freedom. Wander from your table and you’ll find newspapers from 1991, the year the Soviet Union crumbled, revolutionary t-shirts, etc. Even the hands on the wall are a symbol, there are 72 hands in total, a reference to article 72 of the USSR constitution. The article gave any constituent republic freedom to secede from the Union.
With such a noble concept, it would be easy to forget about the food if it wasn’t downright delicious. We started our meal each with a shot of cherry ratafia. It was sweet but not overly syrupy, as liqueurs often are. Although it’s a very popular dish in America, I somehow had never tried Chicken Kiev, so I decided to go for it, a fancy restaurant in the city the dish was conceived of seemed like the right time. If you don’t know what Chicken Kiev is (Cutletu po Kievsky), you’re missing out. It’s indulgence sounds like something an American chef in a diner might dream up, but it’s execution in Kiev is far classier. It’s breaded chicken stuffed with butter, and it’s to die for.
As you may have guessed, this restaurant is not cheap. I indulged myself with the ratafia, a beer, and a dessert (Ukrainian crumb cake, highly recommended). Compared to the cost of what all this would have been in the United States though, it was nothing. All in all I spent about 400 UAH, only about 15 dollars. If you have the chance, go. Moving to a new country is stressful. Be an American, and fight that stress with some fancy food, and some freedom.
Tereshenkivska, 10 (inside Shevchenka Park)
Taras Shevchenko Park (Шевченка) in downtown Kyiv is a popular outdoor venue for recreation, socializing, and enjoying ice cream (мороженое), beer (пиво), and/or kvas (квас) from street-vending booths. It is conveniently triangulated by three metro stations: Universitet (Унiверситет), Teatralna (Театральна), and Ploshcha Lva Tolstoho (Площа Льва Толстого). During my visits to this park, I’ve enjoyed observing children spill laughter over playground equipment as well as ride ponies and motorized toy vehicles along the pedestrian pathways. It is also commonplace to witness chess matches, business meetings, couples and friends enjoying each other’s company on park benches, and live music performances around the park monuments and fountains.
Also located in Taras Shevchenko Park is a delightful authentic Ukrainian restaurant: О’Панас (O’Panas), which offers a more complete, up-scale dining alternative to the street vending option. This reasonably-priced sit-down eatery offers a charming, amiable atmosphere and equally friendly, professional service. For those who would like to experience genuine Ukrainian cuisine and culture without shriveling one’s wallet, I highly recommend О’Панас!
A fellow SRAS student and I dined at О’Панас in the early evening on a weekday, when the establishment was just starting to seat its guests amongst empty tables. With two dining levels, an enclosed summer terrace, and a third-floor private “VIP-hatynkas,” О’Панас can comfortably serve 150 guests in its Ukrainian Barocco interior. The restaurant’s wooden cottage (хатинка) construction features a picturesque mill-wheel at its entrance and a large tree which grows through the center of the building. Its large windows allow visitors to enjoy the sights of Kyiv’s historic central park while dining, and the restaurant also regularly serenades its guests with authentic live Ukrainian music. During our dinner, a trio of three women sang folk tunes and accompanied themselves on banduras (a lute-like string instrument originally played during the 15th-18th centuries by wandering minstrels and Cossacks).
О’Панас’s menu is extensive, providing a wide range of options in their choice of salads, soups, hot and cold appetizers, meat, fish, vegetarian entrees, desserts, and beverages. For those who are unfamiliar with Ukrainian dishes, the menu provides English translations of item names and ingredients. The full menu, along with other information about the restaurant can be found at the establishment’s official website, and О’Панас’s Facebook page displays additional pictures and event details.
I experienced the food to be exquisitely prepared and absolutely delicious. My friend and I sampled the «Голубцi з грибами лiд домашньою сметаною» (stuffed cabbage-rolls with mushrooms and sour cream), «Вареники з картоплею, грибами та шкварочками» (vareniki with potatoes, mushrooms, and cracklings), and «Балтика 7» beer. The portion sizes were healthy, leaving us feeling satisfied with both our meal and pocketbooks (our bill totaled $13.50 per person).
Options for more elaborate, expensive courses are readily available, including many dishes that were popular and considered traditional before the Soviets attempted to standardize and industrialize food production. This includes many dishes involving forest-based game, berries, nuts, and mushrooms.
The staff were friendly and experienced, and their traditional Ukrainian dress (elaborated with bright red and white embroidery) completed the charming folklore atmosphere.
For groups and faculty-led tours, О’Панас offers the option to reserve tables ahead of time by phone. This would be particularly helpful should your group require a large portion of the available dining space. The open-space arrangement of the restaurant can suit large groups quite well with the simple rearrangement of tables, but only if those tables are not occupied by other guests. О’Панас also provides a catering and delivery services. More information about these options can be found at the restaurant’s official website.
ул. Червоноармійська, 60
“Вареничная Катюша” is a self-described “chain of restaurants in the Soviet style” in Kyiv, according to the official restaurant website. With an expansive network of locations throughout the Ukrainian capital, all of which feature their own unique decorations and interior style, Вареничная Катюша is a charming establishment that serves up delicious, authentic Ukrainian cuisine with a generous side of Soviet culture and atmosphere, making for a memorable dining experience.
A “вареничная” (varenichnaya), is a restaurant that specializes in vareniki – a Ukrainian dish of boiled pasta surrounding meat, potatoes, cheese, cherries, or any other number of sweet or savory fillings. They are similar to ravioli, but beloved as a national dish of Ukraine. “Катюша” (Katyusha) is a diminutive form of Katya – a common Eastern European female name. “Катюша” really became part of the Soviet national identity, however, when, during WWII, a love song to “Катюша“ was written and popularized. The song was actually about a truck-mounted rocket-launcher battery of the same name that was used against the Nazis.
My first time dining at Вареничная Катюша was also my first time on a date in Kyiv. When I told my Ukrainian date that I was writing restaurant reviews for my study abroad program and wanted to try typical Ukrainian dishes, she immediately suggested Вареничная Катюша as the natural choice. Since we were already near Olimpiiski metro station, she and I simply walked to the Вареничная Катюша location on Chervonoarmiis’ka Street—less than a 10-minute walk from the metro.
After we greeted the wait staff and chose our own booth near the back of the restaurant, it immediately became apparent to me that eating at Вареничная Катюша is not just a culinary experience, but a cultural and historical experience as well. Photographs and pictures from Ukraine’s Soviet days, depicting various notable athletes and events, hung from the walls of the restaurant. Popular music from the Soviet era played from the ceiling, which was completely covered in Soviet newspapers. Old Russian books and novels stood on the shelves next to our booth, and even the dated upholstery and color scheme hearkened back to the days of the Cold War.
While the atmosphere satisfied my curiosity, the food more than satisfied my hunger. I ordered two dishes: деруни с беконом, or friend potato patties with bacon; and «ленивные» вареники, or “lazy” vareniki, so-called because they are easier to make than most Ukrainian vareniki or prirogi. Both dishes were delicious, with the potatoes and bacon tasting slightly better, in my opinion, than is usually the case in America (probably as a result of more butter and oil…), and the vareniki living up to all of my lofty expectations about the unique Ukrainian dish. To drink, I ordered a glass of typical компот, or juice made from stewing fruit and sugar, as well as a glass of the much less popular узвар, a stronger and more sour drink also made from Ukrainian fruits. While my date didn’t think I’d find the узвар tasty—warning me, “my father really likes it”—I thought it balanced the sweeter компот and salty potatoes and bacon quite nicely.
Being a gentleman (and since it’s the cultural custom in Ukraine), I paid for the entire meal, but my portion—for two good-sized main dishes and two drinks—came out to 103 UAH, or about $12.70. Though slightly more expensive than usual, I thought the price more than fair considering the traditional and delicious Ukrainian cooking, the friendly staff, and especially the unique and intriguing Soviet atmosphere of the restaurant. And with over a dozen locations throughout Kyiv to choose from, there’s usually a Вареничная Катюша nearby.
For groups and faculty-led tours, Вареничная Катюша is recommended as an excellent place to try typical Ukrainian food in a unique atmosphere. However, large groups should call to make a reservation, since most of the restaurant is laid out in booths intended for only 2-4 people at a time.
Kontraktovaya Ploshad’, 2/1
Пузата Хата is chain of Ukrainian cafeterias that serves great food at affordable prices. The name literally translated means “Hut of the Pot Belly,” and their tasty options will be sure to fill you up! Additionally, the wide variety is sure to have everything you want in an appetizer, main course, desert, or anything in between. Typically, meals cost between $5-$7. My personal favorite was the cherry vareniki with a side of Kvas!
If you’re just in the mood for drinks and desserts, don’t bother with the long line. Typically, there is another bar that serves everything from cappuccinos to пиво (beer) to cheesecake, often located on another floor from the main cafeteria. Every time I visit I couldn’t resist from my typical latte and sweet treat, because it was always tasty and cheap!
While there are numerous locations in Kyiv of this wonderful chain (the list of locations found here), the Podil location on the second floor near the bar is home to a weekly conversation club. Each night of the week, individuals meet to practice different languages. I attended twice a week, Russian nights and English nights. Since many friendly Ukrainians were willing to help me practice Russian, I felt I should return the favor by attending English nights and simply being the “native speaker” there. Plus, this was a great way to meet locals. We easily took up five large tables on English nights. In addition to weekly meetings, the club organizes different outings on the weekends, and this was a great way to explore different parts of the city. To keep up with the club’s meetings, check out their Facebook page.
For Groups and Faculty Led Tours, this is a great place because, because there it is quick, affordable, and always lots of space. The restaurants are typically big, so there is always place to find a table. It’s self-service. The benefit is the customer can totally customize his meal, trying authentic Ukrainian dishes, but the downside is that signs are only in Ukrainian and Russian. So, make sure you know what you’re getting. There are twelve locations in Kyiv alone, so you’re likely to be close to one wherever you are. After a nice walk down Andreevskiy Spusk, you will be at Kontraktova Square. If you walk straight along the square, towards the mounted horseman in the front of the square, and Пузата Хата is on the right hand corner. One of the other popular locations is located just off the Khreshchatyk, right around the corner from the metro station.
Note: This entry composed by Caroline Barrow drawn from her previous experience in Kiev. Nearly all pictures have thus been taken from the Puzata Khata official website.