Unmissable Ukrainian Food And Drink
Ukrainian cuisine is heavily based on sour cream, dumplings, potato, rye bread and pork. This is a classic Eastern European cuisine heavy in stodge and lacking in spice and flavour, but saying that also does a great injustice.
The infamous example of this is of course borsch, a beetroot soup poured over compulsory sour cream. It’s filling and tasty, and you should certainly try to sample as much as possible, it’s a staple everywhere. More adventurous is the solyanka, a Russian favourite, which includes pickled cucumber and traditionally kidney.
If you fancy a drink, Lvivske beer is the local sponsor of Eurovision and is going to appear all over the place as a suitable beverage. Local wine from Ukraine certainly gets the job done and shouldn’t be baulked at, especially as anything imported is liable to be double the price of Ukrainian, but with wine typically costing 30-90 UAH (1-3 EUR) per glass and 15-30 UAH (0.5-1 EUR) for half a litre of beer cost should not be a factor. Medovuha (mead), Horilka (Ukranian vodka) and Nastoyanka (fruit liqueur) are also available if you fancy something stronger. Expect these to be surprisingly clean and amazing value, even at the airport on your way home you will find one litre of vodka for 4 Euros.
For those of us who prefer their drinks soft, Kvass is a non-alcoholic fermented rye bread drink which is much nicer than its description suggests! This is a perfect substitute for beer and if the weather if good expect to find street vendors around the parks selling this in pint-sized plastic cups for pennies. Continuing with the theme, the fermented milk drink Kefir is widely available and very tasty, canteen style restaurants will often have this available alongside any fruit juices. Uzvar is a sweet soft drink made from fresh or dried fruit, sugar and water. The tap water is not good for drinking, even boiled, so make sure you stock up on bottled water. Still water can be identified if you look closely at the labels, a word starting with ‘no gas’ (негаз…) shows there is no gas inside the water.
As Europe’s cheapest city Kyiv is a delight to eat out in. For a rough idea of pricing, a dish in a fast food/buffet style restaurant will cost around 1-2 euros. A main meal in a standard restaurant is 3-6 euros, while if you want to go crazy in a fine dining restaurant you might spend 10-20 euros. Imported food, especially seafood can be more expensive, but compared with Stockholm last year even this is a relative relief to your wallet. Despite the currency crashes of recent year Kyiv still has plenty of people who want to eat out and the top restaurants will need booking in advance.
Restaurants handily display the weight of the meal on their menu, sometimes broken down into the constituent parts. So you might see a dish described as Pork with fried potatoes, mushrooms and fresh vegetables 100/150/50/100 g. It helps you get an idea of whether you are ordering a small plate or a sharing platter.
If you are looking to self-cater the supermarkets are superb. Typically seasonal Ukrainian food is very affordable and in any decent supermarket a large array of pre-made hot and cold food from mayo-based salads, pies, hot and cold meats, dumplings, pancakes etc. One of our favourites is the Novus supermarket a stone’s throw from the arena, where the salad bar is 40% off from 21:00 (the show starts at 22:00) and the supermarket has its own mini-canteen and, wait for it, fully functioning bar for a quick drink before the live shows. In town the main shopping street Khreshchatyk has a Billa supermarket on its southern tip and a upmarket 24 hr Silpo in the Gulliver shopping centre at Sportyvna Square one stop further south. The latter has mini-cafes inside too with adorable pastries and amusing takes on that very British establishment of fish and chips. Served in newspaper of course.
You will also find numerous street kiosks selling breads, pies and pastries. Ordering can be a point and hope for the best affair, but I’ve never had a dud choice. The safe choice is typically Eastern European soft doughy pizza, guaranteed to fill you up for all for the whole four hour final. It might slow your digestive system down – so prior reading of Ellie Chalkley’s article about staying healthy at Eurovision is recommended. They will often ask if you want your food heated, which will take a couple of minutes.
Around The Arena
The Kyiv International Exhibition Centre has a variety of food choices within a five minute walk. As you come out of the Metro station Livoberezhna (Лівобережна), you will see a 24 hour McDonalds – complete with a self-service order screen with English option. There’s also a Domino’s and some local fast food choices along this road (I’m still tickled by local rip-off chain McFoxy). Turn right out of the station, away from the arena down Raisy Okipnoi St and you will find To Dublin, a large Irish Bar which brews its own beer at 95 UAH per litre (1 EUR) and a Puzata Hata buffet restaurant where you can eat your fill of traditional Ukrainian dishes.
Just outside the arena area feature another couple of restaurants that are relatively generic but get the job done. Mafia is best known for its sushi and pizza sharing plates, and Koroli just a minute beyond with English-language menus in a rather generic chain restaurant experience. In that area of Kyiv our recommendation would be the adorable Oliva chain with an Italian flavour and pastel colours. Press people may be starting their day with their 86 Hryvnia English breakfast.
Where To Sample Ukrainian Food
Puzata Hata is a buffet chain selling great-value Ukrainian food, with branches around the city. Everything is laid out for you to choose from, just take what looks good and pay at the cash desk. You will struggle to spend more than five euros for a full meal, and it’s a great introduction to the variety of Ukrainian dishes.
Spotykach has great reviews for traditional Ukrainian dishes. If you have been inspired by 1944 to try Crimean Tatar food, head to Musafir which offers authentic food and costumed waiters. This place is very much in need of being reserved in advance.
My highlight of Kyiv’s food scene is Kanapa, a fine-dining restaurant which serves only Ukrainian-grown food and drink. In March I had the excellent twelve course tasting menu with alcohol pairing for only 989 UAH (35 EUR). Featuring all the toys of liquid nitrogen cooling and grilling at your table and everything else in between, as an experience this is possibly the best value high class meal on the planet. I will definitely be returning in May.
Best Of The Rest
Kanapa is part of a wider group of restaurants offering varied themes from a speakeasy Ostannya Barikada (get the password when booking!), to Japanese/Peruvian fusion food at Ronin, and a fancy Asian Steakhouse at Oxota Na Ovets. You can check out the whole range here.
Georgian restaurants are the mainstay of the former Soviet states and it’s no different in Kyiv. Georgian food is famous for richness, with unique local dishes like khinkali and chachapuri now becoming hipster treats worldwide. The Chachapuri restaurant just down the hill from the University Metro station is likely to be a spot-the-delegation hideout, yet Georgian cuisine is easy to find. You will find other restaurants spread around the city, such as Mama Manana and Khinkali selling all the traditional tastes of Georgia.
For the chocolate lovers among us I would suggest a trip to Lviv Handmade Chocolate Company, who have several shops and cafes in the capital. You might also want to check out the Roshen chocolate shop on Khreschatyk or elsewhere in the city, their gift boxes make for ideal presents. If you are looking for a cosy, student-friendly café, Milk Bar near the Palace of Sports ticks all the avocado-smashing boxes. The vegan carrot cake, served with a sprinkling of nuts, would be fitting in any Scandi fika stop.
For The Non-Meat Eaters
If you are a vegetarian you should be able to find something to eat pretty much anywhere, although watch out for hidden pork fat/bacon used to flavour dishes without any thought.
Vegans might struggle in standard restaurants, but there are plenty of specialist restaurants to try. Tripadvisor favourite Imbir offers breakfast, lunch or dinner and everything is vegetarian or vegan. If you have overindulged then Nebos offers raw food without added fat, sugar or flour. EcoBuffet offers great value veggie food in three city-centre locations – with main meals costing up to 25 UAH (0.9 EUR) you are unlikely to go over-budget!
Going Out And Experiencing The Night Life
EuroClub is based in Parkovy, within staggering distance from the city centre although annoyingly between both Arsenalny and Khreshchatyk stations. It will be the official place for delegations and press, and fans are going to be able to buy tickets as well to dance the night away. Of course, this means there is nowhere else you need to go…
However you may want to show some support to the local gay scene, which has some options available but is hardly a goldmine. LIFT, located on the fourth-floor of an anonymous office building, has plenty of security at each level which makes getting in feel a bit of a stress, but it’s perfectly calm inside. Women will have to pay an entry fee, but it’s free for men. There’s table service inside and a couple of dancefloors – we can’t guarantee Eurovision music, but we heard a few Ukrainian Eurovision songs when we were there after the National Final.
For another review of the venue Gaydio went to Kyiv back in March, and I suggest checking out their article for more information.