Warning: This post may trigger you to seek food immediately.
When we first arrived in Kyiv in 2013, one of the first questions we asked our colleagues was, of course, "Where can we get some good food in the city center?" Their recommendations all started a bit like, "Well, there's this great Ukrainian place..." or "There's a really good pub..." but there was very little in Kyiv beyond Ukrainian food and some chain restaurants like T.G.I. Friday's. I still don't know if it was the Euromaidan Revolution that sparked the creative change or if it was something already at play that happened to coincide with the time, but big changes started to take place around April of 2014. These changes evolved into the Kyiv you see today that is hugely gastronomic. I'll take you through a slice of my favorites, from desserts to meals, and the trendiness of the places that serve them.
Everyone who knows me knows that if there's any room in my belly after a meal then I'm getting dessert. Kyiv is like the capital of desserts. They have mastered the macaroon to near Parisian standards, along with a damn good cheesecake and any type of mousse you can imagine. Not to mention the sponge cakes and the eclairs. That is just a short list.
Seeing as Kyiv started out five years ago with not much more to offer than its national cuisine, it has come a long way. Gone are the days when McDonald's was your only option for some American comfort food. Gourmet burgers can be found at nearly a dozen places around town. In addition, there are several places that also sell gourmet hot dogs and I have yet to try an example that I don't like. At one particular establishment, Dogs n Tails, you can enjoy a gourmet hot dog, a super fancy cocktail (Dogs = hot dogs, Tails = cocktails), and then play some good ol' American pinball for free before you head out the door. There are plenty of other meat places to engage the carnivore, including several really fantastic steakhouses (my favorite located right next door to our building by the opera house), shashlik (like a skewered kebab) at any of the Georgian, Turkish, or Crimean establishments, and even an "all you can eat" style Brazilian slow-roasted meat place. To name a few. And yes, there's even Dr. Pepper.
The creative dishes and types of cuisine are endless. There's your classic Italian food and sushi, Mediterranean food and Vietnamese, and yes! Asian food has become quite popular over the past couple of years with Kyiv going from exactly zero Vietnamese places to around 8 really decent ones! We can even get our favorite dish from China, the spicy, deep friend green beans, at more than one Chinese restaurant. Kyiv has introduced us to several types of food we had never tried before. I tried my first Georgian food in Kyiv, which has grown to become one of my favorite categories. Georgian food consists of a lot of bread and cheese, but also of spices and walnut paste mixed into something heavenly. The last picture in the gallery below is one of khachapuri, a delicious Georgian "pizza" made with a special type of cheese and an egg on top. There are actually many, many variations of how you can do khachapuri, but it always involves bread and cheese! Crimean Tatar food is also very tasty and reminds me of Ukrainian food with a Middle Eastern flair. The first image below is one of cheburek which is a pocket stuffed with filling of your choice (meat, cheese, mushrooms, etc.) and then deep fried. Always served with sour cream and so tasty!
Of course, Ukrainian food will always hold a special place in my heart. Diruny, or potato pancakes fried in freaking amazing lard, have got to be my favorite thing. They can be topped with caramelized onions, mushrooms, or dill... but there's always sour cream! The dumpling of Ukraine is called verenyky and are little pockets of heaven. They can be filled with so many things and are either savory (potato, cabbage, mushroom, meat) or sweet (most commonly cherry). Syrniki is my favorite Ukrainian breakfast food. It is made with a dry cottage cheese (not the slimy wet stuff we eat back home) and is then formed into little patties with some added spices like cinnamon. Fry them briefly and then bake them in the oven, serve with some berry jam and sour cream (of course!) and it's a tasty little piece of paradise. News flash: Chicken Kiev is not really a Ukrainian dish, but you can get it in some places around town. Picture cordon bleu but with a full stick of butter in the middle instead of cheese. Too much for me. Ukrainian food also helped me discover my love of beets. I had honestly never really even tried this vegetable, and the color kind of creeped me out before Ukraine. Now, it's something I crave! Two of my favorite Ukrainian dishes with beets are borscht soup (red in color cuz of those beets) and vinaigrette salad, which contrary to its name, doesn't even use vinegar. It's just diced beets, potato, pickles, and sometimes peas. Sounds and looks very strange, but it is so delish.
Kyiv is coffee central, and makes some really good espresso-based coffee. I've honed my love for a good cappuccino in this city and can even judge good coffee from bad (at least in my opinion!) Kyiv also makes one type of coffee that I'd never tasted before coming here, which is called the Raf Coffee. I looked it up and apparently it was invented in Russia and you really can't find it many places outside of Ukraine (and I presume also Russia) at this point in time. The main difference is that when the milk is steamed it is done with cream added as well (and I think also the espresso). The result is a very creamy coffee drink. Heaven. Another first I've had here in coffee is the "caramelized" coffee. Why hasn't anyone thought of this before? Make your cappuccino, sprinkle sugar on top of the milk foam, and blow torch the thing. It's like a coffee creme brulee and it is the best of two worlds in one drink.
Finally, presentation. Kyiv is all about the presentation, from how the food is put in front of you, what it's served on, and the environment around you. Just look back through these images I've posted. Restaurants in Kyiv are so creative. I always remind myself to look up because the light fixtures are often one of the most creative pieces of the room. Ukrainians are incredibly creative (this will be a separate post because there's just too much to say about it) and this comes out not only in their escape rooms, but also in their restaurants and cafes.
Where do we find all of these spots? In Ukraine it's best to use the app Foursquare, which is much more commonly used by locals than TripAdvisor or Yelp. We often search "trending" to see which places are new and what is good there. Really there are far too many good places in Kyiv to even try and list them all!
As much as we will miss Kyiv and her plethora of sensations for the taste buds, we have the opportunity to live in another food culture hub with our upcoming move to Beirut, Lebanon! Soon, food tour 2.0 will commence in a new city. We can only look to the future and hope our new experiences will be half as good as they were in Ukraine.