Fresh from the oven
By Paul Miazga
Ukraine was often termed “the breadbasket of the Soviet Union” due to its bounteous harvests and ample fields of grain (the bottom half of the Ukrainian flag is meant to imply as much). When I got here five years ago, however, and all they had to serve up in local stores was typically stale white bread or unreasonably dense black rye bread, I began to wonder what kind of standards the Soviet Union had really sunk to that people felt that this kind of bread was worth gloating about.
During my years at the Kyiv Post we once had this public polling section called the Readers Poll; we polled readers for their input on various topics, from the city’s best burger and cappuccino to what’s missing from the local dining scene. This topic more than any we ever asked in all my time there got the most responses. Among the criticisms leveled at the Kyiv dining scene were: no good Caesar salads (still a problem); no all-you-can-eat buffets (another nagging problem); no fast food other than McDonald’s (what happened to that Pizza Hut idea, anyway?), and no good white bread.
Since then, I’m happy to report that Kyiv can now boast of a number of places where shoppers can find good white bread – and lots of other kinds that are far tastier, too.
Take for starters Repriza, that chain of handsome coffee shops and luncheonettes that dot the capital. The shops, in addition to offering excellent coffees, lunches, pastries, cakes and more, can also be relied upon for providing quality loaves of Ukrainian origin (most notably the hard-to-pronounce pshenichny variety, made of wheat as the name suggests) as well as French baguettes, Italian ciabattas and others. Always good quality, though they only bake once a day and, once the day is done, they’re quick to remove them from the shelves. See Cafes in the Food & Drinks section of the main page for more on this.
Following close behind Repriza were MegaMarket and Furshet grocery stores, both of which now bake ready-made loaves (supplied by a local producer) on site. All MegaMarket locations and the Furshet Gourmet location in Mandarin Plaza proffer great quantities of excellent, fresh loaves of various kinds: Italian ciabattas with olives, peppers or just plain; baguettes; sesame or poppy seed topped loaves; buns and rolls of all sorts; local varieties, as can be found elsewhere, cherry- and strawberry-filled pastries and even doughnuts. From the look of the lean local cops, they haven’t figured this out yet. The breads at either MegaMarket or Furshet are nothing to sneeze at – as much as $4 per loaf or more, depending on what you’re buying – but the quality is usually there. Just get there early before the goods have been thumbed and prodded by all the other shoppers. For locations and store hours, see the Shopping section on the main page under the heading Kiev Basics.
Adding to the local market, a little more than a year ago a Danish group came to town and opened a pair of places called the Danish Bakery. One is in Podil, the other on the city’s Left Bank. The residential bread market in the ‘burbs will never be the same again. Though I can’t say that I’ve ever been to either location, the Danish Bakery has certainly gotten the attention of a locally employed Dane in town who has his own blog. Check out Torben Riis Jensen’s comments on the Danish Bakery.
Finally, the latest entrant into Kyiv’s bread market naturally had to be an upscale place located right in the heart of the old downtown. In posh Passage alleyway, the Volkonsky bakery, which is run by a Frenchman, sits far back from the rush off Khreshchatyk Street. The interior of this small but alluring producer guarantees that those who wander in will wander back out with some sort of bread in their hands.
The variety of breads sold at Volkonsky’s outpaces that of every other bakery in town. They encourage prospective customers to sample fresh nibbles of product before buying. The staff is helpful and friendly (unlike the helpful but morose staff at MegaMarket) and the goods are unspeakably delicious. This is the kind of stuff I’ve waited for patiently for all these years.
Ukrainians have this tradition of offering bread and salt to guests and to those visiting the country (at least in the most formal of ceremonies). They ought to consider skipping the traditional varieties and shop around a bit now that there’s so much good bread around.
Still lots to see and do
I happened to be away last weekend for a wedding in Moscow, which meant that I missed quite a weekend here in town. Kyiv is certainly not as busy as the great seat of old Muscovy, but it has its moments.
For starters, German restaurateur Eric Aigner has returned to Independence Square, the site of one of his – and the city’s – first ex-pat restaurants, a pizzeria. On Friday Aigner invited regular patrons of his erstwhile establishments to his latest spot on Sofiyivska Street, Stroyka, just up from the McDonald’s on the square. The place, word has it, is incredibly small, but like all his other places he’ll make up for the lack of size with a high turnover rate.
Aigner, who has apparently had a falling out with his local business partners (he’s said as much in an interview with the Kyiv Post newspaper), has set up Stroyka completely on his own due to a conflict over the real value of the “Eric’s Family” brand, which he built from ground up. The outgoing German from Chemnitz has built his reputation here on establishments that are incredibly friendly, easygoing and relatively cheap when compared to other spots in the capital. They’re almost all below ground and without any visible signage, but that’s a subtle reminder to the not-so-distant past, when tax inspections by government lackeys were common and could put a viable patron out of business. It also says a lot about how expensive street-level property is in Kyiv.
Check out Stroyka, but be careful not to miss it. Standing facing the McDonald’s on the square, head to the right along Sofiyivska St. sticking to the right hand side and walking against the grain of traffic (traffic flows down Sofiyivska, but up Mala Zhytomyrska). Look for building #8.
On Saturday, a host of international NGOs, including the UNDP, the International Organization for Migration, USAID and others put on a free concert at the Green Theater headlined by the Stereo MCs. This eclectic, energetic British rock band provided one of the highlights of a summer concert season that earlier featured the Black Eyed Peas and Jamiroquai, and those who attended the concert say it was the best concert of the three.
What was most impressive for me was that such a high-caliber band as the Stereo MCs were brought to Ukraine and by a coalition of NGOs whose work in the humanitarian aid sector needs little if any introduction. Hopefully the concert raised some awareness as to the work of the UNDP, IOM and USAID in Ukraine.