Variety and dining: not such oxymorons here
By Paul Miazga
At one time not so long ago, variety and dining were two words never to be uttered in the same sentence by visitors to Kyiv; you got what was on the menu (i.e. Ukrainian food) and that’s it. This was so despite the preponderance of Koreans, Chinese, Indians, Georgians, Vietnamese, Jews and other ethnic groups that today provide some of the variety to dining in this city.
It’s been written elsewhere that Kyiv has a few restaurants worth noting, but the reviews usually reduce these options like so much gravy in a pan by describing them as over-priced (they usually are), offering poor service (true again) and dishes that aren’t quite authentic enough for experienced western tastes. I’m not here to argue; I just want to point out that a few short trips from the city center can mean a world of difference for discerning diners.
Take Chinese food here in the capital. Elsewhere in the West, Chinese is synonymous with cheap, fast and abundant. You can’t go to a strip mall in North America without running into a noodle shop or all-you-can-eat buffet. Sadly, the Chinese buffets here are awful, but there are great alternatives to those willing to spend some time to get out of the center.
Two such places stand out in my mind: one my friends and I have no particular name for (I think the name is Red China) is located near the Hippodrome south of Lybidska metro station at 47 Vasylkisvka St. (this is not to be confused with Velyka Vasylkivska St., which is the oft-used name of the street alternately known as Chervonoarmiyska or Krasnoarmiyska).
Red China, a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant, isn’t fancy, but that’s ok. Their dishes – everything from spicy Kung Pao chicken to fried eggplant, the sizzling veal hotplate and the fiery Szechuan pork – all happens to be excellent and inexpensive. How inexpensive is it? Local university students from China frequent this place, and that means the kitchen is always busy and, consequently, the food is always served hot and fresh. My friends and I like this place so much that we visit it at least once a month, and one friend enjoyed it so much that he translated their Russian menu into English, so even the most incompetent Russian speakers can just read and point to the dishes desired.
The other great hole-in-the-wall Chinese place, similar to Red China, is alternately known as Eastern Traditions or the Victory Food Company. It is located across the street from Extrem Style sporting goods on Hlybochytska St., the winding road that connects Podil’s Nizhny Val with Artema St.
As for food, the same deal goes for Eastern Traditions as Red China: cheap, good eats. Last time I checked they did not have an English menu. Maybe we just need to fall in love with the place and one of my friends or I will translate the menu there, too.
As for other ethnic restaurants in town, often overlooked are Mekong, a Vietnamese restaurant at 73 Artema, across the street from the American marine barracks (I’ll bet even they didn’t know it was there). Good spring rolls, decent pho soup (and cheaper than you’ll get it most anywhere) plus a variety of seafood dishes and even some spicy peanut dishes, a hallmark of Vietnamese cooking.
As for Georgian, few yet know of Ala Verde – again, a hole-in-the-wall – which sits just off Podil’s main street Sahaydachnoho on Ihorivska St. Check out their khachapuri (traditional bread with salty suluguny cheese and fried egg), kharcho soup (savory soup with mutton base), manti (large dumplings stuffed with spiced meat) and always order their fresh Georgian lavash instead of regular local bread.
The city’s last remaining place to get a takeaway falafel is Makabi, the kosher Jewish delicatessen/lunch stop at 15 Shota Rustafeli, right next to the Central Synagogue. The humous isn’t bad either. Incidentally, if you want to make your own humous, hit up any of the city’s larger covered markets (Besarabska, Volodymyrsky, Zhytny et al) to get chickpeas (pronounced knoot, with emphasis on ‘k’ as in the German word for garlic, ‘knoblauch’). They usually go for about Hr 20 ($4; 3 euros) per kg. Then visit the kosher grocery that’s squeezed in between the Central Synagogue and Makabi to get the other necessary ingredient, tahini paste. A 400 ml jar, which is good for at least four sizable batches of humous, costs about Hr 16-20.
As for Korean, there are actually several spots in town serving Asia’s most underrated food, but the best is Seoul, which has two locations: one at 160 Gorkoho, near the Volodymyrsky Market mentioned above, and the other at 36A Nauky Prospekt (Ave.), which is an Hr 20-25 cab ride from the city center heading south. Homemade kimchee, lots of table-top barbecue options, bibimbap and all the rest. It’s a bit more expensive than the Chinese options I’ve touched on, but it’s worth it.
As for Indian, Kyiv continues to rely on its few long-running standards. Himalaya, above street-level at 23 Khreshchatyk and the only Indian restaurant in the city center, recently completed renovations to its main entrance and has recently added online ordering (www.himalaya.com.ua) to go with its regular telephone ordering service. Business lunches there are a steal there for just Hr 40 ($8; 6 euros). Lovely samosas and butter chicken.
Kyiv’s other Indian restaurant, New Bombay Palace, is a bit further away from the center on Druzhby Narodiv Boulevard, on this major thoroughfare near the foot of the hill with Rodina Mat (the motherland statue which marks the spot of the city’s expansive WWII museum.
Water on demand
Given the heat and humidity in Kyiv of late, anyone living here would do well to start getting water delivered to their home or office rather than always having to resort to those bloody wasteful 5 or 6L plastic jugs. It’s a lot more economical, better for the environment and it promotes small business and conservation at the same time. For example, my girlfriend and I order from a small but reliable company called Kodatska Voda (Kodatsky Water; 537-3333). They are one of at least half a dozen such companies around and they deliver two 18.9 L reusable bottles of water to our apartment for just Hr 30 ($6; 4 euros). Delivery time can be as quick as 30 minutes but no longer than overnight, though the average is 3-4 hours from when the order is placed. The earlier the order, the quicker the response. They deliver between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. every day. They don’t sell a pump or a cooling-heating stand, but those can be bought at MegaMarket or other large supermarkets for about Hr 60.