The next hot food destination is Ukraine
This summer I had the chance to visit Ukraine twice – yeah, baby! – and much of the joy of traveling there comes from eating. Nothing is forbidden. In the remote town of Ivano-Frankivsk, a stopover for skiers going to the Carpathians in western Ukraine, I met in Fabbrica a delicious non-alcoholic drink made from sea thistle and fettuccine noodles. violets made from beets. The prices are a fraction of what you would pay in the United States. And the service truly benefits from the art of hospitality.
It takes no imagination to say that the next hot food destination is Ukraine. But where do gourmets start in this immense country, the legendary granary of Europe?
For my money, start with Lviv, the ancient Austro-Hungarian city in western Ukraine that has great cafes on almost every block. Food in Lviv ranges from ordinary and average to breathtaking. In May, I visited Pretty High Kitchen (14 Rinok Square, Lviv), a new tasting restaurant. As I walked up the old staircase to the fourth floor, I wondered if we had made the right choice. And then I heard jazz tunes explode through two ten foot tall white saxophone-type horn speakers as my eyes saw the unusual setting. An old bed with a white string to hang it up hung upside down from the attic ceiling, white birdhouses and birdcages lined the red brick walls lit with white lights, and an open kitchen invited guests to join in. meal. Comfortable old-fashioned, unmatched chairs made me immediately feel at home.
My table mates that evening included Danylo Lubkivsky, the former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, who is the type who eats meat and potatoes. When he asked for the menu and I explained there wasn’t any, his eyes widened.
The waiter asked each guest to describe their favorite ingredients tonight. The chef will prepare each dish according to the wishes of the guest. For the starter, I asked the waiter for radishes and arugula and left the rest to the chef. The waiter came back with an amazing salad that had a bit of chipotle spice – the first time I have encountered them in 15 years of eating in Ukraine. For the main course, I ordered steak, curry, and roasted red peppers, and was not disappointed. The chef used filet mignon and all the shebang melted in my mouth.
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Danylo, previously ready to go for it when he learned there was no menu, couldn’t help but talk about the place.
But there is even more culinary pleasure to be had at 14 Rinok Square.
The holding FEST Restaurant also has two other spectacular restaurants in the same building. On the third floor, my friend knocked on an old padded Soviet door. A man in a bathrobe and slippers answers. Inside, Soviet kitsch galore. Old newspapers dot the walls, an old black-and-white television was making background noise, and a rabbit sat in a cage. The angry old man wanted to know why we were bothering him. To enter the restaurant, The Most Expensive Restaurant in Galacia, a lovely wood-paneled restaurant that wouldn’t be out of place in Georgetown, you have to convince the old man to let you into the restaurant through his cupboard. The elaborate cunning makes the experience.
Also in the same building, Kryivka, a bunker of the Ukrainian insurgent army during WWII, offers a journey down the path of nostalgia. You don’t go to Kryivka for fine dining. It is a red brick bunker with carved wooden tables. If you’re stupid enough to command Russian pelmeni, the lights go out and a Ukrainian Insurgent Army soldier appears at your table and physically pulls you out. Through the loudspeaker, the restaurant staff pretend to shoot the offending guest while he has a shot of vodka on his back. The lights come on and the server comes out with a tea towel to clean up the leftovers from the meal.
Next door is another gem, Lvivski plyacky, a small cafe that serves a perfectly flaky cherry, poppy seed and apple strudel with chocolate, vanilla, or caramel sauce. The strudel won’t even cost you $ 2 and you won’t be able to stop at just one. For Americans like me who were raised on chemically enhanced canned cherries, Cherry Strudel made from Ukrainian Deep Red Cherries is a must have.
It’s only a matter of time before international foodies discover Ukraine, but until they do, pass me another strudel.
Melinda Haring is the Deputy Director of the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council. She tweet @melindaharing.
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The opinions expressed in UkraineAlert are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Atlantic Council, its staff or its supporters.
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