Kyiv First 100 Days: Eating Out

For the last two weeks before we left the States, we stayed at hotels and at Auntie S's. During our hotel living, we were surprised at how quickly it became tiresome to choose which restaurant we would eat at or what kind of food we wanted to eat for dinner.

When we were in New York City, we actually stayed in a two-bedroom flat with a fully functional kitchen and dining table because our original plan was to buy groceries and eat mostly at "home." The trouble was finding a functional grocery store near Times Square. And then knowing how to transport it home on foot. We didn't think through those logistics. So we ended up buying a few breakfast and lunch staples at the drugstore around the corner and then eating out (or once, ordering in) every night we were there. We ate at some fun places, and found some relatively inexpensive and kid-friendly choices, but still, the restaurant/cuisine choosing started to be a chore.

The last night of our hotel stays, after we were back in D.C., we ate at one of my favorite seafood restaurants, a more expensive establishment that I've been to only twice before. We took the kids and they ordered fish and chips, which were marvelous. Calvin poked his around on his plate and said, "Mom, this fish is just not impressive." I laughed out loud and he felt bad because he was serious. But that's when I knew that eating out every night is not all it's cracked up to be. I was sooooo thankful when we got to Auntie S's for our last few nights and had good home cooking every day.

Fast forward to Kyiv: First, the grocery situation here without a car is much the same as it was in New York City. Second, although I've managed to organize shopping a bit more and cook decent meals at home most nights, we've had a sketchy few days when we thought eating out would alleviate hassle and stress. It's a toss-up whether the logistics of grocery shopping with two children or the ordeal of eating out as a family is more of a circus. I'll post more about the markets later, but so far this is our eating out experience...

McDonald's is pure chaos. Tiny little cocktail tables that you have to set your stuff down on before the last people leave if you want to be the next occupant of the table. Actually, both McD's that we have been to are more or less standing room only, any time of day. And most of the patrons don't understand the idea of "fast food" - they loiter indefinitely with the beer they brought in, they do homework and have business meals. In McDonald's.

Also, I thought it was funny once to overhear a woman complaining that she had to take her own tray to the trash can. How cheap and yucky to have to bus your own table. That's when it occurred to me that in the Ukrainian mind there is no distinction in type of restaurant, and McDonald's is still a dining experience for most people here.

All I have to say is that in desparate moments, the familiar tastes of McNuggets or a Double Cheeseburger (not to mention real french fries!) are a balm to the culture-shocked soul.

T.G.I.Friday's was not bad, not as crowded, but we had heard that it's a great place to go when you are missing the idea of customer service. Not so. It appeared for a while that they did not want to seat or serve us at all, because several tables were open and they told us there was nowhere for us to sit. It seems that an efficient seating, serving, bussing system has not occurred to anyone. It's like with every new customer, they have to think through what needs to happen next every time.

But our waitress was nice, and English speaking, and the fajitas were passable. Only in Ukraine, though, would you order a kids quesadilla and the cook would feel the compulsion to include tomatoes and ham and mayo in the quesadilla. But the boys gobbled it up. The main drawback? It's expensive. But there were some entertaining highlights, such as this little addendum to the kids' menu:

("Important information for parents: all children love Coca-Cola!")

We also ate once at a little Ukrainian cafeteria that we stumbled upon on one of our wanderings around the city. It was a fun experience, really. There's a big vanity area with sinks and soap where everyone has to wash their hands at the entrance of the serving line. The borscht left something to be desired and there was a scarey mystery meat that looked much more delicious than it actually was, but there were some lovely blini (like crepes) and some great salads and potato dishes. And the prices were super reasonable. We decided that if anyone ever visits, we will take them there just for the cultural experience and the quaint and clean atmosphere.

But my our classic experience eating out thus far was actually ordering in, the second night we were in the country. We noticed "Pizza Papa" nearby and decided to order pizza. It came in a real pizza box that boasted, "Pizza Papa - the Best American Pizza in Kiev!" Well, the pizza didn't have peas or corn on it, which is a vast improvement over the first pizza I encountered here years ago.

But I think they needed to leave the "American" part out of their claim to fame. It's still not very American, probably not Italian. Mostly just a Ukrainian copy of something Americans love, which is the main goal. The crust wasn't bad, and it definitely doesn't cost as much as pizza in the States, but the cheddar cheese, sugary sauce, huge slices of Christmas ham and something posing as pepperoni reminded me that some things just aren't quite right.

And yet the idea of ordering pizza still lures us on...A happy dream, really. Almost a reason to take that fourteen hour flight back to the land of Pizza Hut, Domino's and UNO Pizzeria. Almost. Because, deep in our hearts, we know that eating out anywhere is sometimes just not impressive.


Anonymous said...

I should have cancelled the order for pizza as soon as they asked me if I wanted to add any corn, tuna fish, or calamari to my pie.

Anonymous said...

Although we all came through TGI Fridays with our intestines intact, in the future they shouldn't sit the Americans where can see in to the kitchen. It is not a confindence building experience for the customer.

Code Yellow Mom said...

I just wanted to add, without making a big update to this post, that there are actually many, many interesting restaurants in Kyiv. We plan on giving at least a few of them a try once we are more settled. And have found a good babysitter. So I'll keep you posted on the culinary landscape as we try some of the places that are true Ukrainian rather than Trying To Be American.

Christine said...

You've got me laughing about your pizza experiences. They've got Pizza Hut here in Istanbul but after a couple of times I've lost hope that it will ever measure up to American standards. I don't think my husband will ever give up hope. Plus the porklessness of it all is very disheartening.

Ambulance Mommy said...

oh YAY for finding a good babysitter! I love that you can find one in Kiev, and I can't seem to find one in Connecticut :)

I do know what you mean about the food though. I spent a semester in Florence, and by the end, I just really wanted some home cooking, and our rooms had no kitchen. A toaster oven and microwave can be useful, but just not the same.

Frodo said...

I stumbled upon your blog. I am waiting to hear back to see if I'll get to the Oral Assesment for the Foreign Service - and appreciate you blog for a peek into the FSO life.
I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine (2004-2006). If Vesuvius Pizza is still open I highly recommend them - it was as close to American pizza as I ever had there.
There is also a great Indian restaurant on Kreshatik at the intersection of Boghdan Khmelnytskoho.
Enjoy your time in Ukraine!