Kiev: Dining Adventures For The Solo Female

Dispatches from the Road, Eastern Europe, Food & Wine, Solo Travel — By on July 3, 2012 at 12:00 pm

by Emma French

Special to The Lost Girls

Since Ukraine gained independence in 1991, its beautiful capital city Kiev has been steadily building buzz as an alternative destination to flashier neighbours like St Petersburg and Budapest. It doesn’t enjoy such a high profile as a destination for lone female travelers, but it merits consideration for its safe, friendly and accessible vibe and the many exciting dining opportunities that it offers.

Kiev’s restaurants welcome women traveling alone, and tend to go out of their way to make them feel comfortable, whether it’s throwing a blanket around them on an outside terrace or offering a complimentary digestif. It’s a great place to sample authentic versions of celebrated dishes; and not just chicken Kiev.

A word of warning: there is no smoking ban in Ukraine and the air in Kiev’s bars and restaurants can become a choking fog by late evening. Fortunately there are numerous attractive outdoor venues to grant respite for non-smokers; at least in the summer months.

National Dish

For the brave there is always the national dish, “salo”, or lard. Many a visitor has tried salo by accident, as it often arrives looking much like a shiny cube of smoked fish on a cocktail stick. Many may choose to forego the salo experience but don’t miss out on two or three shots of Kiev’s incredible honey pepper vodka, which also makes a great souvenir gift. If you do hazard salo, the sweet, spicy vodka is the perfect chaser.

Informally, borsch has equal stature as a national treasure. Though this beetroot soup is undeniably delicious, it unfairly overshadows its even more delectable, lesser-known cousin, solyanka, a thick and sour soup.

Kossack Cuisine

Kozak Mamay, right off the main shopping precinct at 4 Proriznaya Street, is absolutely unmissable. Stuffed full of very eccentric folk artefacts and paraphernalia in numerous different rooms, it’s an unforgettable experience with preternaturally chipper staff in traditional dress. They make lone females feel very welcome and the food is carb-laden, savoury heaven. The slightly cheesy, touristy ambience is offset by a pretty impressive wine list and a cute, urban hideaway location. The phenomenal boiled dumplings will inhabit your dreams for months afterwards.

Sushi Fad

Although internationally ubiquitous now, there is still something very striking about the incredible number of sushi joints in Kiev. They vary wildly in quality, but the best ones rival even some of the Tokyo and Kyoto joints this particular sushi fanatic has sought out.  Mikado at 55 Bolshaya Vasilikovskaya Street is notably ambitious. The sake is excellent and refreshingly cheap after the eye-watering prices of new London hotspots like Aqua Kyoto. The yakitori and tempura are marginally more impressive than the sushi and sashimi on offer, but it all bears up favourably against international competitors.

Street Food

Since one of Kiev’s greatest pleasures is its status as Europe’s most unsung walking city, there’s no need to confine yourself to restaurants. There is a proliferation of food stalls on Kiev’s main shopping precinct, including a rather unique trend in dozens of flavoured popcorn stands. For a more traditional Ukrainian offering, the deruny (fried potato cakes) will challenge the waistline of all but the most abstemious. Even the greasiest roadside kiosk seems to serve up irresistible versions.

I had told a globetrotting old friend of mine that I was planning a trip alone to Kiev. He had travelled to Ukraine before the fall of communism and remarked to me: “There’s only two things I remember about Kiev – a giant statue of Mother Russia and some mummified monks. Odd.” Although it’s undoubtedly hard to erase those two impressions, the unique dining and drinking experiences also linger on in the memory.

Phileas French is my travel brand and blog avatar, but I am Emma French, a London-based writer and editor who was born into the Diplomatic Service in Puerto Rico. I have been travelling ever since, often with my two small children. My book, Selling Shakespeare to Hollywood, is out now. I have lived in San Juan, Washington, Muscat and Milan. I write for a number of travel publications including Travel Belles, Travel Culture Magazine, In the Know Traveler, Got Saga, the BD Web Guide and The Adventure Travel Shop.

Follow Emma at PhileasFrench and @PhileasFrench

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