Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Cooking in Kiev, Part 1

Different cooking equipment, different ingredients…some days, I feel like I’m learning to cook all over again. Most things have turned out great so far, a few not so good. I hope you’ll enjoy a bit about my experiences with grocery shopping and cooking in Kiev (which by the way is pronounced KEY-ev—a two-syllable word with the stress on the first syllable. I heard Ki-EV, Keev, Cave and finally asked what was correct and found out that you take the typical American way and switch which syllable is stressed).

The hot dogs were individually wrapped within the package.
 Part 1: Grocery Shopping:

The market is a lot of fun, and forces you to attempt to communicate with people more than you need to at the grocery store, where you can pretty much say nothing, unless you’re going to the deli or meat counter.

All sorts of produce are available inexpensively in the market, as well as dried beans and fruit, honey, etc. Then there’s the meat. As an American, I can’t stomach buying meat that has perhaps been sitting out all day without refrigeration. If you want to buy a pig’s head, no problem…you can buy one in the market. Bill came home from the market today with what must have been a 30-pound watermelon, based on the price per kilo and walked up the steps to our 7th floor apartment with it.

You can also stop at all sorts of stands selling cell phones, electrical cords, plumbing supplies, dishes, or pretty much anything else you may need to pick up. It’s a fun experience and I look forward to trying to patronize the same stands so I can get to know the merchants a bit.
Ketchup Aisle
Domino's delivers

The grocery stores have a lot of familiar and unfamiliar products. What they don’t have is tortilla chips (having to have potato chips with fajitas are a little weird!), chocolate chips, sliced lunchmeat, salsa, marshmallows and peanut butter. Oh, and syrup, ranch dressing and brown sugar and probably other stuff I haven’t missed yet. Fortunately, I’ll be able to get a pass to go to the commissary at the American Embassy to buy some of the above items (for a price, I’m sure) when I really want them.  At least I can make my own salsa and I made my own syrup from water, vanilla, sugar and brown sugar (that I brought with me).

What there’s a lot of: a whole aisle of various types of ketchup. In America, there are like 3 brands of ketchup plus the generic in various sizes. It’s all just ketchup, or maybe catsup just to give it some variety. Here, there are probably dozens of varieties of ketchup filling up an entire aisle. I bought Mexican ketchup last week, hoping it might be like taco sauce. It’s pretty much ketchup with a tiny taste of Mexican seasoning. There is also an entire aisle of different types of oil and another entire aisle of types of yogurt. The new yogurt varieties I’ve tried so far include kiwi-wheat and apple-cinnamon.

Oil Aisle

Lemon Juice
Another item that I love is the great variety of vegetable sauces that are available. There was one we had with pelmini (ravioli type things) last week that was AMAZING. I don’t know what’s in it ‘cause I can’t read the label, but it was wonderful. Tomato based sauces may never “cut it” again.

Unlike American grocery stores, the cereal section is very small. There are probably more choices for hot cereal, but for cold cereal, there’s a very small section with small boxes--no Malt-O-Meal large bags.

In fact, most things come only in small quantities. It’s hard for me to get used to, since I like to buy one big package of something and then not buy it again for a long time. It makes sense though that things are in small quantities. A lot of people don’t own cars, so they are walking home or taking public transportation with their purchases. Buying a 24-pack of toilet paper wouldn’t leave you much carrying space for other items that you had to carry home.

Grocery stores are relatively new to Ukraine. There are definitely elements of the stores in America that I miss, but there area few things that are different in the stores themselves that I love. First, the carts: all four wheels turn in all directions so that you can go sideways, as well as forwards and backwards. It’s SOOOO much easier to navigate crowded areas with these carts.
My favorite chocolate so far

Secondly, the cashiers all sit down. It may be more efficient to have standing cashiers, but I’m guessing the cashiers here appreciate not being on their feet all day. They probably get tired of the sitting. Maybe a happy medium between American and Ukranian checkouts would be the idea.

Finally, they are geniuses in the produce sections and other areas where things have to be weighed. In the produce area, you put each item on a scale with a worker who hits the appropriate code and puts a sticker on your bag. She is VERY efficient with this task since it’s all she does. When you get to the checkout , it goes much faster because everything is scanned and there is no looking up of codes by cashiers. It probably saves money too to not have scales built in to all the checkout lanes.

Yogurt Aisle 

Shelf Stable Milk
Now if they would only print their labels and signs in English just for me, then it wouldn’t take me so long to figure out what I’m buying. At least there are a lot of items with multiple languages. Sometimes, there’s English, sometimes German or something else that is easier to figure out than Russian is. I’m even discovering that when I sound out Russian words that there are a lot more cognates than I ever thought there would be. Even so, until they change the labels just for me, I guess I need to keep studying Russian.

Mushroom flavored chips
Vegetable sauce
Check back for part two in this series: Cooking in Kiev.


  1. In a catalog I just saw water bottles shaped just like your ketchup bottle.
    For brown sugar add molasses to white sugar and stir. I use that when I run out. Works fine.

  2. What an adventure! I've had a small taste of that while here in Greece but it's nothing compared to having to do all of my grocery shopping that way. Sounds like you're finding your way around the new cooking staples though!

  3. I enjoyed this column so much! Perusing the local grocery stores for (what are to me) unique and hard-to-get-in-USA items is one of my favorite things while visiting in a new place...last week it was Houston (Prashant and Hari live there) and in a couple months it will be back in India . Have fun