Saturday, March 10, 2012

The столовая, or Cafeterias of Ukraine

A play on words: победа = victory, еда = food.
Some people like fancy restaurants and exotic dishes but I prefer the good old столовая, aka cafeteria Ukrainian-style. (It's pronounced st-low-vai-ya.) A good столовая is my favorite place to eat because the food is Russian/Ukrainian, fast, and cheap...or as the outside sign usually advertises: быстро, вкусно, недорого! I haven't found one here in Kharkov yet (found!) but in Crimea we got to visit several. Two were pretty unimpressive, with typical take-you-back-to-the-USSR service to boot, but another was so good that we went several times.

This is a rather nice set-up for a столовая. The wallpaper and molding are fancy despite an old and cracked floor- and note the obligatory chandelier. Ukraine is crazy about chandeliers. I like it; it adds a touch of elegance to normal life.

This столовая is also different in that it lacked a buffet line. In most such establishments you take a tray and grab whichever items interest you or pester the eternally-grumpy cashiers until they reluctantly lay down their hostility and hand over a dish of food.

Here's the kind of food you can expect from a столовая:
Salads. Cabbage salad is the healthiest salad available and is usually available fresh or marinated (like sauerkraut). People seem to believe the marinated version is tastier and sometimes will try to argue with you if you pick fresh.
Pelmeni! (dumplings) in chicken bullion.
The items mentioned above, plus a cream of mushroom soup.

I started eating this borscht and then remembered to take a picture. The first time I ever encountered borscht- on a camping trip with other students- all of us refused to eat it because it looked so strange. Now I love the stuff! Борщ is my religion.
Жаркое, or a cross between a stew and baked meat and potatoes.
I was SO EXCITED to finally try this dish: голубцы, or pigeons. No, not real pigeons but ground meat inside baked cabbage. Funny, when I think of pigeons I think of flying rats of the skies but here the word can also imply this dish or "dear" (term of endearment).
Mashed potatoes drowning in butter.
A popular dish- homemade кутлеты, meat patties/cutlets, and more delicious- guess what?- cabbage!
A fancy chicken dish D ordered. At $3 this was one of the most expensive dishes on the menu.
You must have a cup of tea! It's usually Lipton tea.
It's common to drink tea at the end of meal and not drink any liquid during the meal (unless it's beer or vodka!)

Do you see the progression? You order from three courses at the столовая. First is the salad, then soup, then a main dish. Most items here cost between $1 and $3. If you're ever in Russia or Ukraine I recommend visiting several столоваяs!

Тhe sign in the background: шашлык = shish kabob.
"Golden Beach"

Also, about meat: a couple years ago a Russian family moved to Alaska and I was assigned to assist them in their resettlement process. During their first weeks in America they were insistent on getting йод (iodine, for health) and a meat grinder and were then incredulous when I told them that those things weren't commonly used in the states. (Why use a meat grinder when you can buy ground meat at the store containing meat from over 400 cows, haha.) Needless to say, iodine is widely available here and relatively cheap and most families grind their own meat. You can buy a meat grinder at any home electronics store or- in some meat stores- ask them to grind the meat you buy. That's why I feel more comfortable ordering dishes with ground meat in Ukraine, knowing it probably came from one animal.

I'm curious to hear from Ukrainian readers- what do you think of the столовая? Do you enjoy eating there or is it too plain? Would you ever go there on a date or is it just a cheap place to grab a meal? Was it more popular during the USSR than now, or vice versa?


  1. Stolovye are some of the best things about living in Ukraine. As a Kharkiv resident, I'd recommend Puzata Khata on Sumskaya ulitsa near Ploshcha Konstytutsii (which is obvious), and Zhyli-byli on Sumskaya up near Ploshcha Svobody (which is hidden on the underground floor of a building on the south side of the intersection, but worth it). Neither will knock you over with quality, but it's food, it's there, and it's cheap.

  2. Thanks for the ideas! I'm excited to visit those places.

  3. I like stolovaya at work. Nice food, and cheap. Your order may cost $1.5

  4. Can I come to your stolovaya? Or is it only for the workers?

  5. Hi Katya!

    Sorry for late commenting of this post, but here're some reviews of real "stolovka"s :)

    They can be found here:
    and here:
    1-2 years ago they were open for strangers.