My only known reference of Kiev before my visiting it, was the name of this chicken preparation, which I had anyway suspected was another great 'Indianism', known only by us desis...and of course this hunch was true. There is no Chicken A La Kiev on any menu in Kiev; in fact there are hardly any chicken preparations on any of the menus! The most popular meat in Kiev is pork, without a doubt! There is simple pork, pork tongue, pork knuckle and good ol' pork fat. Not to mention, the incredible selection of fish - salmon, tuna and Bassa are staples, along with several local river fish.
But what I found most pleasantly surprising was the eclectic, innovative and variety of cuisines available in Kiev. Jap food seemed to be the number one foreign cuisine and the quality and preparation of the sushi, sashimi, algae was amazing. Most streets would have at least 1 sushi bar on it.
I think the second favourite would have to be the kyivians fondness for Irish pubs, which were not just all over the city, but also buzzing at all times.
No city in the world is semi-decent if it doesn't have it's fair share of desi joints, and voila, Kiev didn't disappoint at all. From the fancy 'Sutra' (aka short for Kamasutra - complete with erotic wallpaper) to the centrally located 'Himalaya', to the highly recommended 'Bombay Palace' which I dined at, one has much to pick and choose from.
The local Ukranian cuisine is fairly popular of course. I had a great meal of 'boursch', a bouillon like soup. The green boursch was defo better than the chicken boursch. I stayed away from all the special meat and pork preparations...but had a delectable perfect, sesame-seared tuna with a sort of garlic and spinach butter sauce on the side. I also tried a lethal, wasabi-like paste, which was perhaps composed of beet root, red cabbage and copious amounts of ginger. But wait, I forgot to add, every course of the meal was broken by an essential shot of vodka. Yup...that is how it is done. And Nemiroff, is definitely the vodka to have when in Kiev! I must admit I only had this vodka-infused meal once...it was memorable to say the least!
Due to the -20 degree clime, the streets were not as busy as usual (with good reason, I say!), but the much-hallowed night life of Kiev was not too disrupted. Unfortunately I was there when there was a cold wave and temperatures were much lower than usual (trust my luck!), a lot of snow was sitting heavy all over the city. With restrictions of Mother Nature and also timing (I was there from Sunday to Wednesday), I didn't get a decent enough idea of the crazy city life. I did venture out and did get a glimpse into how the scene must be on a regular 0 degree evening. After a seriously detailed research on where to go that blessed -22 degree night, we were told that Vodka bar was the place to be. OK, Vodka Bar was where we were headed. But not without making a pit stop at the widely known, 'D'Lux' or as we understood it, 'The Looks'. EVERYONE told us that this is where the party is at. It is a stunning club at the end of a fairy light lined path in a pretty garden. Over two levels and with an impressive glass facade, I'm pretty sure that it was where the party would be. Alas, I need to go another time to test it in its true avtaar, when all the colourful butterflies are out, wings flapping et all!
Unlike most winter-struck cities which get most depressing during the cold, Kiev was lively and quite the contrary. Still in an X'Mas state of mind (vodka mist perhaps?), the entire city is lit up with giant snowflakes on the building facades and there are many Santas efficiently standing guard outside hotels, stores, homes and other places of interest.
Given that Kiev is a pretty tiny city and is still a city experiencing heavy infrastructure development, it's got everything a cosmopolitan, 'first world' city has. Now with the UEFA cup finals taking place there from June to July, Kiev is definitely going to come to light on the international travel map. With its close connection to Russia, one sees some seriously fancy folk in Kiev. Sitting at the lobby bar or the Intercontinental Hotel, I got to see some pretty cool sights. It's ex-soviet status, makes for a mysterious setting of men in dark suits, beautiful women dressed in incredible fur, under-the-table work, furtive eye movement, KGB spies and heavy-duty CCTV cameras! What i found extremely alluring was the groups of men that would come in and be there all day long, chain-smoking, talking, drinking espressos and essentially, cracking deals of dubious nature. One guy in this group would typically be a government official, another a financier, one a middleman and of course, the main guy. After a bit of trained observing I realised, most of these groups, would have an accompanying group in tow. But this other group would usually come separately, sit separately and leave separately. These guys were the watchers and the bodyguards. Exciting right?! I certainly thought so...I saw lots of Americans, Germans and Iranians, with a smattering of Italians schmoozing and cruising their way through.
Must add, these men are kinda creepy with x-ray vision, one look from any of them your way, and you feel exposed!
But what finally defines a place is the people and the experience one gets from interacting with the local folk and I had a fantastic experience on that note. I found the people incredibly warm (ironic!), extremely helpful, charming and approachable. Despite the obvious communication barrier, sign language went a loooong way. It was nice to have happy smiling faces around. Usually I tend to get quite stuck in countries where the English language isn't popular - I feel flustered and embarrassed asking for directions, for water, for anything!
My best friend in Kiev has now become Vlodymor, the jolly cab driver whom we called every day. A modern day porky pig meets captain haddock, this chap was most endearing. He had a great sense of humour and an even better sense of music, cranking up the volume for every pumping track that would come on. He drove us around his city with pride, pointing out all sorts of sights not to be missed. In his broken English, he would share little anecdotes. Knowing that I was loving the local tunes, one evening, he asked me, "Aaru you like d rock muzeek?" My answer was vague, "hmmm yes I like d rock muzeek some times...." We were at a signal so his round self turned to the back and he looked at me and added, " I love d rock muzeek bheryy much. I like d rock muzeek and I like d motor bike. I go long on the motor bike with the d rock muzeek." As if I didn't think he was cool enough already..!
Final thoughts – much to get back to…starting off with a Nemiroff-fueled breakfast. As the saying goes, when in Kyiv, do as the Kyivians!