Caviar off menu as Kiev chefs serve up free meals
Dozens of oysters lie uneaten in a tank at the trendy Chernomorka fish restaurant in Kyiv, a reminder of the city’s booming gastronomic scene before Moscow’s invasion.
Now this downtown eatery, housed in a fake blue and white lighthouse, is serving free meals to people in a capital being slowly encircled by Russian forces.
It’s one of several restaurants helping those having difficulty accessing food, in what they say is their contribution to Ukraine’s war effort.
“This is what we can do,” says Dmytro Kostrubin, 42, the development manager at Chernomorka, as elderly people sit at their tables with polystyrene lunchboxes.
The pancakes with red trout caviar, pike caviar with green onions and mussels with thermidor sauce have been off the menu since the February 24 invasion forced the restaurant to close.
Instead, the people shuffling into Chernomorka in their thick coats for a free meal are given a hearty mixture of chicken and rice.
Their lunch is washed down with a glass of orange juice instead of champagne, with all alcohol sales banned in Ukraine since the Russians came.
While the meals are available to anyone who needs food, which is becoming increasingly scarce as the Russians slowly try to encircle Kyiv, Kostrubin says most are elderly.
“Some come and ask for food for their neighbors who cannot get out or are ill in bed, we of course trust them and give food for them, too,” says Kostrubin, who finally managed to get back to Ukraine from abroad last week.
Kiev has not so far endured the hardships of cities like Mariupol and Kharkiv, but shops are short of some produce and there can be long lines, especially during sporadic curfews imposed by military authorities.
“One has to have strength to wait in the lines to buy food,” said Minuar Barisbekova, a retired bookkeeper at a construction company, as she received her meal in a plastic bag to take away.
She said she had received an email with news of the meals so decided to “come here and back home to stretch my legs. Otherwise, I’m staying at home day to night boiling in my fears.”
The free meals are a joint scheme with the Kiev Food Market in the capital, founded by the Ukrainian restaurateur Alex Cooper, who owns a string of eateries around the country.
An army marches on its stomach, the old saying goes, and restaurants all over the capital are helping not just civilians but the military as well.