Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Perhaps one of the most daunting things a person has to adjust to in a new country is learning how to shop for groceries.  In countries where very little English is spoken, like Ukraine, it can be especially scary.  You have to depend on the pictures which might be on the packages.  But sometime you can make a mistake with that too----I picked up a packet that had a picture of what I thought was celery, dried celery leaves.  When we got home and looked up the word in the dictionary we found that it contained dried parsley leaves.  It wasn't a horrible mistake, but it illustrates how even pictures can mislead you.  It really helps to have a knowledgeable friend along to give guidance the first two or three times.  Fortunately Frank and I had started working on the Russian language before we left the U.S., although I am really poor at picking up new sounds and then pronouncing them.  Frank has really done good, so I like having him along to read the labels in Russian.  Oh-oh, another problem in Ukraine-----Ukrainians are very patriotric and are beginning to use Ukrainian more and more here in the eastern part of the country.  Everyone still speaks Russian, especially the older folks, but many of the products which are being made here in Ukraine have only Ukrainian writing on them.  It's very close to Russian, the writing is similar, but sometimes the words are different.  Okay, so there is the basis for my adventure in grocery shopping.

When I saw the nice supermarkets here in Berdyansk I was very pleased.  They are so much better than the grocery stores in India.  But India has one advantage----most products had English on them, so you knew what you were getting.  (That's due to being a colony of Great Britain for so many years.  Indians are very patriotic and want to use their own languages, but they want to know English too.)  The stores may not have looked as nice as these supermarkets, but they did have almost everything you might need, or want.  Perhaps I should mention here that Frank and I aren't afraid to try new foods (although I did draw the line at fish-head curry in India many years ago---the eye staring up at me was just too much for me to swallow, literally.)  So, what have I learned about grocery shopping in Ukraine?
  • Bring along your own shopping bags.  If you need a bag, you'll probably have to pay for it.  And you will bag up your purchases yourself.  No one will help you with that.  I was sort of expecting this, so in our shipment I included a couple of sturdy bags---a black Walmart bag and a larger green one from Joann's Fabrics.  I bought those too, but they are probably stronger than what I have now.
  • You can buy fruit and vegetables at the supermarket, but there is a better selection at the regular market, which is in an unheated building with various stalls outside as well.  You can also get meat and other items like spices at the market.  I bought potatoes yesterday, they are really dirty as if they'd just been dug up.  Carrots and onions are like that too.  Even in the supermarket root vegetables have not been cleaned.
  • At the supermarket there are lots of items that can be purchased in bulk:  flour, oatmeal, sugar, rice, and other commodities like that.  But there are also delicious cookies and crackers of all kinds that you can buy in bulk.  In the freezer section there are different fish, shrimp (looking up at you with the eyes still in!) mixed vegetables, and various Ukrainian foods including variniky which is somewhat like ravioli except it's stuffed with different things.  I have bought cheese variniky and chicken variniky, both very good.  Yesterday in a small grocery store downtown I saw frozen chicken heads just waiting for someone's soup pot.
  • When you buy a carton of eggs here, you get ten eggs, not twelve.  They probably work more on the decimal system here.  The eggs have very dark yellow-orange yolks, but they taste just the same as in the U.S.
  • Ukrainians eat a lot of fish, after all we're on the Sea of Azov.  There are many, many different kinds and I don't know hardly any of them!  Slowly, one by one, we will be trying some of them.
  • I haven't bought ice cream yet, but I've been told that it melts quickly so you need to get it home fast.  However, if it melts and refreezes it doesn't get ice crystals like that in the U.S.  It stays smooth and creamy.
  • The supermarkets have wonderful pastry sections.  We're working our way through different breads and cookies and haven't had one yet that we don't like.
  • The deli sections are really good too.  I'm trying a few things at a time.  Our latest discovery was something I bought in the deli last week.  It was a large oval-egg-shaped ball stuffed with something and then deep-fried.  I thought it might be stuffed with potato or other vegetable since I remembered something like that from 2007,  but when we heated it up in the oven and then opened it up, it was stuffed with tender chicken breast.  We each had one for lunch and it was delicious.  I asked our friends for the name, but they didn't know.
  • Paprika is a favorite spice here, probably because of the close proximity to Hungary.  I have seen chickens in the meat section marinated in something dark red.  I am guessing the marinade has paprika in it and I plan to buy one in the next week or so and give it a try. 
  • There are scads of different sausages in the meat section.  Some are salami, but most of them I don't know.  I hesitate to buy them because I can see big pieces of fat in the cut ends of them.  I want to try them, but we really don't need that high fat content.
  • One other thing that we have tried is pickled cabbage.  It's not like saurkraut at all.  It is very tart and I have added a bit of sugar to it to cut that sourness.  It's makes a good salad.  I get it out of the bulk section of the supermarket.
  • There are plenty of soft drinks including Coke and Sprite.
  • I bought a container of Pringle potato chips this week.  It cost about a dollar.  We have also tried some Ukrainian potato chips.  They are good, with a little different flavor.  Not bad at all.
  • We are tea drinkers.  We had the best tea in the world in India, and I was extremely happy to discover some of our favorite brands here in Ukraine.  Ukrainians love tea more than coffee, so they want the best.  There is also coffee, but we haven't tried any of that yet. 
I think this is enough about food for now.  I know more things will pop into my mind after I finish this, but I'll write more about food as we continue to try new things.

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