Monday night was the first and last time for a week that the team would eat as one large group. Everyone on the team has different schedules. The nurses for example work in 12 hour shifts, while our cardiologists work for 24 hours straight each. The anesthesiologists, intensivist, head surgeon, biomedical engineer and myself only come into the hospital during the day.
So Monday we decided to go as a group out to dinner, along with Dr. Igor, the head of the cardiology unit at the hospital, and Olga, one of the surgeons. We originally were going to go for Georgian food, but decided on Ukrainian instead.
Which, I guess, sounds kind of silly, considering that we are, in fact, in Ukraine. But the states do have American themed restaurants that feature “American” cuisine (whatever that actually is).
Going to a Ukrainian restaurant in Eastern Ukraine is a little like going to Longhorn Steakhouse (or I guess any steakhouse with an out west theme) somewhere on the East Coast. The cuisine is traditional Ukrainian, and the decor is straight from the Carpathian mountains in the west (incidentally, where my family is from).
The main dining room is decorated to look like you are in someone’s front yard. A large fake tree dominates the center of the room, and the ceiling is very dark with white christmas lights for stars. To the right is the home’s front porch, and eating in the backroom is like getting invited in for a lovely dinner.
They sat us at a few tables pushed together to make one long table. They gave us only two menus, which made ordering food for 13 people rather interesting. Especially since one menu was in Ukrainian and one menu was in English.. so all but two people at the table had to share just one menu!
And this menu was a book! They offered so many different kinds of food. There was a whole page devoted to soups, to salads, to varenky and bliny (pierogies and blintzs), a whole page for fish, a whole page for meats, a whole page for shashlyk (meat skewered and barbecued), for desserts, for appetizers, and of course, a whole page for vodka, and for cognac and for wines and beer. Most of the Americans were surprised by this, but I know my Ukrainian countrymen better.
I intended to take pictures of all the food, but got as far as the roll that came out before the many dishes of appetizers we snacked on. There were pickled vegetables, salad, kolbas (ukrainian sausage), and a few fish dishes i could barely look at let alone try to eat (and, you know, I’ve tried chicken in aspic once, and didn’t like that, so I knew there was no way I’d like fish in aspic. And if you’re wondering what aspic is let me use the more familiar American brand name. Jell-O.)
For my own dinner I had a bowl of borscht (beet soup), which is just a little sweet and I like to think of it as dessert with vegetables (it can happen, kids!). I also had cherry varenyky, which seriously could have passed off as a dessert, which is the beauty of varenyk. You can put practically anything inside of them. For those of you still a little lost on what a pierogy or varenyk is, the Italians call the same thing a ravioli. The biggest difference is that while a ravioli may be two pieces of dough pressed together around the filling, a varenyk or pierogy is just one piece of dough folded over itself. Also, someone will probably tell me I’m wrong, but I’ve never seen a ravioli bigger than a pierogy. I can eat 6 – 8 pierogy at one sitting, more or less, or be more or less stuffed (especially since I am also drowning them in butter, onions and sour cream).
And the difference between a pierogy or varenyk is pretty much nothing. Pierogy is a Polish term. Varenyk is a Ukrainian one. Ukrainians can sometimes call it pyrohy, and that is because in this part of the world, the letter for G and the letter for H is actually the same letter (in cyrillic, it is the character that looks like an uppercase L, flipped horizontally). There is a Russian food called pyrozhok, which is similar, but strictly a dessert food, and a pelmeny is a Russian pierogy that is strictly filled with meet (which i guess makes sense since they seem to be differentiating between dinner – pelmeny – and dessert – pyrozhok).
Have I lost you yet?
By the time we got through dinner, no one had room for dessert. I don’t know if I can remember the last time that happened to me!