We had great home-cooked meals throughout Ukraine and saw and tasted tremendous fresh and pickled fruit and vegetables in markets and elsewhere. But in Yalta, in Crimea, we came across a remnant of the old Soviet-style of eating out--a stolovaya, or canteen. These canteens--or cafeterias--still exist across the former Soviet Union and once existed in every school and workplace.
But it was surprising to find one just off the seaside promenade in Yalta, where fancy clothing stores and expensive restaurants abound. Not at all crowded the day we ate there, it really did have the feeling of a different time. Nicholas II built a palace just south of the city, but in the 20th century, the entire Crimean Peninsula became a favored vacation spot for Soviet workers, with hundreds of sanitoriums dotting the rocky hillsides. So the place we found was an echo of a past, and it seemed as if the only people eating there, besides us, were older folks who remembered that different time.
A series of large dining rooms came off the small cafeteria line. Out the lace curtains, a seaside view. The selections were pretty minimal: borscht and solyanka for soup, cutlets, a sort of unknown goulash, cabbage salad, cucumber and tomato salad, compote (fruit drink) and bread. But it was really affordable (I see that stolovayas are often recommended in Lonely Planet guidebooks) and the food was dull, but edible.
Today, restaurants of every type abound in every large Soviet city: sushi, Italian, Ukrainian, Indian, and of course, fast food including McDonalds and the Ukrainian McFoxy. It's hard for me to imagine the time when this, this simple food, was what eating out was. Our meal in Yalta provided that important reminder (and slightly alarmed the 17 year-old boy with us, who wanted to eat at the McDonalds down the way).