Food / Travel / Ukraine

Kyiv’s Besarabsky Market: Gude Deescount Prices


“Caviar? Caviar? Gude deescount price. Luke! Luke!” This is the sound you’ll hear if you ping the tourist radar just inside the door of the Besarabsky Market in central Kyiv. And believe me, to the vendors inside, you’ll show up on the radar like a Boeing 747. I gave up all hope of not looking like a tourist when I heard this, and I was only three feet inside the building.


The Besarabsky Market is located in a cavernous, hanger-sized building, and is primarily for locals. And while most of the vendors probably grew up as good communists, they did learn one of the most basic tenets of capitalism – you can only sell what people are willing to buy. Consequently, the market is a great place for tourists to see the kind of stuff the city residents need on a daily basis. For this reason, we always try to visit the biggest city market wherever we go.

It was a cold, rainy Saturday, and the market should’ve been buzzing, but wasn’t. Few customers, and the tourist tattoo on my forehead made me a lamb to the slaughter. I must have said “Ni dyakuyu” (No, Thank You) 50 times. But the good news was that this slack time gave the vendors lots of time to chat and joke across the aisles. It was great fun to watch their interactions.


Just inside two of the three entrances, occupying prime selling real estate, the caviar cartel set up shop. Their neatly organized cases had every type of caviar imaginable. I didn’t dare look too closely for fear that one of the petite ladies would wrestle me to the ground for a purchase. I was lucky to get to a photo with her peering sternly over the case.


As usual, there was lots of fresh produce, all arranged in colorful hillsides sloping into the aisle. Some of the fruit looked nice, but it was so well organized that I was afraid I’d pull the wrong piece, and trigger an apple avalanche.

There was also a large meat section, but I have to be honest. I’m a bit squeamish at meat markets, so I walked through briskly, not even pausing for a photo. Once again I realized that if I had to butcher my own meat, I would definitely be a vegetarian.


The dried beans, fruit, and nut section was an appetizing work of art. Pickled and canned? These two jolly ladies have you covered. They win the award for display and congeniality. They were having too much fun, and I wondered if maybe a vodka bottle was circulating around the booth. It was a cold morning after all.



I didn’t buy anything, but not for the lack of assertive selling. One of the caviar cartel took another shot at me on the way out.

Happy shopping,

34 thoughts on “Kyiv’s Besarabsky Market: Gude Deescount Prices

  1. Amazing colours! Love the thought of your being wrestled to the ground by a little old dear over some caviar 😉 My mother got wrestled out of a stall by the Latvian owner – for trying to haggle 😉

    • Yes, we had blini appetizers in a restaurant, and they were delicious. I didn’t check the prices in the market, but my experience is that there’s alway two prices, local and gringo. ~James

  2. Reminds me of La Boqueria in Barcelona, James. The difference being that the Barcelona market was packed to the gills. We were able to get lost in the crowds. I did get yelled at once for taking photos and not buying, however. Aren’t the colors, variety and organization of fruit, etc. fascinating? –Curt

    • We visited the Boqueria Curt, and as markets go, it was excellent. In fact, we did a post on it. I was amazed by the ham stall. And my little travel zoom helped me avoid undue attention when I was taking the people shots. ~James

  3. I saw those two ladies when I was there! Bought some pickled goodies from them for our overnight train ride picnic, and they were delicious. (We could not resist the sales pitches!)

    • Hey Jennie. That’s pretty funny that you bought food from these two ladies. They had a primo spot at the crossroads, and were a hoot to watch. As you probably experienced, in this part of the world there are a lot of grumpy people, and it’s good to see someone having fun. ~James

  4. How is it your posts always make me feel like I am right there with you on your journey? I just love your description of being made the “lamb to the slaughter”– you try and blend in but know you can’t– so you avoid eye contact as much as possible and try to move along! Love the bit about the jolly ladies– what a great snapshot of every day life. I would have been tempted by that caviar cartel– but probably too nervous to attempt a haggle– I’m sure I’d be given the “special price”, lol.

    • Thanks very much Kiki. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. These kind of posts are fun to write as well. I’m 6’2″, so blending in isn’t too easy for me in most places. And Terri and I have a policy of trying to pass through under the radar, but most of these vendors can spot a tourist a mile away. But, as long as everyone keeps their sense of humor, it’s good fun. ~James

    • Thanks very much Rusha. Smile and keep walking – that’s my motto. But, this approach doesn’t always work. The kings of nabbing unwary tourists are in the souk in Marrakech. I’ve been pulled into shops by the arm, and had a cup of coffee in my hand before I could say no. And then common courtesy demands that I buy something. I was once sold a pair of slippers there. One a size 11, the other a size 8! ~ James

  5. Wow! All that pickled stuff!!! And yes, even I was impressed by all the colours. All the pickled food reminded me of my first visit to Poland in the 90’s: their pickled mushrooms, gherkins, and even some veggies and berries (???!!) were just delicious (even though I only tried them first out of politeness…)! Do tell us, if you try some!

    • As long as you keep your wallet in your pocket, markets are great “Freebutfun” places to visit. Poland must have been a very different place in the 90’s. Were the communists still in power? When were you here? ~James

      • I went there a few years after the communism had fallen, maybe 1996? But it was different. I remember my friend buying movie tickets for us on the black market 🙂 Vilma

  6. Basically, Leslie and I love you guys. We love your posts, your spirit and your sense of humour, and I seriously hope we get the chance to cross paths some day. I want to be able to say, “I met Terri and James from Gallivance.” It’s even on my travel bucket list.
    Thanks for making us smile on a daily basis.

    • Wow Steve! Thanks so much. I’ve never been on a bucket list before. How are things in India? We visited Varanasi, and man oh man what an eye-opener. We lived in Sudan for two years and were accustomed to “rough, in-your-face” places, but Varanasi topped that. But every serious traveler should see it. BTW, I see you’re preparing for a hike in the Himalayas, that must take serious planning. Have fun. ~ James

    • I’ve never quite figured this one out. We learned long ago to leave the obvious American trappings at home (as you might have noticed, the US isn’t so popular these days). I’m 6’2″ which attracts some attention, but bottom line, these are probably 5th generation market sellers, and they’ve inherited the gene to recognize a tourist a mile away. ~James

  7. JV,
    I loved your story. Sounds like the trip is going well. I can imagine the look on your face at each encounter. Take care.


    • Thanks Nan. All is well here, if we could get a break on the rain. Kyiv was fun, and we’ve moved on to Wroclaw, Poland … where it’s rainy as well. Wroclaw is wonderful, and we’re really enjoying it. Say hey to Jim. Love, James

    • Jo, the weather continues to be overcast with showers. I’m not sure if this is normal or just bad luck. But, we don’t sweat it so much. Luckily, we have a nice apartment to wait it out, and Wroclaw (we’re in Poland now) is a small place, so long walks aren’t a problem. Again, my London training is paying off. ~James

    • This wasn’t a particularly creepy meat market, but it was “color” that I didn’t need in this post. I just lower my eyes and walk through quickly. But, you know it’s those glimpses that stick in your mind. ~James

    • I didn’t see much of this in Turkey, but it doesn’t surprise me that pickling would be used there as well. It really was colorful, but a wall of glass jars that tall made me nervous. ~ James

What do you think? We'd love to know!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s