Kyiv’s Busy Besarabsky Market

“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 their radar like a Boeing 747. I gave up all hope of not looking like a tourist when I heard their call, and I was only three steps inside the door.


The Besarabsky Market is located in a bright, hanger-sized building, and was packed with locals. 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. So this market, like others around the world, is a great place for travelers to see the kind of stuff city residents need on a daily basis.

It was a cold, rainy Saturday, and the stalls should’ve been buzzing, but weren’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) fifty times. But the upside of slow business was that the vendors had 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 played cat and mouse with a stern-looking owner to sneak a photo, and was lucky to escape without buying a can of overpriced cavier.


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


There was also a large, fresh meat section, but I have to be honest, I’m a bit squeamish at meat markets. So I walked through briskly with eyes straight ahead, and didn’t dare pause for a photo. As I exited the carnage of the meat department and returned to the comfort of the veggie bins, my last thought was that if I had to butcher my own meat, I would definitely be a vegetarian. So I sought refuge in the fruits and nuts.


Pickled and canned? These two jolly ladies have you covered. They won the award for showmanship and congeniality. They were having a bit too much fun, and I suspected  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 Mafia took another shot at me on the way out the door.

Happy shopping,
James & Terri



We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

35 thoughts

  1. Markets like that are so difficult to navigate – you want to look but can’t show too much interest without being harassed. Glad you were able to survive.

    1. You’re exactly right Jeff. Rarely do we buy anything at these markets because we’re on the move and don’t want to carry stuff around. But that doesn’t keep the vendors from trying … bless their hearts. 🙂 ~ James

  2. What a wonderful market! I´m afraid I would have ended up buying something, even if it was to eat that day. (yes, I can eat a whole jar of Ukranian pickles!!) I too can´t look at meat market stalls and try to avoid them. As we did butcher our own meat growing up, I am a vegetarian and have been for 30 years. But I haven´t met a vegetable I didn´t like. xo

    1. Darlene, if we have an apartment and can do a bit of cooking we always shop the local market. It’s nice to be able to buy small quantities. But frequently it’s a spectator sport, and the Kyiv market gets top marks for that. And I freely admit to being a meat butchering wimp. I’m more a boneless, skinless, wrapped-in-nice-plastic chicken breast person …. and proud of it. 🙂 ~ James

    1. Laura this is a great place for fruits, snacks, and little bits of homemade pastries. You can get great pastries in the market that you won’t find in grocery stores. Of course most of these treats don’t make it back to the hotel. ~ James

  3. Looked like a wonderful market I could have spent all day there just looking how did you escape without buying some of everything.

    1. Joyce we did buy a few pastries that were delicious. They were so good l suspect they were made by somebody’s Mama. One trick we’ve learned at these markets is the harder they try to sell their stuff, the greater chance a tourist has of getting a bad price. The caviar ladies were working me hard, but I didn’t bite. Love to you both. JH

  4. I always love how colourful these markets are! Those pickle ladies have the right idea, lots of laughter & a ton of jolly piques the interest of potential buyers if nothing else!

    1. Lynn, these ladies were too cute. There was a trio of them laughing and joking across the aisle and they couldn’t have been happier. I would love to know what was so funny. Whatever it was, it brightened a cold, rainy day. ~ James

  5. Your adventures in the meat department are hilarious, James. I too love municipal markets, and how they reflect the character and diets of the people. It is really nice to see and buy produce that is actually ripe, but the blood and guts of the butcher’s stall can only be viewed from a safe distance.

    1. Joe, I’ve never been enthusiastic about meat markets and my time living and traveling in places without proper refrigeration didn’t do anything to change my opinion. I just figure that I don’t need to see meat butchered to appreciate it cooked. In the meantime, I try to avoid that section altogether and enjoy the rest of the market. ~ James

    1. Alison, local markets are always a great slice-of-life and this one particularly so. Some of the folks we encountered in Kyiv we pretty glum – maybe a holdover from the Soviet days, but the vendors in the market were upbeat and friendly. ~ James

  6. That made me laugh out loud James. I agree that getting photos in markets is a challenge. I often feel like I am James Bond on a covert mission. I’m pretty much a vegetarian so any strolling through meat markets is accompanied by high pitches squeals and screams I must admit. To all that caviar is that really on the daily diet/

    1. Sue, like many of the delicacies I’ve tried in my travels, caviar is an acquired taste. Frankly, to my uncultured palate, it isn’t worth the hubbub. But that’s just me. We didn’t see caviar anywhere except the market, and even though they didn’t know it, the caviar ladies had no chance of getting their hooks into me. And after passing on a purchase I considered myself lucky to get a photo without being assaulted with a can of her cheapest fare. ~ James

    1. The markets in Mexico are lots of fun, and one of our regular stops as well. Also, it helps that I speak a bit of Spanish so I can ask questions. There was very little English in the Ukraine, so it’s strictly “point and pay.” ~ James

      1. I understand, I can say thank you in Ukranian but that’s about it. I’d love to visit someday and got to meet some folks from there several years ago, they were great.

    1. Our trips last for weeks so purchases are very carefully considered. Our rule is “you can buy anything you want but it goes in YOUR suitcase.” That normally means, if it can’t be immediately consumed we leave it there. But it’s pretty tough passing stuff up sometimes, and we cave. ~ James

  7. We absolutely love markets, even the meat departments. Somehow, markets reveal more of the culture of an area than you can get from tour guides or even word of mouth. Glad you escaped without buying much, unlike what we do. We buy, and then lose our nerve and/or enthusiasm before the food spoils!!

    1. Rusha, someone read this post recently, and I hadn’t looked at it in a while, so I had another look myself. It’s fun to relive the experience, but it also provides a chance to pick up on comments, like yours, that have slipped through the cracks. Sorry about that.

      This was a miserably cold day in Kyiv, and walking around this warm, dry, and interesting market was a real hoot. And I wasn’t exaggerating about the determination of the cavier ladies to sell me an overpriced can of cavier. Also, someone needs to explain to the fruit/veg vendors that a wall of carefully arranged, color-coordinated fruit can be intimidating. I’m truly concerned about an apple avalanche. Thanks again for the comment, and sorry I missed it. ~James

      1. No apologies ever needed from you. You truly are a remarkable blogger — great posts and prompt responses. But it’s always OK to click LIKE for me. Wishing you a happy Labor Day. I’m already looking forward to your next post.

      2. Rusha, from the beginning we’ve felt that anytime someone goes to the trouble to search out our blog, read a post, and then comment, they deserve a response – especially the special folks like you. It’s served us well, and it’s sort of one of those “Do unto others” deals.

        On Labor Day we’re flying to England for a month-long train trip around the island. We love the train, and there are so many wonderful places to see. Do you have any travel plans for the holiday? ~James

      3. Your train trip sounds divine. Would love to see England that way, so please let us in on how to find timetables, etc. We’ll be home for the weekend. Both of us still work part-time — I’m currently trying to turn around a middle school with low math and language arts scores, and jobs like this are never easy. Will get back to travel and writing soon, I hope. We’ve just booked a Viking Cruise from Athens to the Holy Land to Rome — all in November. Looking forward to seeing some places I’ve only read about! Best wishes for a wonderful weekend.

      4. Rusha, your cruise sounds wonderful and by Nov, the crowds should have thinned considerably. You’re covering a lot of ground and history there, so it should be fun and educational. And I’m sure your school turnaround project is demanding (and hopefully rewarding). Terri was a special ed teacher early in her career, so we can relate to kids with problems.

        Re: Trains in the UK.
        We start planning any trip at I love this website. It’s a great place to look at all transport options, train, bus, etc. From this site, we go to other sites to look for the best times and prices. Also, the website has train travel info for UK and Europe. It’s very comprehensive and also a wonderful planning resource. It has so much info that it can be a bit intimidating, but it’s well organized so just dive in.

        The best place to check train times & fares for any train journey in Britain is 

        The best place to purchase tickets for a UK trip is They take American credit cards and we’ve never had a problem with them.

        We bought a “Two Together Railpass” which provides hefty discounts on all rail journeys in the UK. It costs £30. You can apply online, and get the pass on your phone. The also have a senior pass, but we like the Two Together better because we only have to keep track of one pass.

        As you might expect, advance tickets are considerably cheaper than buying last minute, particularly on longer trips. You can save a ton of money, but some of the cheaper tickets are train and time specific, and are not changeable or refundable. So pay close attention to what you’re buying before you decide what’s best.

        If you have specific questions, send me an email to

        Bon Voyage!

      5. Wow! Thanks for so much valuable information. Now, you have me thinking of train travel in the UK! I’m going to save this info for future reference. Best wishes for safe travel always.

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