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Odessa

Odessa, Ukraine is a truly fascinating place

A bustling port city, an energetic yet decadent boom town, heavily influenced by French and Italian styles, Odessa has a unique mixture of historical architecture that will blow your mind.

 

Nothing says Switzerland more than that mountain. As the train chugs from Täsch to the ritzy outdoor resort of Zermatt, the pop-up effect of the Matterhorn is surreal. The 4478m fang of rock and ice forces your gaze skywards and elicits gasps of wonder.

Odessa appears impressively harmonious with its pastel-coloured baroque buildings, elegant neo-classical squares landscaped by 19th century French and Italian architects, and streets topped with cobblestones. The low buildings, often one- or two-story houses with their magical courtyards, as well as its tree-lined, leafy streets all endow the city with a charm of an overgrown beautiful village.

​​But Odessa is also a cosmopolitan city with long tradition of arts and a rich, vibrant cultural life. Today the city hosts an international film festival and Odessa Symphonic Orchestra draws full houses, to name a few.

As an important port, the city of Odessa has always been open towards the outside world and boast today of having 134 different nationalities. Immigrants from all over Europe were invited to make their fortune here when Odessa was founded in the late 18th century by Russia’s Catherine the Great. These new inhabitants, particularly Jews, gifted Odessa with a unique subversive nature and a rich culinary heritage.

A delicious appetizer called forshmak is a good example of Jewish influence on the local cuisine. It is a kind of herring patè, served on a slice of sourdough rye bread. This signature dish of Odessa comes in many forms and shapes and be sure that each chef will proudly claim that their is the original version! Another good example of eclectic Odessan cuisine is the mouthwatering delicacy called rapana. Our lovely host and new friend Yuliya told me the amazing story behind these very tasty creatures. Rapana is this giant mollusc that was accidentally introduced to the Black Sea with the arrival of Japanese ships. The rapana snails that were attached to the ships got loose and seem to love their new habitat as they have “wiped out” most of the local molluscs. These stawaways turned out to be very predatory so the locals decided to give them a taste and, as it turns out, they are absolutely delish!

Usually they are prepared in a very French way, loads of top quality Ukrainian butter, a generous amount of garlic, a handful of freshly chopped dill, followed by a splash of white wine et voilà, you got yourself Odessa-style sea escargot. Believe me friends, it’s a treat!

Odessa’s vibe is lovely, it’s laid back yet sophisticated and worldly. As a visitor, you feel welcome and remarkably at ease in this sun-drenched seaside town. Although there’s not a long list of must-dos and sees, it seems impossible to ever get tired of getting lost in the elegant city centre alleys, chilling in one of the many carefully nourished parks or exploring some of the best restaurants in Ukraine.

INSIDER TIPS:

– GOOD EATS GUIDE-

Kumanets: authentic Ukrainian food in amusingly kitch surroundings. Despite its appearance, the place provides good quality, homely cuisine at very affordable prices.

(Havanna St, 7)

– Sonkina Malina: Odessa has its own Prohibition history and this place pays a tribute to those days not only through its very particular decor but also by serving super traditional and tasty dishes at a very fair price. 

(Malaya Arnautskaya 109)

– U Angelovih: This is a very cozy, slightly high-end restaurant that has the best borsch! Here you’ll find heartily foods prepared with much love for local products and a dose of creativity that gives the Odessan cuisine an interesting twist.

(Кафе “У Ангеловых”, V’iacheslava Chornovola vulitsia, 4)

Bernardazzi: Odessas best bet for fine dining (which, let’s be honest, is still a work in progress) this restaurant turns traditional staples of Odessan cuisine into contemporary dishes. Try the smoked duck with fermented apples, it’s amazing!  

(Bunina vul. 15, Philharmonic Building)

 

– ENTERTAINMENT – 

If you’re into a laid back vibe, yet with great entertainment value, ditch the crowded Arcadia district and move on to Plagenick, a vast beach bar/restaurant with live acts every evening. Great fun guaranteed! 

You cannot miss a night at the Odessa Opera and Ballet Theatre! The venue is magnificent and an absolute must see, not to mention the very affordable tickets for grand masterpieces of international opera and ballet.

CONTRIBUTOR

Mattarelloaway is a project based on cultural-culinary exchange. It is rooted in an idea that knowledge of and understanding between people and their cultures are strongly linked to the typical foods of the area they come from. In other words, Mattarello(a)way is also a discovery journey offering a privileged glimpse at traditional cuisines in a most intimate and authentic way. 

The project was founded in 2014 by a dynamic duo consisting of Candida - an itinerant chef and Sanja - a gourmet polyglot.

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