A hungry wolf is stronger than a satisfied dog.
Finding vegetarian and reasonably healthy food in Ukraine was quite the tug of war, with eating decent food out at unbelievably low prices pitted against stale -- figuratively and metaphorically -- grocery shopping choices. It was tough, and if I had only one word to describe my experience with the country's food, it'd be "starchy". Much like I imagine the Soviet Union to be, Ukraine's food can be plentiful, utilitarian, and unfailingly bland, with restaurants doling out steaming piles of carbohydrates with a smile and a shot of liquor, and corner stores selling sad, tasteless cookies and crackers from rows and rows of bulk bins (even frozen dumplings and dog food are sold in bulk, which makes sense to me). While there are some delicious dining options if you look for them, Spotykach in Kiev being one, I generally found Ukrainian restaurants to be forgettable experiences apart from friendly wait staff and bills that seemed suspiciously low for so much food. But for grocery options, that's another story.
In both Kiev and Lviv, I scoured the city for organic or "trendy" grocery stores with basics such as muesli, seitan sausage, and hemp milk (a girl can dream), but had no luck apart from tiny boutique food stores selling handfuls of quinoa at prices not seen since black market nylons during WWII. (And yes, I bought the quinoa, as I was quite desperate by that point.) But the saving grace to my grocery shopping woes came in the form of raspberries, specifically raspberries sold on the sidewalk by little kerchiefed ladies, stall optional. Ukraine happens to be one of the Earth's most fertile countries thanks to its rich, black "chernozem" soil, and, according to this source, Ukraine is among six of the world's top raspberry-producing countries. I bought a kilo of the most beautiful raspberries I've ever seen for about $3, and on more than one occasion.
So, on to some food photos and cheers to Ukraine's beautiful, fresh produce.
Dining with a view
Traditional food & eating out
Ukraine is known mostly for dumplings and borscht, or beet soup typically made with a meat broth. Fortunately, dumplings with potato or cheese filling are always available (although I can't say I like the carb-on-carb combination of potatoes and pasta, nails on a chalkboard to my stomach). Wait staff was always attentive and deserving of a generous tip, and a good meal can cost between $2 and $25. Wherever there were food stalls, like the folk museums and Kiev riverside, food vendors would set up booths with gorgeous spreads of fresh vegetables, breads, dumplings, and meats priced by weight; lunch at Pyrohiv cost me $3.08, and it was delicious and filling.
Other examples illustrating the low cost of eating out in Ukraine: example one, I sat in a cafe in Lviv's posh Rynok Square for literally eight hours, consuming a latte and scrambled eggs for breakfast then dumplings and an amazing pot of tea for just $8. Example two, in Kiev, I went out to one of the city's finest restaurants, Spotykach, and had a large beer (or was it two?), snails, a green salad, dumplings, and dessert for $26.
Sweets & snacks
Lviv is known for its chocolates, but I found a local iced gingerbread cookie shop to be hands-down tastier and more fun. But then again, gingerbread is my Achilles's heel. Ukrainian fun fact: the current president, Petro Poroshenko, owns the country's Godiva-equivalent, Roshen candy shops.
The food during the Chernobyl trip was plentiful... and bland. (They did go above and beyond to accommodate my vegetarianism, which I greatly appreciated.) It's too bad the food wasn't as good as the tour, but what do you expect from a mess hall by the name of "Chernobyl canteen"?
Vegetarian & vegan
There were quite a few great vegetarian/vegan restaurants in Lviv, more so than Kiev (although I did have the misfortune of trying a raw restaurant in Kiev). I enjoyed the options at these restaurants, and meals were surprisingly inexpensive. A simple lunch of hummus and chips with a green salad and cashews in Lviv's old town was only $3.08, the lowest price I've ever paid for a delicious vegan lunch (in Cambodia, I paid $12 for lunch at a vegan restaurant, a rather extravagant sum compared to Ukraine).