ESC Insight

ESC Insight

Westerner’s Karma: Eurovision And Cultural Appropriation 101

Westerner’s Karma: Eurovision And Cultural Appropriation 101

Cultural Appropriation? What’s That?

Cultural appropriation is a technical academic term, which can make this principle sound more complicated than it actually is. It’s the name for what happens when one culture picks up and takes over the creative ideas and symbols of another culture that doesn’t have as much political or social power.

It’s different from cultural exchange and multiculturalism. Cultural exchange has been around as long as there’s been culture and has lead to brilliant things like the English language and haggis pakora. Multiculturalism is a slightly more recent thing, and is about the political idea of having all sorts of different cultural groups co-existing in the same places without forcing everyone to adopt the same culture.

Why Are Some People Angry About Cultural Appropriation?

People don’t like cultural appropriation because of the power dynamics. It can keep marginalised cultures marginalised and entrench stereotypes. A cultural appropriation pattern often goes like this:

  • Culture B discriminates against Culture A
  • Culture A has a cool thing
  • People from Culture B start adopting the cool thing to show how exotic and cool they are. Some of them might start making money from it too.
  • People from Culture A continue to be discriminated against, sometimes even for doing their cool thing.
  • Culture B say ‘we’re doing this to show how much we appreciate you!’
  • Culture A doesn’t feel very appreciated, actually.

Appropriation can strip cultural symbols of their original context and reduce complex, intricate cultures to dressing up costumes. Think of it as insulting stereotyping, but with the painful twist that the privileged people appropriating the symbols get praise and recognition that the original culture just doesn’t.

Talking about cultural appropriation is not about policing what you can and can’t wear, it’s not about stopping people from being inspired by other cultures and it’s not about curtailing freedom of expression or forcing people to stay in their boxes. The conversation about cultural appropriation is about trying to be more thoughtful and considerate about using other people’s symbols, especially religious ones, and trying to make sure that the full context and meaning comes along with the symbol.

It’s also about starting to defuse the tangled web of racism in our society.

But I’m Not Racist! I’m A Eurofan!

No, of course you’re not. But our society is. And because our society has racism and discrimination built so deeply into it, it would do us all good to think about how our actions fit into this and how we can be more thoughtful about it, in an attempt to make society less racist in the future. That’s what we’re saying when we talk about cultural appropriation – it’s about how we can accommodate each other and make our entertainment and culture hurt other people less.

I can’t tell you hard and fast rules about what is and what isn’t cultural appropriation, but I can give you these questions to ask yourself when you’re looking at pop-culture & fashion from this point of view:

  • Are garments from another culture being worn as an exoticised or sexualised dressing up costume?
  • Is someone else’s religious symbol being used in a disrespectful manner?
  • What is the original meaning of this garment/accessory/action/song/dance? What am I using it to mean?
  • Is this making light of someone else’s historical suffering?
  • Would I let someone put a photo of me wearing/doing this on public social media?

But What About…

Yes! What about the blues? We wouldn’t have modern pop music at all if it wasn’t for cultural appropriation. In the early years of the recording industry, white record producers went out to record black musicians all around the United States in order to capitalise on their unique sound because it was exotic to the rich white city dwellers who could afford the new musical technology.

These records crystallised in a relationship between the black musicians who supplied the creative content and the white producers who ended up making the money. Modern rock music, which let’s not forget is quite painfully white, male and middle class, is a product of this original appropriation. It doesn’t stop rock music being fun or enjoyable, but it’s an unavoidable factor in considering it.

What can you do about this? Well, if you’re a rock fan you can go back to the work of innovative black musicians – Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Howlin’ Wolf, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker, the list goes on and on – and find out about them and give them their due.

 Why Are We Talking About Cultural Appropriation In Eurovision?

Primarily because of Italy. Before I looked at what the lyrics meant, the video for ‘Occidentali’s Karma’ made me do a sharp intake of breath. Straightforward culture as a costume there, I thought. We’ve got a white guy in Buddhist robes doing tea ceremonies and mucking about with incense and shrines. And then, oh my god, he does a funny dance with a gorilla – a primate who through no fault of its own is used in racist caricatures.

But when you put it in context and look at the lyrics, ‘Occidentali’s Karma’ is actually about Western cultural appropriation – specifically the kind of orientalism that the West has been indulging in since Marco Polo apocryphally came back from China with noodles.

In the first verse, the lyrics talk about various forms of modern existential doubt (il dubbio amletico) but the pre-chorus and chorus talk about how the philosophically challenged Westerners are searching for meaning in the stories of their lives and they look to the thought systems of other cultures (Lezioni di Nirvana). Linking it into the idea of evolution stumbling and our animal nature emerging (la scimmia nuda balla) sort of muddies the waters, but once examined, the song places Francesco as playing the character of a Western idiot indulging in pick and mix cultural appropriation in order to satisfy his soul.

So ‘Occidentali’s Karma’ is poking fun at cultural appropriation, which you can either view as a sly creative point, or an interesting way of being able to dress up in your fancy chinoiserie suit and stay on the right side of us social justice warriors.

In Conclusion

People are concerned about cultural appropriation, not because it’s the biggest problem in the world right now, but because it’s an easy to tackle sign that we live in an ignorant society that doesn’t equally value all the cultures within it. By being more considerate about how we represent other cultures and use their iconography, we can start working towards a society where we can be free to share our cultures on an equal basis.

Further Reading And Resources

  • Cochella’s Cultural Appropriation (Teen Vogue)
  • An extensive collection of articles can be found at Everyday Feminism.
  • What Is Cultural Appropriation and Why Is It Wrong? (Thought Co)
  • Native Appropriations is a forum for discussing representations of Native peoples, including stereotypes, cultural appropriation, news, activism, and more.
  • Faking It: The Quest For Authenticity In Popular Music (Amazon)
  • Borrowed Power: Essays on Cultural Appropriation (Amazon)

Categories: ESC Insight


Newsletter: Class of 2017 makes Amsterdam in Concert a record breaker

Newsletter: Class of 2017 makes Amsterdam in Concert a record breaker

37 of the 43 participants for the 62nd Eurovision Song Contest showcased their entries at this weekend’s Amsterdam preview concert, making it the biggest ‘Eurovision In Concert’ to date.

Performing in front of a packed crowd of 1,500 fans at the Melkweg Concert Hall allowed the entrants to give the best impression yet of how they might handle the pressure of the live Eurovision show, with seasoned performers like Italy’s Francesco Gabbani and Sweden’s Robin Bengtsson cementing their status as pre-contest favourites with predictably assured performances.

The absentees from this year’s lineup were Australia, Belgium, Croatia, Estonia, Greece, Iceland, Latvia, Portugal and Russia. Of these, Australia, Croatia and Russia have yet to give televised live performances of their songs, while Estonia, Iceland and Portugal have yet to be seen outside their national finals.

Iceland didn’t go completely unrepresented though. Two-time participant Selma Björnsdóttir co-hosted the event with longtime Dutch commentator Cornald Maas, delivering energetic performances of her 1999 and 2005 entries for the crowd.

You can read the rest of this week’s newsletter online here. For weekly updates direct to your inbox, subscribe here. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Categories: ESC Insight


Having Fun and Staying Functional: Your Health And Wellbeing at Eurovision

Having Fun and Staying Functional: Your Health And Wellbeing at Eurovision

We want you to be able to #CelebrateDiversity without doing yourself any lasting damage, so here are some of the things that many of us wish we’d been told before our first Eurovision event and some handy resources if you want to read further. Whether you’re off to your first ever preview party or you’re doing Kyiv and want to avoid the dreaded Day 4 mood crash, you stand a better chance of keeping yourself well and happy with some of this advice.

Here are some tips and resources for avoiding a Eurovision-related crisis in health or happiness.

Prepare Yourself

Make Sure Your Body Is Ready

If you know you’re going to a big and stressful event like the Eurovision Song Contest, it’s probably an idea to get your mind and body strong before you go. I’m talking about your immune system (there will be all of Europe’s germs in one room and a few from Australia), mental resilience, and physical stamina. I’m not saying that it’s necessary to go down the gym and get totally ripped, but if you’re not already, get used to being busy, social, active and out all day. You need to be able to cope with the totally different social environment, the mild disorientation of being in a new city and the total emotional whumph of the Song Contest itself.

Make sure your body is really ready. If you’re considering getting any kind of health treatment, don’t leave it until after the Contest. You are more valuable than the Contest. If you need to build accessibility and rest concerns into your trip plan, do it and be forwards about letting people know what you need. If you’ve got standing tickets for the shows, you need to be prepared to stand for over four hours and be prepared for there to be nothing to lean or sit on.

Take your medication. If you take prescription medications, make sure that you’ve got enough to get you through your trip. If you need over-the-counter medications for things like hayfever, migraines or similar it’s better to take your own than to rely on being able to find exactly what you need in another country.  Also, it’s good to be prepared for the usual sorts of travel medical issues – things like painkillers, blister plasters, cuts and bruises, colds and definitely stuff for dealing with diarrhoea and sickness.

The ESC 2016 Press Bunker. Photo: Kylie Wilson

The ESC 2016 Press Bunker. Photo: Kylie Wilson

Get Organised

Get Travel Insurance. Bad stuff happens to good people and at some point even the luckiest traveller will find themselves stranded without their bags, in need of medical assistance or forced to cancel because of an unusual random factor. Eurofans who plan on doing a whole National Final season will probably get good value out of an Annual multi trip plan, which you can usually get fairly cheaply from comparison websites or whoever you bank with.

However, if you’ve got some fairly common conditions (including heart disease, diabetes, depression and anxiety), it may be more expensive and complicated for you to buy travel insurance. You should still do it, even if it means tedious admin or making a phonecall. Don’t ‘accidentally on purpose’ forget to declare your condition to make buying insurance easier- it might make any claims you make invalid.

Make sure your wallet and ID is ready. No-one has unlimited funds. Make sure you’ve got some idea how much you can spend each day and try not to get carried away. Also photocopy your passport, find out where your relevant Embassy is, write your important information and phone numbers down and print out confirmations, tickets and travel itineraries. Assume you will have no internet or printer access when you get there. You should also find out what your mobile data roaming rate is where you’re going and if it’s Very Bad Indeed, turn off your mobile data roaming before you even get on the plane.

Get comfortable shoes and wear them in. So much of your Eurovision trip will be spent in places where standing, walking, and dancing happens. Even if you think you’ve worn your shoes in, you might still find that you get Eurovision blisters. Get some really, really comfortable shoes. Style may have to become a secondary concern (even if they are golden).

Join your local OGAE. The clubs are filled with not only a wealth of knowledge to help you get yourself to the contest, and what to do at the Contest on the ground (as they will provide a good deal of a fan-based entertainment experience), but will also be a great support network and a ready made family of friendly people when you finally get there. You won’t be alone at anytime, and the people sharing such an experience at Eurovision with you will probably end up being the overriding memory of the trip.

Stay Healthy On The Ground

Make sure you sleep. Your body’s regular schedule is going to be messed up, you’re going to watch shows that start at 10pm and then you’re going to be too excited or too busy on the dancefloor to sleep until after dawn. Plan ahead and do what you need to do to get restful sleep, even if that is disappearing for afternoon naps under a blankie with a cute unicorn sleep mask on.  (This may be what I’ll be doing, I cannot confirm or deny) If you don’t sort out your sleep, the likelihood of you having a good time decreases rapidly.

Drink water. Staying hydrated is vital. Nothing makes people tired, headachey or grumpy like being parched. There are reports that the tap water in Kyiv isn’t to be relied upon, so it’ll have to be bottled water for the duration of the Contest.

Find fruit and veg every day.  The chances of you getting your 5 a day are slim while you’re at a Eurovision event, but if you’ve made the effort to ingest one natural thing, you’re doing okay and getting some form of nutrition.

Wash your hands. You are exposing yourself to a random cross section of the germs from around the world, it is absolutely vital that you wash your hands properly when you’re supposed to. Avoid the dreaded lurgy! Wash your hands!

Staying Happy

Take time out. You’re definitely going to get overstimulated and at some point things will definitely get too much. The benefits of having some non-Eurovision time during a Eurovision event cannot be exaggerated. Get outside, look at a tree, walk in a park, lounge by the river, sit outside a cafe with a cold drink and watch people go by. It’ll give you perspective and re-energise you for whatever happens next. It’s absurdly hard to do this when you’re surrounded by the Eurovision circus and feel like you’ve got to take every second in, but it’s very much worth it.

Let people know your personal space boundaries and be aware of the boundaries of people you meet – there’s a lot of hugging, touching, cheek-kissing and air-kissing at Eurovision. That kind of thing can be uncomfortable for many people on a number of levels. If you’re not sure, handshakes and ironic fist bumps are usually fine, as is my personal tactic of going ‘Hiiiiii’ and doing an enthusiastic double handed wave, which I can demonstrate if you introduce yourself to me in Kyiv.

It’s only a gameshow. So don’t take the results personally. One of your faves will fail to qualify. One of your faves might surprise us all. One of your faves will hopelessly flop. It’s not the end of the world, even if it feels really intense in the moment. Some useful advice for moments of high drama around results is: ‘Take a deep breath and a step back, and then have a nice cup of tea’. This advice stopped me from totally losing my composure at Eesti Laul, where I was somehow taken massively by surprise by the best song winning. Yes, exactly.

Aggressive nationalism is not fun. The Eurovision Song Contest isn’t the place for fans to aggravate international tensions, it’s supposed to be quite the opposite. Let’s be a bit more Love Love and a lot more Peace Peace. Don’t boo, don’t jeer, regardless of your history or your current diplomatic relationships. Don’t exacerbate problems that are already there and do your best to avoid causing any new international incidents. Wave your flags but don’t cause trouble.

Staying Safe

In short, always make sure someone knows where you are.

Basic travel safety precautions. Leave your accommodation & contact details with someone back home, and if you’re meeting up with new Eurofan friends, it’s a good idea to leave their names too. If you wander off on your own, make sure that someone is at least aware you’ve gone and when you’re likely to be back.

Make sure you know where you are. Plan your route to and from the main action areas in advance. This is especially important for pubs and clubs. You don’t want to be lost in a strange city after dark, especially if you’ve been drinking. Don’t walk home alone if you can avoid it. If you’ve got a friend you’re travelling with, look after each other and wait for each other. The buddy system is great. Your buddy can also make sure you’re eating and sleeping properly, in case you get carried away.

Make sure you use real taxis. Pre-check for reputable taxi firms and only use them if you can help it. Negotiate the price before you get in. Don’t be afraid to walk away.

Don’t do anything you don’t feel comfortable doing. The golden rule in any party situation. Emotions are running high, people are having the time of their lives, you don’t want to harsh anyone’s fun, but quietly passing on a round of shots or turning down another hour in the club is sometimes what you want to do. You’ve got the power to say no to things. This goes double for any kind of sexual activity. Enthusiastic consent is vital – give it and get it repeatedly.

Don’t feel guilty or shy about refusing alcohol or drugs. Only you know how your body reacts and only you know your limits, and it’s definitely better to leave the party while everyone is still having a great time than cling on for that extra disastrous drink. The FCO advice for UK travellers in Ukraine also specifically warns that penalties for drug offences are severe. Don’t get involved.

If Things Go Wrong

If someone is harassing you, tell someone. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a member of a security team or the police, but at least tell someone who can help you decide what to do next. If something happens to you – it is not your fault.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, tell someone and get yourself some space. It’s probably even better if you can tell people in advance that you might just nip off for a quiet moment, but at least telling someone you trust that you’re off for 5 minutes of fresh air is a good thing. You can also ask people not to make a fuss, if that’s what you need.

If you’re a victim of crime, report it and if you’re abroad. seek consular assistance if appropriate. For the 2017 season, here are all the consulates in Kyiv and their contact details.

After The Contest

We all go back to our lives. After the high of the Contest comes the low of Post-Eurovision Depression. You can deal with it in many ways – start new projects, further investigate your faves from national final season, make art based on your experiences, arrange future trips to see your Eurofriends. If 2017 is anything like 2016, you can probably even buy Eesti Laul tickets the day after the Grand Final. Treasure your memories, make new friends and enjoy your summer.

Categories: ESC Insight


Eurovision Insight Podcast: Forty-Three Become Forty-Two

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Forty-Three Become Forty-Two

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Forty-Three Become Forty-Two

As 43 become 42, lets catch up with the news, promotions, and postcard filming for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, plus music via Peter Kay’s Car Share. Ewan Spence keeps you up to date with all the news from the world of the Eurovision Song Contest.

Keep up to date with all of the Eurovision news as we approach May and the trip to Kyiv for the Eurovision Song Contest by subscribing to the ESC Insight podcasts. You’ll find the show in iTunes (why not leave us a review?), and a direct RSS feed is also available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here.

Categories: ESC Insight


Avoiding the Barbara Dex And Other Eurovision Fashion Disasters

Avoiding the Barbara Dex And Other Eurovision Fashion Disasters

Yes, it’s a Song Contest. Yes, I know it’s about the music, but as every ESC Insight reader knows, it’s actually about a whole lot more than that. Naming no names, but there are certain countries that we all look out for to see if they’ve managed to find a stylist or whether they ran out of budget and ended up rooting round the high-street basement bins for ‘something that will do’.

For those of you who’ve not heard of the Barbara Dex Award. It’s a fun community award given to the artist who has been voted as the worst dressed performer. It is named in honour of Dex who represented Belgium in 1993 wearing a beige chiffon dress; which she designed and made it herself, apparently. Malta’s Debbie Scerri was the first recipient of the awards in 1997 in Dublin, and the latest inductee into ‘the Dex Hall of Infamy’ was Croatia’s Nina Kraljić, who was, she told me, dressed like a lighthouse – I’ll let you decide…!

I Don’t Know Much About Art, But I Know What I Like

How do you avoid ending up in the worst dressed list? Just like a contest song, it’s all about being memorable without becoming memorable for the wrong reasons. Clothing and fashion are part of the stagecraft and artistry that goes into a Eurovision performance, but in the same way that Tracey Emin was challenging and thought provoking when she displayed her messy bedroom as a work of art, it certainly wasn’t a Salvador Dali, Claude Monet or Gustav Klimt in terms of beauty.

Taking those artists as an example, we find three very different, very popular artists who aren’t liked by everyone. All of them are ‘crowd dividers’, but even though I may not be a massive fan of Monet’s style, I can still appreciate his art and what he’s trying to convey in his pieces. You may not like the shiny golds and challenging angles of Klimt’s work, but his art really speaks to me in ways that no other art that I’ve seen has.

Through the art we connect with the artist in a way that is ‘other worldly’ and hard to explain. Transfer this to Eurovision and the art of the performance, which is so clearly demonstrated in what the artist is wearing and you see how important the right styling is – it’s about so much more than a sparkly frock or a nice tailored suit.

Styling 101

So where to begin? We have to start with the artist. It’s very easy for an outside observer to tell pieces of clothing that aren’t favoured by the artist. In fact, many of them have gone on to win the Barbara Dex, simply because the clothing wore them, instead of the other way around.

Take Stockholm 2016 as an example. There were probably only two contenders for the dreaded Dex award last year, Germany and Croatia (though truth be told I want to burn that jacket Nicky Byrne had on too) and there were a few who, whilst not quite down in the Dex basement certainly had me asking questions; Joe & Jake from the UK looked like they’re were dressed in whatever was found last minute on the sale rail at Primark. Sandhja from Finland had a body suit made of reindeer hide, which was not cut to flatter her figure and therefore she looked quite awkward on stage. Ira Losco from Malta also looked like her outfit was a last minute fix, when her baby-bump quite obviously grew significantly in the few weeks of the Song Contest.

That’s not to say you can’t be bold and daring, take Poli Genova from Bulgaria – outlandish and a bit left field, however this worked with Poli because she was fully in control of her look, she wore that light-up outfit so naturally that it didn’t come across as ‘gimmicky’.

Spotting Styles

So what are the classic mistakes made in styling your artist for the stage? Here are a few comparisons in recent years of who got it right and who got it wrong (including some former Barbara Dex winners).

The Princess Dress

It’s a classic and if you’ve got a big power ballad, then it’s the natural outfit to match the song. There have been countless ball gown type affairs at Eurovision, my advice, keep it classy, keep it simple, work with the body who is going to be wearing it and don’t add unnecessary accessories.

Austria 2014, Russia 2015,
Croatia 2016, Spain 2015, Petra Mede (virtually every dress!) 2013

The Mini Dress

Does your artist have a fine pair of pins that Europe needs to be dazzled by? Great – get them out. While you’re there talk to your make up artist about a good fake tan and a tiny little bit of highlight on the muscles!

Sweden 2014, Australia 2016, Germany 2010
Moldova 2016

Standing On A Box

Is your artist on the short side? No problem, pop them on a box and create a huge dress that makes a real statement, just don’t wrap them up like a Cadbury’s chocolate bar.

Latvia 2015, Moldova 2013
Ireland 2010

Not A Size 4

Not every artist is a size 4 Amazonian woman, and hallelujah for that, because I personally like my ladies with boobs and hips. However, as someone who is a size 18 myself I have seen the errors made by stylists who just don’t understand how to glam up a larger lady (or chap for that matter). But get it right and you will have every plus-sized lady singing your praises.

Note to delegations, if you need me, call me!

Serbia 2015, UK 2013
Israel 2013, Ireland 2010

The Rockers

Some songs and artists require an altogether different look, getting a rock look right can be a challenge and getting it wrong can end up with a Barbara Dex. It’s tempting to throw lots of accessories at this type of look, but don’t – Coco Chanel famously said “when accessorizing, always take off the last thing you put on”, let that be your mantra.

UK 2013, Cyprus 2016
Switzerland 2005

Not A Dress

Of course trousers, pant-suits and jumpsuits can make a great alternative to a dress, especially if you are going to be flying over the crowd, no one wants to look up and see a pair of spanx looking back at them! If you’re going to move, dance, jump around, this can provide a simple practical solution to the clothing issue, just please check out the fit and shaping of the outfit.

Conchita as host 2015, Sweden 2012, Macedonia 2012
Finland 2016,

Couldn’t Be Bothered

Slightly unfairly titled, but you get my point. You can actually look very ‘cool’ in an understated, casual outfit and indeed there are some songs for which this is absolutely the right move. Remember, it has to look like that was the intention, not that you simply forgot to pick an outfit until the last minute.

Lithuania 2016
Netherlands 2015, France 2015, UK 2016, Russia 2008

Put The Boy In A Suit

The male equivalent of the big dress. It’s the classic thing to do, but suits are certainly not a one-for-all type affair. They can be military, fitted, casual, brocaded, patterned, plain, colourful and a myriad of other things. Work with the artist to get it right, heaven knows I’m fed up seeing chaps on stages and red carpets, the world over, in ill-fitting suits.

UK 2011, Norway 2009, Russia 2016
Estonia 2016, Netherlands 2016

The Artist

Ok, so you’ve got an artist, who is actually an artist – they have their own unique style and self-expression. I am not knocking that at all, it’s what I love at Eurovision. My advice is not to style them out of it or over style it, just embrace their own vision and work with them (not against them).

Iceland 2016, Georgia 2015
Ireland 2015, United Kingdom 2014

The Costume

Costumes can work really well, when it’s all part of the act and the performers own natural style then costuming over couture could be the way to go. You should know that I was somewhat reluctant to put Germany on the miss-list for this one, because I actually really liked Jamie-Lee’s manga-styling, however it was not right for the song at all and therefore finds its way to the miss-list.

Finland 2006, Ireland 2011, Ireland 2012, Ukraine 2007, Poland 2014
Germany 2016*, Serbia 2013, Finland 2013

The ‘light-up’

Yes, it’s a bit of a gimmick, but when done well it can look great on stage and on TV, when the artist is clearly not comfortable with it, however, it falls flat as a pancake!

Bulgaria 2016
UK 2015 (You were very lucky not to end up with the Dex in 2015!)

Kyiv Expectations

As we barrel ahead towards this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, I am very interested to see what some of our acts are wearing.

I’ve chatted to a few of the performers about what they’re wearing, not only for the stage but for the other Eurovision events that are all part of the story. We sometimes get visual clues about the way things are going for show performances in the pre-release videos, but not always.

Naturally I’ll be looking at everyone but if I’m being honest with you I’m especially keen to see Slavko from Macedonia, Lucie from the United Kingdom, Triana Park from Latvia, and Dihaj from Azerbaijan. Once we hit the ground in Kyiv, I’ll be back with a full fashion run down as well as following the artists through their entire Eurovision wardrobe and creative visual process.

I’ll also take a look at hair and makeup as well as actually doing some hair and make up in Ukraine too – watch this space fashion and style followers!

Categories: ESC Insight


This is Kyiv: Eat, Drink And Get Very Merry

This is Kyiv: Eat, Drink And Get Very Merry

Unmissable Ukrainian Food And Drink

Ukrainian cuisine is heavily based on sour cream, dumplings, potato, rye bread and pork. This is a classic Eastern European cuisine heavy in stodge and lacking in spice and flavour, but saying that also does a great injustice.

The infamous example of this is of course borsch, a beetroot soup poured over compulsory sour cream. It’s filling and tasty, and you should certainly try to sample as much as possible, it’s a staple everywhere. More adventurous is the solyanka, a Russian favourite, which includes pickled cucumber and traditionally kidney.

If you fancy a drink, Lvivske beer is the local sponsor of Eurovision and is going to appear all over the place as a suitable beverage. Local wine from Ukraine certainly gets the job done and shouldn’t be baulked at, especially as anything imported is liable to be double the price of Ukrainian, but with wine typically costing 30-90 UAH (1-3 EUR) per glass and 15-30 UAH (0.5-1 EUR) for half a litre of beer cost should not be a factor. Medovuha (mead), Horilka (Ukranian vodka) and Nastoyanka (fruit liqueur) are also available if you fancy something stronger. Expect these to be surprisingly clean and amazing value, even at the airport on your way home you will find one litre of vodka for 4 Euros.

For those of us who prefer their drinks soft, Kvass is a non-alcoholic fermented rye bread drink which is much nicer than its description suggests! This is a perfect substitute for beer and if the weather if good expect to find street vendors around the parks selling this in pint-sized plastic cups for pennies. Continuing with the theme, the fermented milk drink Kefir is widely available and very tasty, canteen style restaurants will often have this available alongside any fruit juices. Uzvar is a sweet soft drink made from fresh or dried fruit, sugar and water. The tap water is not good for drinking, even boiled, so make sure you stock up on bottled water. Still water can be identified if you look closely at the labels, a word starting with ‘no gas’ (негаз…) shows there is no gas inside the water.

img_20170228_212825--1- (1)

Here’s what still water is called in Ukrainian.

As Europe’s cheapest city Kyiv is a delight to eat out in.  For a rough idea of pricing, a dish in a fast food/buffet style restaurant will cost around 1-2 euros. A main meal in a standard restaurant is 3-6 euros, while if you want to go crazy in a fine dining restaurant you might spend 10-20 euros. Imported food, especially seafood can be more expensive, but compared with Stockholm last year even this is a relative relief to your wallet. Despite the currency crashes of recent year Kyiv still has plenty of people who want to eat out and the top restaurants will need booking in advance.

Restaurants handily display the weight of the meal on their menu, sometimes broken down into the constituent parts. So you might see a dish described as Pork with fried potatoes, mushrooms and fresh vegetables 100/150/50/100 g. It helps you get an idea of whether you are ordering a small plate or a sharing platter.

If you are looking to self-cater the supermarkets are superb. Typically seasonal Ukrainian food is very affordable and in any decent supermarket a large array of pre-made hot and cold food from mayo-based salads, pies, hot and cold meats, dumplings, pancakes etc. One of our favourites is the Novus supermarket a stone’s throw from the arena, where the salad bar is 40% off from 21:00 (the show starts at 22:00) and the supermarket has its own mini-canteen and, wait for it, fully functioning bar for a quick drink before the live shows. In town the main shopping street Khreshchatyk has a Billa supermarket on its southern tip and a upmarket 24 hr Silpo in the Gulliver shopping centre at Sportyvna Square one stop further south. The latter has mini-cafes inside too with adorable pastries and amusing takes on that very British establishment of fish and chips. Served in newspaper of course.

You will also find numerous street kiosks selling breads, pies and pastries. Ordering can be a point and hope for the best affair, but I’ve never had a dud choice. The safe choice is typically Eastern European soft doughy pizza, guaranteed to fill you up for all for the whole four hour final. It might slow your digestive system down – so prior reading of Ellie Chalkley’s article about staying healthy at Eurovision is recommended. They will often ask if you want your food heated, which will take a couple of minutes.


Ssssh, don’t tell them their Eurovision logo is the old one.

Around The Arena

The Kyiv International Exhibition Centre has a variety of food choices within a five minute walk. As you come out of the Metro station Livoberezhna (Лівобережна), you will see a 24 hour McDonalds – complete with a self-service order screen with English option. There’s also a Domino’s and some local fast food choices along this road (I’m still tickled by local rip-off chain McFoxy). Turn right out of the station, away from the arena down Raisy Okipnoi St and you will find To Dublin, a large Irish Bar which brews its own beer at 95 UAH per litre (1 EUR) and a Puzata Hata buffet restaurant where you can eat your fill of traditional Ukrainian dishes.


Order in English with McDonald’s self-serve screens.

Just outside the arena area feature another couple of restaurants that are relatively generic but get the job done. Mafia is best known for its sushi and pizza sharing plates, and Koroli just a minute beyond with English-language menus in a rather generic chain restaurant experience. In that area of Kyiv our recommendation would be the adorable Oliva chain with an Italian flavour and pastel colours. Press people may be starting their day with their 86 Hryvnia English breakfast.

Where To Sample Ukrainian Food

Puzata Hata is a buffet chain selling great-value Ukrainian food, with branches around the city. Everything is laid out for you to choose from, just take what looks good and pay at the cash desk. You will struggle to spend more than five euros for a full meal, and it’s a great introduction to the variety of Ukrainian dishes.

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This is what two Euros of food from Puzata Hata looks like…

Spotykach has great reviews for traditional Ukrainian dishes. If you have been inspired by 1944 to try Crimean Tatar food, head to Musafir which offers authentic food and costumed waiters. This place is very much in need of being reserved in advance.

My highlight of Kyiv’s food scene is Kanapa, a fine-dining restaurant which serves only Ukrainian-grown food and drink. In March I had the excellent twelve course tasting menu with alcohol pairing for only 989 UAH (35 EUR). Featuring all the toys of liquid nitrogen cooling and grilling at your table and everything else in between, as an experience this is possibly the best value high class meal on the planet. I will definitely be returning in May.


Naked chicken Kiev at Kanapa. Course ten of twelve on the tasting menu.

Best Of The Rest

Kanapa is part of a wider group of restaurants offering varied themes from a speakeasy Ostannya Barikada (get the password when booking!), to Japanese/Peruvian fusion food at Ronin, and a fancy Asian Steakhouse at Oxota Na Ovets. You can check out the whole range here.

Georgian restaurants are the mainstay of the former Soviet states and it’s no different in Kyiv. Georgian food is famous for richness, with unique local dishes like khinkali and chachapuri now becoming hipster treats worldwide. The Chachapuri restaurant just down the hill from the University Metro station is likely to be a spot-the-delegation hideout, yet Georgian cuisine is easy to find. You will find other restaurants spread around the city, such as Mama Manana and Khinkali selling all the traditional tastes of Georgia.

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Chachapuri at Restaurant Khinkali

For the chocolate lovers among us I would suggest a trip to Lviv Handmade Chocolate Company, who have several shops and cafes in the capital. You might also want to check out the Roshen chocolate shop on Khreschatyk or elsewhere in the city, their gift boxes make for ideal presents. If you are looking for a cosy, student-friendly café, Milk Bar near the Palace of Sports ticks all the avocado-smashing boxes. The vegan carrot cake, served with a sprinkling of nuts, would be fitting in any Scandi fika stop.

For The Non-Meat Eaters

If you are a vegetarian you should be able to find something to eat pretty much anywhere, although watch out for hidden pork fat/bacon used to flavour dishes without any thought.

Vegans might struggle in standard restaurants, but there are plenty of specialist restaurants to try. Tripadvisor favourite Imbir offers breakfast, lunch or dinner and everything is vegetarian or vegan. If you have overindulged then Nebos offers raw food without added fat, sugar or flour.  EcoBuffet offers great value veggie food in three city-centre locations – with main meals costing up to 25 UAH (0.9 EUR) you are unlikely to go over-budget!

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Paneer with nori and juilenne vegetables, at Imbir

Going Out And Experiencing The Night Life

EuroClub is based in Parkovy, within staggering distance from the city centre although annoyingly between both Arsenalny and Khreshchatyk stations. It will be the official place for delegations and press, and fans are going to be able to buy tickets as well to dance the night away. Of course, this means there is nowhere else you need to go…

However you may want to show some support to the local gay scene, which has some options available but is hardly a goldmine. LIFT, located on the fourth-floor of an anonymous office building, has plenty of security at each level which makes getting in feel a bit of a stress, but it’s perfectly calm inside. Women will have to pay an entry fee, but it’s free for men. There’s table service inside and a couple of dancefloors – we can’t guarantee Eurovision music, but we heard a few Ukrainian Eurovision songs when we were there after the National Final.

For another review of the venue Gaydio went to Kyiv back in March, and I suggest checking out their article for more information.

Categories: ESC Insight

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