Food Critic: Roasted chestnuts? Good idea

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Dec. 15, 2011, 9:37 p.m. | Food & Nightclubs — by Mariya Manzhos

Roasted chestnuts are now available in Kyiv, the city of chestnuts.
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Eating a chestnut would sound weird for most residents of Kyiv.

Chestnuts – at least the familiar variety – are for kicking in autumn and collecting for kids’ crafts.

The Western tradition of eating roasted chestnuts – the edible variety, that is – is a new idea here. But Hans Warner, an Austrian currently living in Kyiv, decided it’s time to spread it around.

Every evening, from five to seven, you can now buy “chestnuts roasting on the open fire,” outside the cozy new Felix bakery on Shota Rustavelli street for Hr 27 per bag of about 20 chestnuts.

And if Jack Frost starts nipping at your nose while you’re eating the nutty delicacy, you can warm up with a delicious cup of home brewed mulled wine flavored with cinnamon, oranges and cloves, also for Hr 27.

“In Austria you can find warm chestnuts everywhere on the street for very cheap. In Kyiv they can also become a way to bring warm holiday spirit into the capital,” says Warner, who has been living in Kyiv for three years and opened Felix bakery six months ago.

So far, only very few restaurants in Kyiv have been bold enough to feature chestnut dishes on their menus. For example, Café de Paris on Andriyivsky Uzviz offers a pumpkin soup with chestnut chunks for Hr 55.

Outside of Ukraine, roasted chestnuts have a long history.

Centuries ago, chestnuts were a common source of food for peasants from Portugal to Turkey. By the 16th century chestnuts started to gain fame among the French and Italian aristocracy.

And by the time Nat King Cole sang about them in the 1940’s, they were already a beloved Christmas tradition in Europe and the U.S.

Despite Kyiv being the “City of Chestnuts,” featuring a chestnut on its crest, bringing the roasted snack here wasn’t easy.

Warner had to import a special oven from Austria, which gets set up outside the bakery. The chestnuts themselves have to be shipped weekly from Austria due to the poor quality of the nuts available here.

Once they arrive, they must be carefully stored at temperatures of 2-4 degrees celcius to ensure freshness. Before roasting, they are sorted again to filter off any spoilage that may have occurred.

If you are lucky to find raw chestnuts in Kyiv, it’s easy to make the treat at home: just throw them in the oven at 180 degrees until the shell cracks.

These heart-warming delectables have a potato-like taste and you’ll find yourself reaching for more.

But Warner believes it’s only a matter of time before eating chestnuts becomes a tradition here.

He personally takes part in this mission every Thursday evening by welcoming passers-by and sharing mulled wine and chestnuts with them, a sort of a holiday-themed “happy hour”.

He has converted at least one fan so far. Nataliya Okunska, a model and socialite, lives just across the street from the bakery, and frequents the weekly chestnuts parties.

“I have traded glamorous parties for these small gatherings with friends and good food,” she says.

“Here you… are forgetting you actually live in Ukraine,” says Okunskaya.

Staff writer Mariya Manzhos can be reached at

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