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Just Like Baba’s—Taking in the Friday Night Supper at the Ukrainian Cultural Centre

Just Like Baba’s—Taking in the Friday Night Supper at the Ukrainian Cultural Centre

You wouldn’t know from its unassuming location off busy Douglas, but the Ukrainian Canadian Cultural Society of Vancouver Island’s headquarters plays host to one of the hottest nights of dining in Victoria: the once-a-month Friday night Ukrainian Supper.

Story and photos: Rachel Rilkoff

The first hint of something special is the line snaking down the block. I arrive shortly after doors open and still wait in a queue fifteen-deep. Everyone is in a good mood, passing the time with jovial chatter. And who wouldn’t be, with the promise of a plate full of pierogies (or pyrohy, if you want to sound like a local) waiting on the other side of the double doors?

Growing up with a Russian grandmother, or Baba, as we called her, I’m no stranger to the magic of dough stuffed with a variety of mouthwatering fillings. The kind faces of the staff working Friday’s supper instantly remind me of Baba, stirring up memories of her demanding with loving sternness that I eat, eat, eat, as she piled my plate high with pierogies, full fat sour cream, onions sauteed to golden brown and sharp cheddar cheese.

The interior of the centre, like my Baba’s basement, seems to be a space last decorated in the early 90s: brick arches divide a room filled with packed tables and chairs, and stiff patterned curtains in muted burgundy and beige obscure most of the walls. A low stage is occupied by the house band, keeping the atmosphere lively with traditional melodies plucked on mandolin, guitar and upright bass, punctuated with an upbeat polka cover of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire.

Val Vakowski, a volunteer from St. George’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church, describes these Friday night suppers as an opportunity to bring together the local Ukrainian community. Each month, supper is led by a different community group, with support from the parent organization. A traditional dance troupe used funds from their Friday night supper to travel to the Ukraine, while St. George’s—the people behind tonight’s dinner—pools money raised to support orphans in Ukraine. Val also shares, “There’s many young immigrants from Ukraine, and this is a place for them to have a sense of community. It’s really nice for new Canadians.”

Once you pick your items from the concession-style plastic menu board, dinner is collected from a pass through, manned by efficient volunteers. A peek behind them reveals a bustling industrial kitchen— a magic window into the birthplace of the pyrohy I’m soon to enjoy. 

I opt for the combination plate, consisting of pyrohy, cabbage rolls, sausage and salad. The pyrohy are soft and rich, stuffed with cheese and onion, and imperfectly formed in a way that is perfection, simply because one can tell they have been pinched into pillows with great love. If a single pyrohy is not heaven enough on its own, there’s also crumbled bacon, caramelized onions and a dollop of sour cream to elevate the experience. Val describes pyrohy as “amazing food, because you can prepare them any way you like. Mushrooms, cottage cheese, dill. They’re versatile, so everybody loves them.” 

Not to be outshined, the cabbage rolls practically melt upon contact with knife and fork, the tomato sauce dancing with a tangy bite. I find it best to finish with a slice of salty sausage, followed by a mouthful of bright coleslaw to cleanse the palate. My friend digs into the borscht, a bowl of deeply saturated purple, thick with shredded beets and cabbage. Our friendly tablemates are first timers, enjoying stubby glasses of red wine and beer, and plead with us in joking tones not to let everyone else in on the secret of the supper. 

A smiling volunteer in an apron collects my now empty plate. It seems she’ll be hustling for a while, as the line shows no sign of dying down. Those who arrive late risk missing out—menu items often sell out before the end of the night. Luckily, in a month’s time, another supper will arrive, and with it, plenty of pyrohy. 

Keep an eye out on Facebook or the Ukrainian Cultural Centre’s website for the next Friday night supper.

Ukrainian Cultural Centre
3277 Douglas St, Victoria

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