Dear friends, we came across the price lists of the most popular restaurants in Ostroh, Ukraine when doing genealogy research in Rivne Archives. I liked learning what our ancestors could order for dinner in the early 1920s. However, a closer look and more research took us to some interesting discoveries about life in that particular area, as well as in Poland in general at that time. I would like to share them with you.
This post can be of interest to those whose ancestors lived in Ostroh, Rivne area, or just in Poland after WWI. Also, for those who are planning to come to Ukraine and want to know what the prices are like today. It’s just a bit of time travel.
I think it’s worth having a look at where Ostroh is before we start. Here is the link to the map. Today, it’s a district center of Rivne province and the seat of the famous Ostroh Academy, Ukraine’s oldest educational institution (founded in 1576).
And this is what Ostroh was like in the 1920s, the time we’ll be talking about:
You can see the beginning of the main street of the town, named Dubenska. Since we’ll be talking about food and restaurants, I’d like to draw your attention to the advertisement that you can see on the left. It says “Бергшлoс” – Bergsсhloss beer that was brewed and is still brewed in Rivne, the center of the province for Ostroh. Here is the modern label of their ale:
One of the best local beers today, it costs about 30UAH (1.1USD) per bottle in the supermarket and not very much more in a restaurant. I just could not fail to say that.
Anyway, back to the street you can see in the photo above. It’s the one where most hotels, businesses, and restaurants were located. There were 4 hotels there in the 1920s and their names sound very important: French Hotel, European Hotel, Viktoria Hotel, and Warsaw Hotel. How big do you think a town with 4 hotels was at that time? 17 thousand citizens. There was 1 coffee shop and 2 restaurants on Dubenska street as well. One of them was named Dmytruk Eating House. The photo below is the price list of Dmytruk’s restaurant since Nov 4, 1923.
The list was conducted by the Ostroh department of the merchant’s union. I will translate the names of the dishes for you later. Let’s have a look at the prices 1st.
They vary from 10,000 for a bottle of soda to 250,000 for a portion of duck. Why so many zeros, I thought…
According to the local authorities, the local prices were about 50% higher than in the neighboring districts because Ostroh was the border town (located about 1km from the Polish/Russian border, it was part of Poland at that time), the roads to the other towns were in poor shape and the town was located further from the railroad station. It still does not explain all the zeros…
The prices you can see are in Polish Marks – Marka Polska. It is the money that was used in 1917-1924 when the post-WWI Polish economy was struggling a lot (you can check one of our previous posts to learn more about the money and prices at times of Austro-Hungary here). This is the exchange rate of 1 United States dollar to the Polish mark to give you an idea of what the crazy inflationary pressures were like:
1919 – 90 MP
1921 – 6,000 MP
May 1923 – 52,000 MP
July 1923 – 140,000 MP
Beginning of November 1923 – 2,000,000 MP
End of November 1923 – 5,000,000 MP
January 1924 – 9,300,000 MP (!!!!!!!)
You can compare what the money was like when it was introduced:
And what it was like when at the peak of inflation:
The 10-million denomination bills that cost just a bit more than 1 USD in 1924 look like regular paper to me.
The price list above dates to November 1923. It’s when the money you own today could cost nothing tomorrow. The profiteers used to come to the market early in the morning to purchase all the goods and sell them for a cost that was many times higher just a bit later.
The price list above was the way to regulate prices. Business owners were obliged to apply to the magistrate to receive it and put it in every shop, every restaurant, bar, or hotel, in a visible location. The sale of goods or services at higher prices was to be punished with a fine or an arrest of up to 6 months. As you can see life was quite interesting at that time. It’s about the same thing we had to deal with in Ukraine in the 1990s…
Did I promise to translate some dishes from the price list and tell you what one could order for dinner in a restaurant in the 1920s? Let’s do it:
– Dewolaj. Dewolaj is the Polish name of Chicken Kyiv which you might have heard of. Price per portion: 250,000
– Duck: 250,000 per portion.
– Goose: 250,000
– Pork ground-meat cutlet with garnish. Price per portion: 190,000
– Schnitzel with egg: 180,000
– Beefsteak English style with a garnish: 165,000
– Sirloin with onion: 160,000
– Rabbit in sour cream with red beets: 225,000
– Fried brain with a garnish: 150,000
– Fried eggs (4) with ham: 160,000
– Fried eggs (5) on butter: 140,000
– Omelette with canned vegetables: 175,000
– Dessert: 50-150,000
– Coffee: 30,000
– Tea: 20,000
– Cookies: 20-25,000
– Herring (1 piece): 50,000
– Sandwich: 40,000
– Cold ham or sausage (1 portion): 100,000
– Butter: 50,000
– French bread: 20,000
– Pickled or fried fish: 200-250,000
– Beer (one bottle): 75,000
Well, I like the list. All these dishes can be still found on the menu of Ukrainian restaurants today. Let us return to the present time before I close this post. I went to do some research in the Ivano-Frankivsk area recently and Familia Restaurant is one of my favorites there. Here is their menu to tell you what you can have in a good Ukrainian restaurant today and what the cost can be like. There’s no fried brain there (it can still be found in other restaurants though) but a portion of potato pancakes with sour cream, mushrooms, and brynza cheese costs 74UAH which is less than 3USD today. You can check other prices below (the current rate is 26.8UAH per 1USD)
Well, this post made me hungry and it’s high time to finish it.
I invite you to check our genealogy research offer if you need any help with your family history. We do not charge for preliminary research. I am ready to help if you decide to tour Ukraine and try the local cuisine too: check out our heritage tours offer. The information on the Virtual Tour of your ancestral village can be found here.
I invite you to check our Ukraine tours and genealogy research offers. We’ll be happy to help you discover your family stories (there’s no charge for preliminary research) and reunite with the culture of your ancestors. Just send me a message if you need any help.
Rivne Archives, Fond 239, Series 3.