Searching for the Best Dumpling
By Alex Franków
If Food Network’s Guy Fieri were to cruise to Thunder Bay in his red 1968 Camaro and ask you where to find the best pierogi (I’m Polish, this is my preferred spelling, no matter what the Canadian Press says), you would find yourself in quite the predicament.
Where would you send him first?
If you’re Ukrainian, you would send Guy to the Holy Cross Ukrainian Catholic Church for some mouth-watering varenyky/pirohy/pedaheh, or you’d skip the chit chat, hop in the Camaro, and direct him straight to your baba’s house whilst pointing out various Thunder Bay landmarks. Being Polish it’s very likely bickering would arise between you and your family members on where exactly to send him for the best pierogi. A decision would really come down to what side of town you happen to be on and what day it is. If you don’t fall into either of these ethnic categories, you’d most likely tell Guy “I know someone/someplace.”
Regardless of where you would send Guy, our city has many sources for authentic and homemade dumplings. Generally, these delectable little potato-cheese nuggets of deliciousness are heavily associated with Eastern European and Slavic countries, with each claiming creation. The battle of origin and proper name/spelling continues to this day. Various sources indicate that such dumplings originated in Asia where other sources reach back into European folklore, spanning from Russia to Ukraine and most of Eastern Europe. The first written pierogi recipe can be found in the Compendium Ferculorum (A Collection of Dishes) by Stanisław Czerniecki, published in 1682. However, the stuffing we know and love—potato and cheese—was not used in the original recipe, as potatoes were unknown to Eastern Europeans during the seventeenth century. Instead, Czerniecki’s pierogi were composed of chopped kidneys, mixed greens, nutmeg, and veal fat. The growth and evolution of pierogi vary among ethnicities with fillings ranging from fruit, cabbage, meat, and even cottage cheese. The possibilities are endless.
Although many may argue about the spelling and pronunciation of perogies/varenyky/pirohy/pedaheh/perhory, there is one thing most of us can agree on—it’s personal to us. We are proud of our culture, our traditions, and our dumplings of doughy goodness, however we may pronounce/spell them. We can relay recipes, tricks of the trade, and memories at the drop of a hat. For many of us, it is not only a staple food, but a comfort food; transporting us back to our babcia’s kitchen, to past Christmas dinners with our families, or moments with our parents. Although we have a friendly rivalry amongst each other, there is one thing we can all agree on—no matter which way you choose to spell pierogi, it will always remain plural in our hearts, and in our minds.