Last week I was able to spend a couple of days in Europe on a business trip. The destination was Chojnice (pronounced hoy-NEE-say), which is a city a little smaller than Elkhart about a two hour drive from Gdansk, Poland.
In grade school I learned that Poland was a poor communist country where the people had no freedom. I’m not going to get into how much of that was true and how much was anti-communist propaganda.
But I do know that since the wall fell back in ’89, the people of Poland have developed a progressive economy and adapted to a western European lifestyle, while still holding on to their traditional ways of life.
- RELATED: Dyngus Day 2015: Pile on the pierogi for the Polish celebration, April 4, 2015
Traveling virtually alone and only knowing about 15 words of Polish, I found it hard to communicate with anyone over the age of 25. From the driver of the van that shuttled me to and from the hotel to the waitresses in the restaurants, apart from dziekuje (jen-QUEE-ya, thank you) and pyszny (PISH-ney, delicious), there wasn’t much communication besides pointing at menus and pantomiming with my hands.
That’s okay, because there was really only one word I was interested in saying (when I wasn’t working with my client): pierogi.
My grandmother is Polish. Her mother was tucked safely inside her own mother’s womb when they made the trek across the ocean to the U.S. Today, she can still make some mean pierogi.
I enjoy going back to northwest Indiana every year to Pierogifest in Whiting to get in line and fill up on those dumplings. So, just like going to Buffalo to eat the wings, I was looking forward to sinking my teeth into some pierogi when I arrived in the homeland.
- RELATED: Sampling wings at the first place to ever serve them, The Anchor Bar in Buffalo, N.Y., April 29, 2015
A pierogi is a flat dough folded over itself and stuffed with food. Traditionally you get them stuffed with sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, or cheese, but I prefer the ones stuffed with meat. The dumpling is usually boiled and then pan fried in butter. It can be served with a topping or eaten plain.
My first pierogi in Poland was in the hotel restaurant. Ten medium-sized pierogi came out with a cream sauce with leeks. They were tasty.
The cream sauce was so smooth it tasted like a very light gravy and helped flavor the dough, which was so soft the fork cut right through it. The leeks were a perfect addition, as the mild onion flavor did not overpower the flavor of the sauce.
The filling: seasoned ground beef. It wasn’t just plain beef ground up in a frying pan — this stuff was cooked with spices that gave the meat a sharp taste that complemented the smooth creaminess of the sauce.
Two of the dinner receipts I turned into the accounting department of my company have this meal on it.
After a morning of work, the client was grateful enough to have a driver drop me off at the city center of Chojnice to walk around for a couple of hours. They recommended a new restaurant on the top floor of a shopping center.
Pierogi meal No. 2 was six giant pierogi stuffed with pork and topped with a bacon and onion mixture. Just like in America, they realize you can put bacon on anything to make it taste better.
The pork stuffing was more like a meatball mixture. It had a mild taste that yielded to let the bacon and onion do their magic. The dough was a little stiffer on these dumplings and had that fresh fried butter taste.
Again, I was just blown away how good these things were. I would have liked to smuggle some home to share with my family, but I didn’t have room with all the Cuban cigars and Kinder eggs.
Pierogi are the national food of Poland and it made me think of what would be the national food of our country. Pizza is kind of Italian. Hamburgers I believe come from Hamburg, Germany. Hot dogs are basically just a sausage which you could associate, again, with Germany.
Even the sandwich was named after the Earl of Sandwich. We don’t have Earls in this country. The South would claim barbecue, but pretty much every culture has barbecue, and the Mongolians hold the title on that.
That leaves the chicken wing. It’s named after a city in New York (Buffalo). No other country really focuses on the chicken wing. If someone were to come over here to our country and wanted American food, you could take him to B-Dubs and they would be all like, “We don’t have this in Bulgaria!”
This coming Fourth of July, while celebrating your country’s independence, make sure to reflect on those who died for your freedom, and those who keep it going. Take a break from the fireworks, grab a chicken wing, hold it up, and toast your country with a confident “Merika!”
So, does anyone know where to get some good pierogi in the Michiana area?