My friend Janet introduced me to pierogi. For a Canadian of Ukrainian descent living in Perth, pierogi were the comfort food that could take her home for a bit.
Pierogi are dumplings stuffed with mashed potatoes, cheese, cabbage, spinach, mushrooms, beef or just about anything else you have to hand.
Janet’s pierogi were either boiled or fried in a little butter – they were perfect cold weather fare with a mysterious name straight off the Caspian Steppe that I would never forget.
Years after Janet returned to Canada I read about the Giants of the Prairies – a Ukrainian migrant dreaming manifested in a series of enormous food sculptures scattered across the Alberta plains.
There was The Big Sausage in Mundare, Vauxhall’s Dancing Potatoes and in the town of Glendon The Big Pierogi, a 27-foot high dumpling speared by a gigantic fork (thoughtfully added after people had trouble identifying the stodgy white monolith).
Glendon’s dumpling reverence got me wondering about the origins of pierogi.
Like many of the world’s iconic dishes – hummus, kimchi, pavlova – ownership of pierogi is hotly contested -Ukrainians, Poles, Romanians, Russians, Lithuanians and Slovaks all claim pierogi as their own.
One Polish legend has it that Saint Hyacinth brought pierogi to Poland from Ukraine.
While visiting Kościelec in 1238 a storm decimated the villager’s crops. A cool head in a crisis, Hyacinth directed the people to pray and miraculously the next day the crops rose back up.
As a sign of their gratitude people made pierogi and Hyacinth became the dumpling’s patron Saint.
Each claimant nation has their own pierogi origin story, however food historians unromantically posit pierogi were probably brought to Europe by Marco Polo after he visited various dumpling houses in China.
As for pierogi in Australia – recently while watching an episode of ABC TV’s Jack Irish I noted a main character had pivoted from his journalism career to begin selling pierogi from a food van outside Luna Park.
When some bad guys spectacularly blew the van up sending its flaming roof high into the St Kilda sky, I knew pierogi had arrived in Melbourne.
Jack Irish’s pierogi inspiration more than likely came from Dominika and Guy, the legendary duo behind Melbourne’s Pierogi Pierogi.
Meeting in London, Polish Dominika, and, Aussie Guy, fell in love and conspired to bring pierogi (which Guy had also fallen in love with) back to Melbourne.
After a successful stint in their food van Dominika and Guy set up permanently in Spotswood’s Grazeland.
And as part of our effort to bring you comfort food during COVID we’re stocking two of Dominika and Guy’s favourite pierogis: Kaputsa – mushroom and sauerkraut, and Ruskie – creamy potato and cheese in our webshop.
Smacznego and have a great week,