The Cultural Spotter Banner

Pierogi: Culinary Tower of Babel or short history of Polish dumplings

May 30, 2015
Country/Region:  Poland
Category:  Cuisine

It’s all about the filling

Although there is a lot of regional specialities all over the country, there is a dish that will certainly recall you your grandmother's cuisine, no matter in which part of Poland you were born – pierogi. This dish, in English sometimes called “dumplings”, consist of small pieces of dough wrapped around the savoury filling which are usually boiled. And if you'd like to look for their soul, it will be in the filling. Depending on the region, you will find different types of it. Along the eastern border of Poland, where the Lithuanian and Ukrainian impacts are the most visible, the most popular are those with buckwheat or lentils. In Podkarpcie (the Subcarpathia – mountainous area on the South of Poland) pierogi are filled with different kinds of sheep milk cheeses such as oscypek or bryndza, sometimes served with sour cream or cranberry. But the most popular, from the Baltic Sea to the Tatra Mountains, are those with meat filling flavoured with fried onion and pepper or so called pierogi ruskie filled with mixture of quark (soured milk cheese) and potatoes, often served with pork scratchings.

Pierogi ruskie
Pierogi ruskie

Identity problems

While the popularity of pierogi ruskie is totally incontestable, their name still puzzles us. In Polish “ruskie” is a slightly pejorative synonym for “Russian”. Why then the jewel of Polish cuisine would be called this way? This time the simplest answer is not correct: we didn’t loan it from the Russians, who prepare their national dumplings in a totally different way. Pierogi ruskie came to us in the 13th century from our neighbours: Kievan Rus’ and quickly assimilated into Polish taste. Insomuch that in the 20th century they were weddings on which the guests were helped only to dumplings! And that in Ukraine they happened to be called “Polish dumplings”.

Pierogi z jagodami
Pierogi z jagodami

It’s all Greek to… the Greeks

But pierogi ruskie isn’t the only tricky name in Polish cuisine. While origins of Ukrainian borscht are quite obvious, it is not so easy to find out why we call fried fish covered with vegetables and served cold a Greek fish. The inhabitants of this sunny country don’t know it at all and we could suppose that seeing it they would probably say that it’s all Greek to them. There are hypothesises that it’s a variation about psari plaki which changed in the way from Greece to Poland, but it’s hard to precise when and how it happened.

International mixture

All these culinary impacts are not so hard to explain, if you take into consideration that Poland used to be European melting pot. So, as you can see, there’s no need to visit all the countries in Europe. You can just go to Poland to try specialities from different parts of the continent. Of course, if you don’t mind small improvements made by time and Polish housewives.

About the Author

Zuza Wojnarowska

Zuza Wojnarowska

Zuza is a Polish student of Applied Linguistics, strongly connected with Warsaw, her birthplace. She perceives the world through the languages (historical and sociological aspects!) and music. A scout guide and youth leader, she doesn’t fear challenges. She spends her free time on cycling, trekking and reading Terry Pratchett.