Pierogi Fest!

If you go to Chicago, you can visit the Art Institute, or attend one of the music festivals in Grant Park. However, this will introduce you only to the Chicago of the beautiful downtown lakefront. That’s fine, as far as it goes.  But to really know the city, you have to get away from downtown and see some of its other faces.

One of the many fine vendors at Pierogi Fest.
One of the many fine vendors at Pierogi Fest.

One of those faces can be found at Pierogi Fest, an annual celebration of the pierogi, a fried dumpling from Eastern Europe filled with meat, sauerkraut, potato, or other stuffings – along with other heavy, starchy, and delicious foods best eaten with a lot of sour cream.

The Chicago area actually has more ethnic Poles than Warsaw. Combined with the area’s Ukrainians, Serbs, Czechs, and Slovaks, they make a mighty host. Pierogi Fest draws about 200,000 people over three days to Whiting, Indiana, a town just over the Chicago city boundary.

Judy, our son Daniel, and his girlfriend Kaitlin went out to Pierogi Fest on Saturday. Sadly, other duties prevented me from attending. However, Judy brought back a full report, along with some pictures taken on her cell phone.

Daniel and Kaitlin enjoying Pierogi Fest's offerings.
Daniel and Kaitlin enjoying Pierogi Fest’s offerings.

Pierogi wasn’t all that was on the menu. There were cabbage rolls stuffed with meat and rice. There were potato pancakes. There were grilled meats, and sweets of various kinds.

In case you were unclear on the concept, there were a number of costumed people walking around as giant cabbage rolls, pierogi, and panczki (jelly doughnuts).

Man in a Stuffed Cabbage Roll costume.
Man in a Stuffed Cabbage Roll costume.

But Pierogi Fest is about more than stuffing yourself into a carbohydrate stupor. There is also culture, in the form of a polka dancing contest. The contest was overseen by three ladies known as the Polka-hontuses. At the conclusion of the contest, they perform a spirited rendition of the Slovak national anthem.

One of the Polka-hontuses
One of the Polka-hontuses

Another form of culture is the Dunk-A-Nun booth. This booth enables someone with a good arm and good aim to cause a uniformed nun to be dropped into a pool of water. The booth’s boosters worked the crowd with the following spiel: “These are real nuns here! Come on, you went to Catholic school! You know you want to do this!” All proceeds go to a local parochial school.

The Dunk-A-Nun Booth
The Dunk-A-Nun Booth

Sure, the Art Institute can boast about the new wing for their modern art collection, but can you dunk a nun there? I don’t think so.

Judy was kind enough to return home with a dozen pierogi and a couple of cabbage rolls, so I didn’t miss out on all the fun.

A generous serving of potato pancake with sour cream.
A generous serving of potato pancake with sour cream.

The 2014 Pierogi Fest is July 25-27, in case you don’t want to deny yourself for another year.

What is your favorite food-centered street festival?


43 Comments on “Pierogi Fest!

  1. I was lucky enough to grow up with my grandmother’s amazing pierogies and my dad’s potato pancakes. I could eat dozens in one sitting. Pierogi Fest looks amazing and I’m now salivating.

    • I could doubtlessly eat dozens too, but would not be a good idea at my present age. We do make potato pancakes at home at least once per year.

  2. Chicago is a great city! It was the first US city I ever visited, together with my grandpa as an English-learning 13-year old. The only of its festivals I’ve been to was the Blues Fest, and as far as I recall, there was no nun-dunking… What a funny idea! No doubt great for a fundraiser! 😀

  3. Who doesn’t love pierogi? Pittsburgh is another great city for pierogi. When we were visiting, we went to a Pirates game, and the between-inning entertainment included a pierogi race. Maybe they borrowed the costumes from Chicago?

    • We saw a Brewers game in Milwaukee, and during the 7th inning stretch there is a sausage race. (The bratwurst always wins.)

  4. How interesting to hear of Pierogi Fest! What a fantastic festival it is….and what a shame you missed it. xxxx

  5. Oh maan, I missed out on that Chicago opportunity hey. Any food festival works for me, in fact food in general just works!

  6. Sounds like a nice street festival with dancing too. I love the markets here at Christmas. They always smell so good with cinnamon crepes, mulled wine, fried noodles and sauerkraut, roasted almonds… But if there’s any other food market I’ll usually find something to gorge on! 😉

  7. What a fun time! Your last photo is delicious and love that dunk-a-nun, they must be good sports to get wet fully clothed 🙂

  8. Your post made me smile, I haven’t tried any of these foods, but it looks like fun. 🙂

    • It was definitely fun. I understand there are plenty of Eastern Europeans in the UK now, maybe there is a Polish restaurant or deli near you.

  9. Ha..would you believe that I have never been! Marking my calendar! I usually go to the Wicker Park Fest….Thanks for showing everyone what makes Chicago awesome! Hope your garden visit went well yesterday…sorry I couldn’t make it (sick baby)…Nicole

    • Haven’t been to Wicker Park myself in quite a while. Danny lives in Logan Square now. Hope the baby is better (they definitely take precedence)!

  10. You were really great in capturing and writing all what Judy told you, and woven them among the photos, haha! I guess after writing it, the experience was not anymore just a story but your experience!

  11. Jason, glad your family went to this interesting East-European Fest. All these traditions to eat pierogi (pies) or poncziki (donuts) or sour cream (smetana) are similar in Ukraine, Russia, Belorussia, Poland etc. Mostly we have fests with various meals in Shrovetide and Easter. The pierogi look delicious!

    • Not so many Russians in Chicago, but as you say the foods are very similar. In the USA, summertime is for outdoor eating, though you do see the traditions from Europe around Easter, etc.

  12. Looks like fun! My husband, originally from the Chicago area, is part Polish. So his family often eats Pierogis. Judy did a great job capturing the festivities!

    • My mother did not make pierogis but she did make other dishes from that part of the world – cabbage rolls, potato pancakes, dumpling soup, noodle pudding …

  13. I have never heard of Pierogis, so this post has been a bit of an education! Congratulations to Judy for some excellent photos – it looks like you missed a great day out!

    • You must try some pierogis! I’ll bet there is a deli or restaurant somewhere near you that sells them. And don’t forget the sour cream!

  14. Pierogies are a major food staple in my house, despite the fact that we are Swedish, English, and German. They are just so tasty! Looks like a fun day. 🙂

    • I’m pretty sure all the northern and eastern european countries have their own version of pierogis. Well, maybe not the English. But they do have pasties!

  15. Looks like you missed a good time and loads of chow. I am not too fond of Polish food and being German myself, I really don’t like their cuisine either. But I do love potato pancakes!!!!

  16. Enjoyed reading about the Pierogie Fest. My grandma would make them every week for my parents restraurant in Cleveland. Made everything from scratch. Stuffed with potatoes or sour kraut. After boiled in water then a liberal amount of melted butter, onions on top with sour cream. Others would like theirs browned slightly in a frying pan. I’m on my way out to the kitchen. Yum…Elaine

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