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 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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?