My father ate all kinds of weird stuff and tried to get his kids to do the same. We spit out a lot of it. Despite Pop's worldliness, there were many commonplace foreign foods that I never tried until I left my parents' home. Even though we had Chinese food every week I never tasted lo mein or hot-and-sour soup until I finished college and moved to New York in 1969. I never had any Mexican food until around 1966.
A pierogi (this is actually a plural form, often misused as singular) is a filled dumpling of eastern-European origin, and resembles dumplings enjoyed in other cultures such as Japanese gyoza, Chinese dim-sum, Italian ravioli and Jewish kreplach. In around 1967 I was introduced to pierogies by a college girlfriend at a former Dairy Queen near Quakertown, PA. My love for pierogies greatly outlasted my lust for Carol.
Wikipedia tells us that >>The origins of pierogi are disputed. Some legends say that pierogi have come from China through Italy via Marco Polo expeditions. Other stories contend that pierogi were brought to Poland by Saint Hyacinth of Poland, who brought them back from Kiev (the center of Kievan Rus', nowadays the capital of Ukraine). On July 13, 1238, Saint Hyacinth visited Kościelec, and on his visit, a storm destroyed all crops. Hyacinth told everyone to pray and by the next day, crops rose back up. As a sign of gratitude, people have made pierogi from those crops for Saint Hyacinth. Another legend states that Saint Hyacinth fed people with pierogi during famine caused by an invasion in 1241 by the Tatars. Despite yet another legend that holds that pierogi were brought by the Tartars to the West from the former Russian Empire, it has been said that in the 13th century, pierogi had first arrived on Polish territories. Despite the numerous and varied legends regarding the origin of pierogi a consensus of modern scholars holds that the introduction of the pierogi to the United States first occurred at the onset of the Great Depression in the late 1920s. The first documented sale of pierogi was identified as early as May 1928 at the Marton House Tavern in Cleveland, where proprietor Andrew Marton served the food to unemployed steel mill workers in the Cleveland region.<<
Various fillings make it suitable as a side dish, a dessert, a snack or—I suppose—a main dish. My favorite filling is cheese-and-potatoes, and I like to saute pierogies with onions and eat them together.
The pierogi has never achieved the All-American snack status of sushi, the taco or pizza, but has been popular enough to be common in supermarket freezer cases. I usually have a package or two in one of my own freezers.
Last year I was surprised to see a highly-conspicuous red Pierogies On Wheels trailer parked opposite the CVS drug store that I visited several times each week. I also saw it when I was not buying drugs. But no matter what time of what day I saw the trailer, I never saw even one customer there. My adopted home town of Milford CT has mobile vendors of lobster rolls, tacos, pizza and more but I got the feeling that my wife and I were the only ones in town who even knew what a pierogi is. That's sad, because pierogies are glorious. I could easily eat a dozen. Maybe two.
Despite regularly seeing the wagon last year I was never sufficiently motivated to stop my car and try some pierogies—very weird behavior for a foodie like me. When the weather turned cold last fall the trailer was hauled away, apparently a sad end to someone's dream.
I was more than surprised last week to see the trailer reappear, and I had to be a customer—to satisfy my curiosity, to inform my loyal readers and to show support for gustatory diversity.
My report is mixed:
- The pierogies were extremely good, yet despite claims of using an ancient family recipe, they were no better than what I could buy at Shoprite and heat at home. Perhaps some of the other varieties are very special, but I had basic potato/cheese. I'll be more adventurous next time.
- Prices seem high. Six pierogies for ten bucks with no beverages is an expensive snack for two people. A buck apiece seems like the right price, with a snack pack of four as the starting point, maybe with a drink. It would be nice to have a package of eight pierogies with two drinks for a couple to share.
- Credit cards are accepted, but unless you read a tiny sticker you would not know and might not make a purchase. The trailer needs a BIG sticker with the familiar credit card logos. People spend more money when they can use plastic money.
- I managed to ignore a cooler chest on the ground in front of the trailer. The trailer needs a sign that proclaims "COLD DRINKS," with a price list.
- Just as Arby's long-suffered when it offered only roast beef sandwiches, Pierogies On Wheels has nothing to feed people who don't like pierogies. Pierogies are not 'weird' (like sushi) and it's hard to believe that anyone would not like them—but some missionary work is necessary to broaden pierogi appeal. At a minimum, the side of the trailer should have an appetizing photo with an explanation of what a pierogi is. Maybe free samples would help win over the dubious.
- The company's business cards are horrible, with tiny compressed white type on a black background. The attempt to be artsy violates basic design rules for no good reason.
- The company's Twitter page is seven months out-of-date. This does not inspire confidence.
- The trailer travels to events and to provide catering. Sadly, the most recent entry on the website is for last August. This, too, does not inspire confidence.
- The Facebook page is up-to-date, however.
- The trailer flies a big Polish flag. I wonder how many people in my town besides me recognize it. One hundred and ten years ago my family name began with "Dzm" and ended with "ski" so I suppose I have some pierogi genes in me.