Pierogi; also spelled perogi, pierogy, perogy, pierógi, pyrohy, pirogi, or pyrogy are dumplings of unleavened dough – first boiled, then they are baked or fried usually in butter with onions – traditionally stuffed with potato filling, sauerkraut, ground meat, cheese, or fruit. Of central and eastern European provenance, they are usually semicircular, but are rectangular or triangular in some cuisines.
The Polish word pierogi is plural; the singular form pieróg is rarely used, as a typical serving consists of several pierogi.
Origin and name variants of Pierogi
While dumplings as such are found throughout Eurasia, the specific name pierogi, with its Proto-Slavic root “pir” (festivity) and its various cognates in the West and East Slavic languages, shows the name’s common Slavic origins, predating the modern nation states and their standardized languages, although in most of these languages the word means pie. In English, the word pierogi and its variants: perogi, pyrogy, perogie, perogy, pirohi, piroghi, pirogi, pirogen, pierogy, pirohy, and pyrohy, are pronounced with a stress on the letter “o”. The Turkish word börek for a kind of pie or stuffed pastry may be a borrowing.Pierogi are small enough to be served many at a time, so the plural form of the word is usually used when referring to this dish. In Polish pierogi is actually the plural, pieróg being singular. In Czech and Slovak pirohy is also the plural, piroh is singular. In Germany, this type of dumpling is called Pirogge in the singular and Piroggen in the plural, although sometimes the Polish name Pierogi is simply used.
Pierogi are popular among the peoples of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The West Slavic Poles, Czechs, and Slovaks, as well as the East Slavic Belarusians, Russians, Ukrainians and Rusyns, and the Baltic Estonians, and Lithuanians all consume this dish, although under different names (e.g., kalduny in Belarus, pirukad in Estonia, koldūnai in Lithuania, and varenyky in Ukraine). In some East European languages, variants of this dish are known by names derived from the root of the word “to boil”, see “varenyky”.
There is a similarity to Italian ravioli, culurgiones, tortelli, tortelloni, and tortellini and also to German Maultaschen and Bierock. Also there is a similarity to Ashkenazi kreplach. In Turkey, Transcaucasus, and Central Asia round pockets of dough with a meat filling are called manti, khinkali, or chuchvara. In East Asia, similar foods are served, such as Chinese wonton or Jiaozi, Korean mandu or Songpyeon at the Chuseok, Korean Thanksgiving Day, jiaozi, Japanese gyoza, Mongolian buuz, Nepalese/Tibetan momo, and Afghani mantu. A food item similar to this is prepared throughout India. It is known by the name “Ghooghra” (or Ghugra) in the state of Gujarat, “Karanji” in the state of Maharashtra, and “Gujiya” in many Hindi speaking states in northern India. It is typically prepared by stuffing grainy sweet flour, sweetened coconut and small pieces of dry fruit in a dough covering which is deep fried until crisp. It is quite popular during the festival of Diwali.
Variations of Pierogi
Pierogi or vareniki may be stuffed (singularly or in various combinations) with mashed potatoes, fried onions, cheese, cabbage, sauerkraut, meat, mushrooms, spinach, or other ingredients depending on the cook’s personal preferences. Dessert versions of the dumpling can be stuffed with a fresh fruit filling, such as cherry, strawberry, saskatoon berry, raspberry, blueberry, peach, plum, or apple; stoned prunes are sometimes used as well as jam or sweetened curd. For more flavour, sour cream can be added to the dough mixture, and this also tends to lighten the dough.
Mashed potatoes mixed with farmer’s cheese and fried onions is a popular filling in Poland. A popular filling for pierogi in Canada is mashed potatoes mixed with grated Cheddar cheese. Jewish Kreplach (from kreplekh, קרעפל krepl neut. sg.) are filled with ground meat, mashed potato or another filling, usually boiled and served in chicken soup. They are similar to Italian tortellini and Chinese wontons.
The dough, which is made simply by mixing flour and warm water, is rolled flat and then cut into circles using a cup or drinking glass. The filling is placed in the middle and the dough folded over to form a half circle. The pierogi or vareniki are boiled until they float, drained, and sometimes fried or baked in butter before serving. They can be served with melted butter, sour cream, or garnished with small pieces of fried bacon, onions, and also mushrooms. Dessert varieties may be topped with apple sauce. Some families in North America serve them with maple syrup. Another variation of pierogi, popular among Czechs and Slovaks and called pirohy, uses dough made of flour and curd with egg(s), salt and water.
See also: How to Make Pierogi
Pierogi in various nations, regions, and ethnicities
Traditionally considered peasant food, they eventually gained popularity and spread throughout all social classes including nobles. Although Pierogi are still an important part of Polish culture and cuisine today, they are very popular in other European countries such as Slovakia, Romania, and Ukraine. Pierogi are the Polish form of a handmade dumpling, made of unleavened dough, usually shaped into a semi-circle. The seams are pressed together to seal the pierogi so that the filling will remain inside when it is cooked. The most common filling is potato which is peeled and then ground or mashed into the consistency of mashed potatoes. There are several variations of fillings depending on where you have pierogi, but some may include: potato and cheese, mushrooms, sauerkraut, meat, potato and sour cream, fruits such as blueberry, or even spinach. Some cookbooks from the 17th century describe how even during that era the Pierogi were considered a staple of the Polish diet, and each holiday had its own special kind of Pierogi created. There were different shapes and fillings for holidays such as Christmas and Easter, and important events like weddings, had their own special type of Pierogi “kirniki” – filled with chicken meat. There were also Pierogi made especially for mourning/wakes, and even some for caroling season in January.
Pierogi are served in a variety of forms and tastes (ranging from sweet to salty to spicy) in Polish cuisine, considered to be the Polish national dish. Pierogi were traditionally peasant food, but eventually spread in popularity throughout all social classes, including nobles. They are served at many festivals, playing an important role as a cultural dish. At the 2007 Pierogi Festival in Kraków, 30,000 pierogi were consumed daily.
Polish pierogi are often filled with fresh white cheese (curd, pot cheese), boiled and minced potatoes, and fried onions, which is the most popular variety in North America. This type is called in Polish pierogi ruskie, which literally means “Rutheniann pierogi” (not “Russian).
A filling is made of cooked potatoes, a white cheese and stir-fried onion. Ruskie pierogi is probably the most popular kind of pierogi in North America. But it is important to underline that this is not the most popular in Poland, although very much liked. More popular in Poland are pierogi filled with ground meat, mushrooms and cabbage, or for dessert an assortment of fruits (various berries, with either strawberries or blueberries being most common).
Sweet pierogi are usually served with sour cream, savoury pierogi with bacon fat and bacon bits. Poles traditionally serve two types of pierogi for Christmas Eve supper. One kind is filled with sauerkraut and dried mushrooms, another – small uszka filled only with dried wild mushrooms – is served in clear borscht. Leniwe pierogi (“lazy pierogi”) are a different type of food, similar to lazy vareniki, kopytka, or halušky.
Pierogi is probably the only Polish dish that has its own patron saint. “Swiety Jacek z pierogami!”, (St. Hyacinth and his pierogi!) is an old expression of surprise, roughly equivalent to the American “good grief” or “holy smokes!”. The origin of this expression is unknown.
There is a traditional Russian dish called “pirogí” (пироги), which sounds similar to Polish “pierogi” but is a different dish. The Russian variant of Polish pierogi or Ukrainian varenyky is varéniki (вареники) or pelʹméni (пельмени). They are most often filled with meat, rice and meat, potatoes with mushrooms, cheese, cabbage, meat, berries. They can be topped with fried onions and bacon, or butter, and served with sour cream. See also: pirožkí (пирожки).
In Hungarian cuisine, the equivalent of pierogi is derelye, pasta pockets filled with jam or sometimes meat. Derelye is consumed primarily as a festive food for special occasions such as weddings.
A traditional dish in Slovak cuisine is bryndzové pirohy, crescent-shaped dumplings filled with salty bryndza cheese.
In Germany, various types of pierogi are known, including spinach which is a local addition to the cuisine.
See also: Colţunaşi
In Romania, a similar recipe of pierogi called colţunaşi in Moldova and Bucovina or Chiroște in Republic of Moldova is existing. Colţunaşi is often a dessert filled with jam (usually cherry) or with cheese (telemea or urdă) and the dough is made with wheat flour boiled in water as ravioli.
In Transylvania, the name “piroști” is used in Romanian families of German or Slavic origin and the filling can also be a whole, fresh, seedless plum. The term “colțunaș” is used by native Romanian families and are usually filled with smântână, traditionally called “colțunași cu smântână”.
See also: Varenyky
Ukrainian pyrohy are boiled and sometimes fried.
Pierogi are widespread in Canada and the United States, having been popularised by Eastern European immigrants. They are particularly common in areas with large Polish, Ukrainian, or Ruthene populations, such as Buffalo, Chicago, western Massachusetts, Minneapolis, Detroit, Cleveland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, the provinces of Manitoba, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario. Pierogi at first were a family food among immigrants as well as being served in ethnic restaurants. In the post-World War II era, freshly cooked pierogi became a staple of fundraisers by ethnic churches. By the 1960s, pierogi were a common supermarket item in the frozen food aisles in many parts of the United States and Canada. Pierogi maintain their place in the grocery aisles to this day. While pierogi are eaten as a main dish in European countries, Americans often consider them a side dish, often served with meat.
Numerous towns with Polish heritage celebrate the pierogi. The city of Whiting, Indiana celebrates the food at its annual Pierogi Fest every July. Pierogi are also commonly associated with Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where there is a “pierogi race” at every home Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game. In the race, four runners wearing pierogi costumes race toward a finish line. The village of Glendon in Alberta, Canada erected in 1993 a roadside tribute to this culinary creation: a 7.6 m fibreglass perogy (preferred local spelling), complete with fork.
The United States enjoys the most developed pierogi market because of its having the largest Eastern European immigrant population in North America (Canada being second). Unlike other countries with newer populations of Eastern European immigrants, the modern pierogi is found in a wide selection of flavours throughout grocery stores in the U.S. Many of these grocery-brand pierogi contain non-traditional ingredients to appeal to general American tastes, including spinach, jalapeño and chicken.
Pierogi enjoyed a brief popularity as a sports food when Paula Newby-Fraser adopted them as her food of choice for the biking portion of the 1989 Hawaii Ironman Triathlon. For more than a decade thereafter, Mrs. T’s (the largest American pierogi manufacturer) sponsored triathlons, some professional triathletes and “fun runs” around the country. For many triathletes, pierogi represented an alternative to pasta as a way to boost their carbohydrate intakes.
According to pierogi manufacturer Mrs. T’s, based in Shenandoah, PA, pierogi consumption in the United States is largely concentrated in a geographical region dubbed the “Pierogi Pocket”, an area including New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Chicago, Detroit, parts of the northern Midwest and southern New England which accounts for 68 percent of annual US pierogi consumption.
Canada has a large Polish population, and an even larger Ukrainian population, and their pyrohy, perogy or pyrogy are very common. Since Canada also has immigrants from many other perogy-making people (such as the Mennonites), a wide diversity of recipes are used. The Canadian market for perogi is second only to that of the U.S. market, the latter having been the destination of choice for the majority of Eastern European immigrants prior to, and during, World War II.
Packed frozen perogies can be found everywhere Eastern European immigrant communities exist and are generally ubiquitous across Canada, even in big chain stores. Typically frozen flavours include potato with either Cheddar, onion, bacon, cottage cheese or mixed cheeses.
Home-made versions are typically filled with either mashed potatoes (seasoned with salt and pepper and often mixed with dry curd cottage cheese or cheddar cheese), sauerkraut, or fruit. These are then boiled, and either served immediately, put in ovens and kept warm, or fried in oil or butter. Popular fruit varieties include strawberry, blueberry, and saskatoon berry.
Potato and cheese or sauerkraut versions are usually served with some or all the following: butter or oil, sour cream (typical), fried onions, fried bacon bits or kielbasa (sausage), and a creamy mushroom sauce (less common). Some ethnic kitchens will deep-fry perogies, both dessert and main course dishes can be served this way. A good method is to par-boil the dumplings, then after drying, they are then deep-fried.
The frozen varieties are sometimes served casserole-style with a mixture of chopped ham, onions, peppers and Cheddar cheese or with an Italian-style mixture of ground beef, onions and tomato sauce.
National chain restaurants also feature the dish or variations. Boston Pizza has a sandwich and a pizza flavoured to taste like perogies, while Smitty’s serves theirs as an appetizer deep-fried with salsa. Some Chinese cafés in the Canadian Prairies have taken to billing their potstickers (jiaozi) as “Chinese perogies”.
Although called varenyky in standard Ukrainian, speakers of the Canadian Ukrainian or Rusyn dialect refer to them as pyrohy, which can be misheard pedaheh or pudaheh by Anglophones unaccustomed to the rolled-r sound, or alveolar flap. This is due to the history of Ukrainian or Rusyn (Ruthenian) immigration to Canada, which came predominantly from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, where the dialect had many more loan words from Polish, German, Rumanian and other Eastern European languages.