The Tri-city offers plenty of things to see, visit, eat and drink but what about to do? We joined up with a group of other visitors to try our hands at making pierogi – Polish dumplings and discovered that we can cook (with a bit of expert supervision) and have a bit of fun.
Pierogi. There was a time when we’d never heard of them, let alone tasted them. Now these stuffed pockets of dough are a regular part of our diet. It’s rare to find a Pole who doesn’t like at least one kind of pierogi and most will claim that nobody makes them quite like their grandmother. While we’re not going to argue with that, there’s no doubt that there are some very talented pierogi makers around these days who are of no relation and pierogi, like a lot of traditional Polish cuisine, has undergone a bit of a renaissance in recent years. A new generation of chefs have taken what, on the face of it, looks a very simple recipe and really let their imagination run wild. In our early years here we’d swear the only pierogi fillings we’d come across were the three which remain the most traditional today – cabbage and mushroom, cheese (commonly referred to as Ruskie or Russian pierogi) and meat (often of no further description). These days you’ll find a huge choice of different fillings ranging from sweet to savoury, traditional to completely innovative and pierogi, in a way, reflect the diverse cuisines now typically found in the restaurant sector of any major Polish city. We have highlighted our favourite places which specialise in pierogi in the print and digital versions of the guide, but you’ll also find pierogi on many other types of restaurant.
Having spent many years eating pierogi, we decided to go a bit further this issue and decided to try and make some. This idea fit neatly into something we’ve been working on recently called In Your Pocket Experiences. We would like to supplement our tips and recommendations on things to see and places to eat and drink with some suggestions on things you might like to do while visiting the Tri-city. It also helped that the visit to Gdansk by Princess Kate and Prince William of the United Kingdom seems to have spurred some interest in pierogi (the couple publicly ate pierogi on the square in Gdansk). So we’ve teamed up with Polandbylocals to try and out and recommend some activities that we think you might find interesting and which can help make your visit to the city all the more enjoyable. We’ll kick off with a round-up of the pierogi making activity we took part in as a family and for those who might not have the time to do the activity yourselves, we’ve added a recipe for one of the types of pierogi we made that evening.
The Pierogi making
Our family of two adults and three children joined a group of 12 consisting of Poles and foreigners at a small restaurant in Sopot which was given over entirely to our event for the evening. It was interesting to see young Poles involved in the activity too and the mix of nationalities (the group also included a couple of British people, a couple of Swedes and a Spaniard) made the evening even more fun as we got to meet people we’d probably never have come across otherwise. The event was led by Sebastian, the jovial organiser from Polandbylocals and Aga, a professional chef, former restaurant owner and now the boss of her own catering company who was the key to the event.
Making pierogi would appear to be a rather uncomplicated process, but Aga not only provided us with some great tips and tutoring but also made the finished pierogi taste delicious thanks to the choice of ingredients she brought to the event. It’s said food made by your own hand always tastes better, but we’d argue with that. Done right, however, under the watchful eye of an expert and we can definitely agree.
The evening worked really well in part because Aga quickly organised the group into smaller teams so that everyone had something to do and so that people could experience all parts of the process as she moved people around during the evening. There were three main stages – food preparation; pierogi making and then the cooking of the pierogi. Everyone was soon chopping onions, mincing, making dough, chopping mushrooms, peeling potatoes and mixing ingredients together under her watchful eye.
Conversation soon sprang up between members of the group as we worked together to make ‘our’ pierogi and the room was soon filled with the sounds and smells of a multi-national kitchen at work. As ingredients were prepared the group moved onto taking the small circles of dough, the size of an actual wine-glass, and filling them carefully with one of the three types of filling we had prepared – Chanterelle mushrooms (or kurki as they are called in Polish); cottage cheese and beef and onion. The filling was quickly discovered by most of the group to be an artform – put in too much and the pierogi couldn’t be wrapped and closed. Put in too little and the pierogi sagged and fell apart. Again, thanks to Aga’s help, trays of pierogi were ready to be boiled gently while we took a break while we were introduced to the wonders of local beer and, believe it or not, Polish wine.
We were introduced to the wine of Zielona Gora and the beer of the local Amber Brewery (specifically Golden Lions and Johannes). With the first batch of pierogi ready we got to taste the fruits of our work with a Riesling brought from the Saint Vincent Vineyard which was surprisingly palatable. In hindsight, the production of wine in south-western Poland shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise seeing as the Lubusz region neighbours the German region of Saxony, one of Germany’s 13 recognised wine making regions. It was nonetheless an interesting twist to an already fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable evening.
If you’d like to try the pierogi-making or any of the other activities we will try out and add take a look at iyp.me/experiences/gdansk. Alternatively you might like to try making your own pierogi and so Aga has given us this recipe for you to follow to make your own delicious Ruskie (Russian or Cheese and Potato) pierogi.
Author: Martin Kitson
Martin is a native of London who has lived in Europe for close to 20 years. These days he calls Sopot home from where he writes the Gdansk In Your Pocket guide, among other things. He is married with three children and enjoys history, sport and exploring new places.