Pierogi Fest draws over 200,000 people to the small South Shore town of Whiting, Ind. The festival elevates the lowly pierogi to gourmet status and offers an irreverent salute to the areas Polish ethnic heritage. Chicago Sun Times includes it in its top 10 Midwest food festivals.
Held the last full weekend in July, Whiting’s Pierogi Fest includes a polka parade, polka dance off, arts and crafts festival, and over 30 different vendors selling food including pierogi.
What is a Pierogi?
The pierogi is a Polish side dish that’s a little like ravioli and little like a dumpling. A circle of dough is filled with cheese, fruit, meat or vegetable; folded in half; pinched closed; and either boiled or fried in butter. Some like to boil the pierogi first and then pan fry it in butter.
Pierogi come with a variety of fillings – my favorite is the traditional potato and cheese. Other fillings include sauerkraut, sweet cheese, plum, strawberry and mushroom. Onion is sometimes added to meat and potato pierogi.
Mr. Perogi (yes, a guy dressed as a pierogi) is the Polka Parade grand master and Ms Panczi (think filled doughnut) serves as grand dame. Anyone can join in the parade – there are community floats, Polish dancers and polka bands.
And then there is the strange and unique and eccentric.
The Holy Rollers are nuns from St Josephs Carmelite Home in traditional black habits who don roller blades for the Polka Parade. The Precision Lawn Mower Drill team is another parade favorite.
You’ll also find babushka in the parade and throughout the festival.
A babushka is a triangular head scarf normally worn by older women. Many in the area affectionately refer to their grandmothers as Babushka. With that information – head scarf and grandmother – you get the picture of the Babushka Brigade.
Scores of women flood the festival dressed in flowered housecoats, head scarves (hair rollers optional) and aprons. Many carry ribbon wrapped mops and brooms — the more outlandish the outfit, the better.
Even some of the guys dress in fine babushka attire. Other quirky costumed festival goers include folks dressed as pierogi fillings like sauerkraut, potato and mushroom.
You’ll find all the typical festival food here but my recommendation is stick to the ethnic Polish fare. Here’s a chance to sample different pierogi varieties from dozens of vendors. Many sell pre-packaged, frozen pierogi you can buy to take home.
Need something to wash down those pierogi? The festival beer garden is a great place to relax and listen to local performers.
Special Treat for 2012
Pierogi Fest organizers have named 2012 Year of the Halupki. A traditional Polish dish, halupki are cabbage leaves stuffed and cooked with a filling of meat, onion and rice. My husband’s family calls them ‘pigs in a blanket.’ I can only imagine the costumes halupki will inspire!
Pierogi Fest runs Friday through Sunday on the last full weekend in July. The Pierogi Parade kicks off at 7 p.m. Friday night. All festivities are along 119 Street in Whiting, Ind. The street is closed to cars and parking is limited to side residential streets. Avoid the traffic and park at Calumet College (2400 New York Ave) or at Clark High School (Calumet Avenue and 122 Street) and ride the shuttle for only $1. There is no admission charge to the festival. For additional details visit Pierogi Fest at pierogifest.net or call 219-659-0292.