Pierogi Prerogative: Searching for Perfect Polish Dumplings

Pierogi Prerogative: Searching for Perfect Polish Dumplings

The history of pierogi in Poland isn’t well documented, but the dumplings have long been part of the country’s colourful food culture. Zuza Zak goes in search of the perfect recipe.

first memory of Polish dumplings is making them in my
grandma’s tiny, dark kitchen in a pre-war building near the Old Town,
Warsaw. Those apartments were built so you could move from one room
to the next in a circle and the kitchen was right in the middle,
with no natural light except for a small window at the top of a
heavy door. It felt hermetic and nest-like. Although no one would
want to cook in a kitchen like that, it has been imprinted on my
mind for eternity, as if it were a time capsule. I remember that
the job Babcia Halinka gave me was to cut the kopytka dumplings
(“little hoofs”) with a butter knife, which seemed like an
incredibly important and slightly dangerous undertaking. I took the
dumpling making very seriously then. Nowadays, I have more fun with

Pierogi are considered something of a national dish in Poland
and the world over. They are parcels of thinly stretched dough
stuffed with either meat or vegetarian fillings, depending on the
time of year, the region you find yourself in and the occasion.

Cookbook author Zuzu Zak
Sweet Potato Hoof Dumplings

Zuzu Zak, left, and a dinner of kopytka dumplings (“little

For the past two years, I have been researching and writing my
new book, Pierogi, all about the world of Polish dumplings. The
idea was to travel around Poland seeking out regional dumplings and
bringing them to a Western audience, preserving traditions that are
in danger of getting lost in time and space. The pandemic put a
stop to my travel plans, so the research looked rather different,
but the internet, my memory and old cookbooks proved to be more
than sufficient dumpling travel substitutes.

I reached out to my community and found that people were ready
and willing to not only share their own Polish dumpling memories,
but also to go out of their way to procure old recipes from their
grandparents and aunts who did not have the internet or didn’t use
it. I was touched by their generosity. From the Masurian Lake
district, in the north-east of Poland, came a recipe for special
Easter pierogi filled with egg, which is eaten with a fermented rye
soup. From one of my favourite places, the eastern city of Lublin,
I received the most delicious recipe for sweet buckwheat and twaróg
(white cheese) pierogi. From Wrocław (via Jakarta) came an idea for
green kopytka that were big in size, full of greens and served with

Easter pierogi in a sweet rye soup
A street in Warsaw, Poland

A bowl of Easter pierogi, left, and a street in Zak’s
hometown of Warsaw.

The history of pierogi in Poland isn’t well documented, but we
do have a saint associated with the food. Święty Jacek is rumoured
to have brought pierogi from the east – what is now Ukraine – where
he’s said to have tasted them in a convent. Today, a prayer to
Saint Jacek evokes pierogi in a hope of staving off any hunger.
This tells us that pierogi most certainly started out as peasant
food. In Poland’s first cookbook, Compendium Ferculorum, written by
a chef of the noble Lubomirski family at the end of the 17th
century, there are only three mentions of pierożki, which are
filled with rose and the like, as befits nobility.

Lush cuntryside hills in Poland
Sweet Kasha dumplings on a table

The lush Polish countryside, left, and sweet kasha dumplings
served with tea.

It seems as though each country has its own version of pierogi
and, while there are legends of how these types of filled dumplings
began in China or Italy, I personally believe that, once, women all
over the world (who have historically spent most time in kitchens)
who had flour, water and fat would have experimented to create a
dough, which they could then fill with leftovers. To me, this is
the most plausible, undocumented, history of pierogi.

In Poland, pierogi were therefore a part of the colourful,
joyous world of folklore and the domain of Polish peasants before
they became an emblem of Polishness throughout the country and,
now, in our globalised society, all over the world. It was fitting
to also explore the modern aspect to the Polish dumplings. I wanted
to bring the joy of pierogi to everyone, even those that are vegan
or gluten intolerant, while preserving their essence.

Three places to try pierogi in Poland

Syrena Irena Interiors


Syrena Irena


This Warsaw bistro pairs a nostalgic menu of handmade pierogi
with playful, modern interiors. Blue terrazzo table tops, coral
neon signs and graphic wall murals from illustrator Ola Sadownik,
plus a cobalt kitchen counter, provide the backdrop to a menu of
classic 60s Polish favourites – sour rye soup, herring in linseed
and hemp oil and, the star of the show, golden pierogi served with
a dollop of sour cream.


Krakowskie Przedmieście 4-6, Warsaw 00 333

Goos dumplings from Kuchnia Polska Gaska


Kuchnia Polska Gąska


Situated opposite Kraków’s Podgórze Market Square, this charming
traditional restaurant specialises in soft goose-meat dumplings
slathered with parsley-garlic butter, steaming homemade broth and
sweet strawberry pierogi. Don’t miss the effervescent homemade


Limanowskiego Street 1, Kraków 30 551

Blueberry Dumplings


Pierogarnia Mandu


Prepare to be paralysed by the choice on offer at this Gdańsk
joint, whose menu is a celebration of Poland’s pierogi culture.
Take your pick from a selection of baked dumplings, fried
dumplings, buckwheat variations and sweet dessert offerings,
stuffed with cabbage and mushroom, spinach and sundried tomatoes,
wild boar meat, spicy chorizo, salmon paste, blueberries and even


Kaprów 19D, Gdańsk 80 316

The Lowdown

Pierogi: Over 50 Recipes to Create Perfect Polish Dumplings
by Zuzu Zak is published by Quadrille
(£18) and is
available to purchase at bookshop.org. Follow @zuzazakcooks on Instagram.

In the kitchen in the Kasmir region

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