I grew up in Central Ohio, not an area of the world known for having strong Mardi Gras traditions. When I moved to Chicago 15 years ago, I saw several mentions of paczki as being important on Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent begins.
In fact, I quickly discovered that many people in the area call the day Paczki Day. No mention of beads, bands, or parades. Just paczki.
I had no idea what paczki was, let alone how to pronounce it, and little did I know that paczki would become a favorite of my now teen daughter.
I have since learned that paczki is pronounced “poonch-key.” Many English speakers use the same term for singular and plural, though some say “paczkis” for the plural.
It is a rich, Polish dessert that consists of deep fried dough and filled with something sweet, often jelly, and topped with powdered sugar or icing, according to Dictionary.com. They date back to the Middle Ages, and were a tasty way for families to use all the sugar and lard in the home prior to the start of Lent when they would abstain from such items.
It’s like a donut, and I’ve heard it called a “donut on steroids,” which I won’t argue with, and many people enjoy them on the morning of Fat Tuesday, with lines forming at bakeries ridiculously early in the morning.
Like donuts, there are many variations of paczki.
The filling options at the bakery I where I placed our family paczki order offers the following options: Apricot, Cheese, Cherry, Lemon, Prune, Raspberry, Fresh Strawberry with whipped cream, Custard with powdered sugar and Custard with chocolate frosting. (In case you’re wondering, I did not go for the prune and instead opted for lemon.)
Not exactly health food, but they are incredibly yummy. It’s called Fat Tuesday for a reason, right?
That deliciousness, coupled with strong Polish populations, also explains why paczki are also popular in Detroit and Cleveland. (Apparently, I lived just far enough south of those cities to be clueless.)
I also learned that it’s best to order your paczki in advance, but that does not mean that you won’t face long lines at the bakery. But once you bite into one, it’s all worth it.
My recent social media posts sharing my excitement about Paczki Day confused some of my friends living in other parts of the country. While they are celebrating Fat Tuesday, we’ll be observing Paczki Day in Chicago. Do you have any fun plans for enjoying yourself this Mardi Gras?
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