The People Need Pierogi! Polish Food Trucks in America
default, The People Need Pierogi!
Polish Food Trucks in America, center, food-truck-at_the_beach.jpg
In the past decade, food trucks have gotten increasingly popular in Poland – and it’s no surprise, since Poles are open to new cuisines and like to experiment. What better (and cheaper) way is the to introduce a new cuisine than to serve it from a small, moving kitchen? The rise of food festivals and ‘breakfast markets’ has allowed us – at least those of us living in bigger cities – to sample original concepts such as Japanese takoyaki, Dutch pancakes or Cuban sandwiches. Food trucks have familiarised Poles with cuisines from around the globe.
The idea of a food truck is, of course, not Polish, nor European: it stems from the American dining traditions of chuck wagons, which served cowboys, and pushcarts which served urban workers (and are still a staple in cities like New York and Chicago). And that is precisely where we found the best Polish food trucks. Here’s our selection of mobile pierogi, kiełbasa and gołąbki joints from across the pond!
Poles take over the East Coast
Launched in 2013, Old Traditional Polish Cuisine truck prides itself on being the only Polish food truck in New York City. Every day, somewhere on the island of Manhattan, you can sample traditional Polish-American cuisine, including smoked kielbasa sausage, flaczki (Polish tripe soup), żurek (sour rye soup with sausage and egg), as well as pierogi. One of the owners, Ewa, explains:
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Polish food is definitely getting popular, however, it still seems to be an underdog and not everyone knows about it. We are thrilled to be able to provide classic Polish home cooked food like our grandma used to make. (…) We love to celebrate and showcase our Polish roots especially during Polish American Heritage Month [October]; National Pierogi Day [October], and Fat Thursday and Fat Tuesday with pączki.
The most popular dish on Old Traditional Polish Cuisine’s menu is the ‘Lite Combo’, which consists of ‘Smokin' Hot Grilled Kielbasa’, Polish pickle salad, Polish mustard and 4 classic potato and cheese pierogi served with sautéed onions.
Not far away from New York, in New Jersey – which is home to many Poles – you can sample Polish dishes from Cas’ Pierogi and Kielbasa Food Truck. It was created by David Krolak in honour of his father Casimir, a World War II veteran, who celebrated Polish heritage in his new American home. In 2017, Dave transformed the truck, which was formerly… a school classroom, into a café, and later into a mobile restaurant that would recreate the flavours of his childhood. Krolak says:
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There is a great appreciation for Polish cuisine in New Jersey. There are several areas of our state with a large Polish population, and everyone seems to love our menu and our Polish-themed food truck. Our business has grown significantly over the past three years.
The truck also caters weddings, parties and corporate events, serving – as the name states – kiełbasa and different varieties of pierogi, as well as naleśniki (Polish crêpes) and gołąbki (also known in the States as golumpki – cabbage rolls filled with meat and rice).
This list obviously would not be complete without Chicago, home to the largest Polish community outside of Poland – and some of the best pierogi. Pierogi Wagon often parks outside of the University of Chicago and uses the ‘mix & match’ concept, popular in casual dining, yet rarely seen in pierogi joints: you can choose your preferred filling (three out of four are vegetarian – white cheddar & potato, spinach & cheese, sauerkraut & mushroom – and the fourth being braised beef), toppings (grilled onions, sauerkraut, sour cream, chopped bacon) and a side of pickles, a salad or apple sauce. The latter is an interesting American addition to pierogi – you wouldn’t find it on a Polish menu, yet it seems to make a lot of sense – with some of the fillings at least.
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Pierogi Squad, on the other hand, serves a very Polish specialty, which is rarely seen outside of Poland and often raises eyebrows: sweet pierogi. Keep in mind, it’s not one of these questionable concoctions like chocolate spaghetti or pizza with Nutella. Poles have a thing for ‘desserty’ main courses such as pierogi filled with sweetened cottage cheese, strawberries and blueberries – they are all perfectly acceptable. Order these delightful delicacies from their truck (usually parked near Elmwood Park), along with other specialties such as bigos, żurek and kwaśnica, a sauerkraut and meat soup, which is a dish typical of Polish highlanders’ cuisine. The presence of dishes from the southern Podhale region shouldn’t come as a surprise, since immigration from this very region (especially to Chicago) began already in the second half of the 19th century and was by far the largest wave of Polish immigration to the United States.
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Nashville Hot Chicken Pierogi, photo: Mom-Mom's
If you happen to visit the beautiful city of Philadelphia, drop by Mom-Mom’s Food Truck in Bridesburg. It’s actually the only Polish food truck in the city. Co-owner Kaitlin explains this underrepresentation:
With the intensive prep required to make this food, many people especially of younger generations do not have the time or the knowledge of how to make specialties such as pierogi or gołąbki, which is usually passed down by a grandparent or great grandparent (as in our case). That does NOT mean people don’t want to eat this type of food though! (…) We are here to keep things going. The people need pierogi!
The truck, the name of which honours Kaitlin’s babcia (or mom’s mom – get it?), who turns 97 this year and is still going strong, was opened seven years ago and filled the need for comforting, hearty food such as, well, pierogi. Yet at Mom-Mom’s you can not only sample traditional potato and farmer’s cheese pierogi, but also a local variation – Philly cheesesteak! These dumplings are stuffed with ribeye, sharp American cheese and served with caramelised onions and black pepper ketchup – Polish-American fusion at its best.
Babcia is also a central figure at a nearby business called Babcia’s Lunchbox. This food truck, owned by Patricia from East Palestine, operates in Pennsylvania and Ohio. They serve pierogi in quite a few unorthodox varieties such as spinach and artichoke or – in yet another attempt to marry Polish and American classics – Buffalo chicken. It also serves other traditional dishes, which are made from scratch, using as many local ingredients as possible: bigos, żurek and halusky. The latter are technically a Slovak dish, yet they are served in many Polish restaurants in the States – the above mentioned Podhale region in southern Poland borders with Slovakia and shares both the Tatra mountains and many culinary traditions.
One dish to rule them all
It’s not hard to notice, there is one dish that reigns supreme. Pierogi are to Poland, what sushi is to Japan, and tacos are to Mexico: both a blessing and a bit of a curse. On the one hand it’s a wonderful, versatile, comfort food which deserves all the recognition in the world, and lends itself quite well to the food truck concept (although – as all owners rightly underline – it’s not an easy throw-in-a-deep-frier type of dish, and when made from scratch it’s actually pretty labour intensive), on the other – there is so much more to Polish cuisine!
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Hopefully with time, when more and more American foodies learn about the glory of Polish food, food truck menus will begin to include a bigger variety of dishes. This process may take place much sooner than we expect – the first culinary travel series dedicated solely to Polish cuisine entitled Flavor of Poland was just launched by American Public Television.
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Yet the common thread of all the food trucks mentioned above is not just pierogi – it’s also the dedication and passion of their owners, who work hard to keep the traditions of their babcias and dziadeks alive. Possibly wrapping the love for your family and your country’s heritage in dough is one of the best traditions Poles have to share.
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Written by Natalia Mętrak-Ruda, Feb 2020