You might have eaten it with a dollop of sour cream, slathered in butter, or mixed into an original concoction, but one thing is for certain. If you’re Canadian, you’ve eaten pierogis at least once in your life.
Every culture has its version of a dumpling. The Japanese have their gyoza. The Italians have their ravioli. The Indians have their samosas. What do the Polish and Ukrainians have? The pierogi.
Well, the Canadians have it too. Thanks to an influx of immigration from Poland and Ukraine, Canada has overtaken the unassuming half-moon dough full of goodness.
Pierogis are everywhere in Canada – from hockey games to dorm rooms to massive statues (read on for more about that), you can’t escape perogies. It’s fascinating, because pierogies are something I never would have associated with Canada. And you’d likely be hard pressed to find them in most U.S. towns. And during Covid lockdowns, pierogies even experienced a boom with Canadians living abroad.
The Influence of Ukrainians in Canada
It makes sense how pierogies became one of Canada’s national dishes. With the largest population of Ukrainians outside of Russia and Ukraine itself, their cultural influence on Canada cannot be ignored.
Although, Canada was not a welcoming abode at first for these immigrants who flooded the prairie provinces between 1891 and 1914. The area that is now Ukraine was at that time divided between Russia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The latter was a poor and overpopulated area, and so people had already begun to flee to other areas of Europe. During the first World War, the government of Canada became wary of Ukrainians, forcing ones from the Austro-Hungary area to register with the police and even holding some at internment camps.
But the second wave of Ukrainian (and Polish) immigrants fared better.
After World War II, new immigrants served the comforting food as street food and in their mom and pop restaurants. And then it was only a matter of time before the perogy became a staple in the Canadian household.
By the 1960s, the pierogi had become commonplace in the frozen food aisles of grocery stores. Today you can purchase a bag for as little as $3, throw it in your freezer and pull it out when you’re craving comfort food fast.
The Spelling of Pierogi
It’s worth pointing out that there isn’t just one correct way to spell pierogi. For any language nerds, here are some possible spellings to refer to the same delicious concoction.2
The root comes from the Slavic word for “festival.” But among Ukrainians, they are known as varenyky.
Fun Fact: Although in the U.S. we typically call them pierogies, the word pierogi is technically the plural form of the word. If you want to please a grammarian in your life, a single pierogi is a “pierog.” But this singular form is rarely used.
The Flavors of Pierogies
Perogies have been a saving grace for anyone needing a quick, comforting meal. Cheap and readily available in the grocery store, they’re sure to please the pickiest eater.
How could you go wrong when you mix mashed potatoes with cheddar cheese and stuff it into a thick dough? Although pierogies can be filled with anything from sauerkraut and meat to dessert options, the potato and cheddar pierogi is definitely the most popular in the great white north.
Here are some other flavors:
- Sauerkraut and mushroom filling
- Sweet cheese filling
- Fruit filling
- Wild mushroom filling
- Meat filling
- Sundried tomato and lentil filling
- Spinach filling
- Pumpkin filling
- Any filling that sounds good!
Once a traditional dish served with butter and sour cream has now found its way to onto restaurant menus across Canada. Those who crave something even richer than plain pierogies mix it to form pierogi casseroles.
Cheemo makes many of the perogies lining supermarket shelves and offers recipes for perogy salad, perogy stew, and Greek-style perogies. One of their more Canadian recipes is butter chicken perogies: combining two imported Canadian classics into one. They estimate that Canadians eat 3 billion frozen pierogies each year.
One of Canada’s largest chain restaurants, Boston Pizza, serves pierogi pizza with potatoes, cheese, green onions, and sour cream.
You can even find “Pierogi Poutine” here. While it might increase your chance of heart disease by a substantial amount, the gravy, and cheese-curd-covered cheese potatoes dumplings with a side of sour cream are more than the perfect way to get your Canadian staples all in one. There is a small Canadian chain with most locations throughout Ontario, but some scattered elsewhere called Loaded Pierogi that does exactly this…. several delicious topping options over fries, pierogis, or mac & cheese.
The World's Largest Perogy
Yes, you read that right. If you love pierogies or visiting things that are the “world’s largest,” then you’ll want to visit Glendon, Alberta. This town of fewer than 500 residents sits on the vast open prairies of Alberta, northeast of Edmonton.
Ninety percent of Canadians live within 100 miles of the US border. So being 400 miles away from the border and 130 miles from the nearest city makes Glendon is truly a small northern prairie town.
With a dwindling population in the 1990s, the longstanding mayor of Glendon knew the town needed to make some drastic changes. Although there are many ways to keep a town alive and promote tourism, he commissioned a giant pierogi statue to be built and is known as the World’s Largest Perogy. It’s 27 feet tall, weighs 6,000 pounds and towers above the local park. A giant fork was added to clarify what it was.
You can visit the pierogi, snap a few shots, and learn how to make the Ukrainian dumpling when visiting Glendon.
Even if you can’t make it to Glendon, the next time you’re in Canada make sure to order pierogies. You’ll thank me later.
Pro tip: Alberta is known for having several “Largest of” exhibits. You can find the world’s largest sausage statue in Mundare and the world’s largest Ukrianian Easter Egg (pysnaka) in Vegreville.