No, the title of this post refers to a different kind of joy in life, one that is far more appropriate to my current situation and life goals. By this, of course, I mean the pleasure that can be derived from small bits of savory fillings gently swaddled in tender dough and cooked for my dining satisfaction, i.e. dumplings. I started out this month by trying to acquire some dumpling-making skills of my own and today I closed out the month by finally making it to the Pierogi Festival in Whiting, Indiana, after years of misadventures that thwarted my attendance.
Have I mentioned lately that I have the world's best boyfriend? I'm not sure how many guys would cheerfully sign up for a day of eating hot dumplings in the hot sun, especially when they're not fond of crowds, but Justin did, and I am so, so grateful to him for finally making my dream of pierogi nirvana come true.
Unfortunately, we happened to arrive in Whiting at the worst possible time -- too late to be able to find street parking nearby, but too early to catch the free shuttle from the remote parking lot. We ended up schlepping a very long way by foot, which might have helped us burn off a few pierogi calories, but it was really too hot and sunny to make up for it. Also, the extra time spent in the sun might have contributed to the wicked sunburn I developed across my shoulders and back, despite giving myself a thorough basting with SPF50 sunblock before leaving.
The Pierogi Festival was every bit as corny as I imagined it would be, from the babushkas tied on the birds in the fountain above, to the Mr. Pierogi Songfest that we made it just in time to catch. There, the festival's mascot, a man dressed in a life-size pierogi costume, sings and leads others in singing pop songs that have been rewritten with pierogi and Polish-food-centric lyrics, such as "My Pierogi" instead of "My Sharona." One of my goals for the day was to get my picture taken with Mr. Pierogi, but alas, we never managed to run into him walking through the crowds after his act. Still, I was glad to have taken in part of his awesomely terrible performance.
And, of course, many, many, many pierogis were consumed. At first, I tried to keep track of how many we'd eaten, but it was just too difficult. My best guess is that we eat somewhere between 20-30 dumplings each, the most exotic of which was a deep-fried, Cajun-spiced alligator version that wasn't particularly tasty. After that flop, we avoided the other novelty pierogis like the taco version offered by a Mexican-themed cart, and pizza-rogis (basically tiny calzones) from an Italian vendor. Having a narrower palate than Justin, I limited my tastings to potato, potato and cheddar, and meat pierogis, while he sampled a variety of different dumpling flavors such as cabbage, sauerkraut, mushroom, sweet cheese, spinach, and probably others that I can't remember.
Further proof of my best boyfriend ever hypothesis: he agreed to make this face when I asked him if I could take a picture of him with the pierogis on a stick.
My favorite pierogis of the day came from a vendor who decided to go the state-fair route and skewer their wares, creating pierogis on a stick. Something about food on a stick just screams "Summer!" to me, and the presence of the wooden rod through their center really added a certain je ne sais quois to the eating experience. Plus, the dumplings from them were particularly succulent and moist, so they were especially delicious on top of the novelty factor.
Did the Pierogi Festival live up to the expectations I'd built up in my mind after years of abortive attempts to attend? Actually, I think it exceeded them. The Festival was much larger than I would have expected, and there was a pleasant, laid-back vibe about the place. It would have been nice if it hadn't been quite so hot, but given that we're wrapping up the wettest July in Chicago history this weekend, I guess I should just be happy that we didn't get rained out.
I'd certainly go back, though I might try to get there either at the beginning of the day or later in the afternoon, once the hottest part of the day had passed. Compared to the Taste of Chicago, it was a much more affordable way to spend an afternoon stuffing one's face. I mean, come on, it's a day spent surrounded by delicious pan-fried dumplings and related kitsch -- how bad could that be?