Today is Fat Tuesday – aka Mardi Gras – which means it is Paczki Day! In Cleveland (and Chicago…and elsewhere) this is a pretty big deal – and the Polish jelly-filled doughnuts called Pączki pop up nearly everywhere. If you have a sweet tooth, you don’t want to be left out of this tradition. Cleveland.com has a guide to the best places in town the get a paczki, and they will even be live-Tweeting and Instagramming from Rudy’s Bakery in Parma, epicenter of the Paczki madness. Traditional Polish fillings are prune, jelly and poppyseed, but every year brings more unique flavors. There is even an enigmatic cannoli paczki at Colozza’s (seen below), which may just be the most Cleveland thing ever! Or go one step further, with a paczki filled with ice cream at Mitchell’s.
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Tomorrow is the Thursday before Mardi Gras – fat Thursday – which means it is paczki day in Chicago – an unofficial holiday which is an opportunity to gorge oneself on Polish filled doughnuts called paczkis. We have done a little bit of paczki coverage over the years, and there are ton of places in the Chicagoland area that serve up great paczkis around this time of year, both traditional and inventively-flavored. Time Out Chicago has a shortlist of paczki bakeries, and DNA info has paczki locations mapped out. Evanston bakery Bennison’s even has a paczki-eating competition on Feb 14 for diehards.
When we were in Chicago for Fat Tuesday, it was not uncommon to have a friend or co-worker bring over a box of fresh Paczki. Paczki, a type of jelly- filled doughnut, originated in Poland (the official plural in Polish is pączki -pączek is the singular form), as a way to use up sugar and butter before the start of Lent. Unsurprisingly, Paczki Day is really big in Chicago, which has one of the biggest Polish populations outside of Poland. In Michigan, Hamtramck and Detroit are also epicenters of paczki culture. So what is a pączek like? The texture of a pączek is a bit denser than a jelly doughnut, and the jam fillings range from standard raspberry to more creative varieties, such as rose-hip or even guava (you may also see cream fillings). Louisa Chu on the WBEZ blog lists some top picks for Paczki in Chicago, and DNA Info rounds out the list even further. Rest assured, if you are in Chicago, you can get your Paczki fix.
It’s not called Fat Tuesday for no reason. Shrove Tuesday, the last day before Lent begins, is a traditional day of feasting. Naturally, in the US the focus is on Creole and Cajun Mardi Gras foods due to the big way that New Orleans celebrates the holiday. For an awesome intro, Epicurious has a new guide on Cajun and Creole food, because as we learned, there is a difference. If you’re feeling especially festive (or hungry) Chow has a recipe for King Cake (Galette des Rois – seen below) and Gumbo Pages has a history and recipe of the ubiquitous Muffaletta.
However, in addition to the Nawlins Mardi Gras we know and love, there are some other pretty great food traditions, such as Paczki Day in Chicago. Paczkis (pronounced poonch-key) are filled doughnuts and are traditionally consumed in areas with high Polish populations. On the other side of the pond, the tradition in England is to have Shrove Tuesday Pancakes (is it a coincidence that IHOP has free pancakes today?). In Sweden, the day is called Fettisdagen, and a traditional pastry of semolina wheat called Semla is consumed. Basically every country or community that celebrates Easter has their own Mardi Gras food traditions, and they all sound pretty delicious to us!