Dumplings with a History – Unearthing the Origins of Pierogi

If you’ve ever thought that the oldest Polish dish must be dumplings (pierogi), it’s time to rethink. I know it might sound surprising, but the origins of this beloved dish are not exactly clear cut. When we talk about history of dumplings, be it pierogi, pelmeni, ravioli or wonton, the million-dollar question is always the same – who cooked it first?

As we dive deep into the global history of pierogi (dumplings), a fascinating revelation awaits us. The oldest versions of this culinary delight seem to hail from – you guesed it right – China. Traditional Chinese dumplings, or jiaozi, loaded with Chinese cabbage and meat, were relished back in the ancient times. Till this day, it is worth to say, these dumplings make a grand appearance during the New Year festivities in the Far East. If you want to join the fun and get lucky, all you need to do is find a hidden coin in the dumpling filling – it’s believed to bring good luck and prosperity for the coming year.

You may also want to read this article: From Cabbage Pickling to Folk Dancing: 6 Unique Polish Autumn Traditions

The Marco Polo Connection and Beyond

It’s often said that Marco Polo brought dumplings from China to Europe. However, this theory doesn’t hold up against the records of a certain Roman cookbook titled „De re culinaria” I think, it’s important to note that this cookbook has a recipe for dumplings and it dates back to the 5th century AD.

De re culinarian – Roman Cookbook

I am convinced that the evolution of dumplings wasn’t necesarily a linear journey from one part of the world to another. These thin, rolled cakes filled with all kinds of savory stuffing, whether square or circular in shape, were probably created independently in different corners of the world.

History of Pierogi in Poland – From Monks to Modern Tables

According to the lore, we owe our pierogi introduction to Jacek Odrowąż, a monk and prior of the Kiev monastery. I am convinced the tale of how this humble monk, armed only with flour, cabbage, and mushrooms, combined these ingredients into a single dish—what we know today as dumplings—is truly fascinating. Up until recently, it was customary in this part of Poland to utter a prayer before digging into a plate of pierogi:

„St. Jacek with dumplings, pray to God for us, so that these dumplings grace our table all year round, protecting us from hunger”.

Whether via Ruthenia or China, I can tell you that dumplings had a meteoric rise in Poland. During the interwar period, it wasn’t rare for weddings to feature only pierogi as the main dish.

Pierogi have undergone a sort of metamorphosis these days

Over time, dumplings have woven themselves into the fabric of our kitchens and mealtimes. I believe even as many of us today focus on convenience and time-saving by opting for ready-made products, the quality and taste of a good dumpling still remain unparalleled. As I read in one article, Magda, a marketing and PR specialist at Jawo—a handmade dumpling manufacturer in Częstochowa—puts it, „Dumplings have undergone a sort of metamorphosis these days”.

From Grandmas’ Kitchens to Gourmet Spots

I think if you look around in larger cities, you’ll see dumplings making their way onto menus and plates everywhere. They are emerging as a tasty alternative to Italian or Chinese cuisine—both of which, just a few years ago, appeared like proverbial mushrooms after the rain. Even in our homes, pierogi remain a favorite experiment. You need to know that we aren’t necessarily making hundreds of them like our grandmothers did, but we’re exploring novel ways to serve them, like pairing them with rosemary and garlic sauce. So, if you want a bit of culinary adventure, why not give this a try?

Pierogi is a Dish for All Seasons

At the outset, dumplings were exclusively a dish for special occasions, a star of the festive table. Now, let me say, these dumplings weren’t all the same. They were crafted in diverse shapes, filled with different flavors, and even had distinct names. For instance, large, multi-flavored dumplings served at weddings were known as henhouses. During the January caroling period, folks would feast on a type called koladki. Name days were sweetened with socznia and sanieżki, while mourning dumplings, or knysz, were shared during wakes.

Moving past the traditional favorites like dumplings with meat, cabbage and mushrooms, Russian dumplings, or the ones bursting with fruit, the dumpling world today offers a buffet of choices. I can tell you, it’s a playground of different doughs and fillings. You’ll find dumplings made from wheat, spelled, rye, corn, and even rice flour. Enjoy them boiled, fried, or grilled, filled with sweet or savory stuffing. From tiny, ear-shaped morsels to a single enormous dumpling sliced before serving, dumplings come in all shapes and sizes. However, it’s worth to say, water dumplings steal the limelight as the most popular.

Origins of the Name 'Pierogi’

Ever wondered where the name „pierogi” comes from? It likely stems from the old Slavic word „pir”, meaning a feast or a merry gathering. Similar to the word 'curd,’ it’s believed to be derived in a similar manner. I believe the name is a fitting tribute to the dish’s role as the star attraction of any feast. In summary, it encapsulates the fact that pierogi were, and still are, the life of the party.


  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierogi