"Those things that look like ravioli"

Written by Shay Maunz on .

I went to a Pirates game a few weeks ago, my first since moving to Pittsburgh for the summer.

I tried to get the full experience: I admired PNC Park, tried in vain to catch a foul ball, and was appropriately enthused when the Pirates won, especially because of the fireworks display it prompted.

But when I got home from the game, my roommates -- Pitt students who have lived here for years -- didn't ask me about any of these things. They asked me who won the pierogi race.

"The what?"

"You know. They have people dress up as pierogies and run around the field after the 5th inning. Jalapeno Hannah is my favorite."

"Oh," I said. "You mean those things that look like ravioli?"

I'd never eaten pierogies before, and had only the vaguest idea of what they were. Anywhere else, this might be pretty normal, but it seems that in coming to Pittsburgh I'd become part of a very small minority.

Apparently, Pittsburgh loves the little Polish stuffed dumplings. In fact, according to a bunch of people on the Internet who may or may not be entirely reliable, the people here consume roughly 11 times as many pierogies as people in an average city.

Indeed, once they'd piqued my interest, I started seeing them everywhere: A pierogi truck at the Market Square farmer's market, my roommates' bags of frozen pierogies in our freezer at home. They were listed in every "Things to do in Pittsburgh" guide I came across. If you search the word "pierogies" in the Post-Gazette archives online, you get 335 results, and that only goes back to the early 90s.

So I simply had to have pierogies.

The prospect of a pierogi wasn't nearly as scary as, say, that other Pittsburgh staple, the Primanti Bro.'s sandwich (which I had already tried and found, er, interesting). Still, I was nervous. I mean, I'd been introduced to the food by way of four plush, human-sized representations running around a baseball field, which is, quite frankly, a little terrifying. Awesome, but terrifying.

And there was so much at stake! What if I hated them? Would Pittsburgh disown me? Besides, I didn't want to be stuck in my small-town, West Virginia, pepperoni roll eating ways forever.

I did some research and devised a plan.

A little perusing of the PG food reviews and I could single out a few local pierogi favorites -- Pierogies Plus, for example. But instead of gathering a group of Pittsburghers to bear witness as I sacrificed my pierogi virginity, I decided to go it alone. Better to avert publicity -- and criticism -- if I spit out my first pierogi in disgust.

So one Thursday, at around 12:15 p.m., I quietly left the Post-Gazette offices downtown and walked to Market Square, where the farmers' market was already in progress.

I stood in a line behind 20 or so people at the pierogi stand. When my turn finally came, I ordered four potato pierogies, topped with onions.

I tried to act casual as I found a table among the other patrons, who could never have guessed the significance of the styrofoam box in my hands.

I sat down, opened the box, maneuvered the pierogi gracelessly with my plastic fork, and -- finally -- lifted it to my mouth. And then I understood the hype.

I'll spare you the details of what that first pierogi tasted like (since you're probably from the Pittsburgh region and, therefore, have eaten several hundred thousand in your lifetime).

Suffice it to say that there are now frozen pierogies on my side of the apartment refrigerator. I've grown fonder of Sauerkraut Sal.

And a few weekends ago, when some of the interns went to Ritter's Diner for a late-night nosh, I got the pierogies.

I also ordered the fried green tomatoes (the stomache wants what it wants). An intern friend, who comes from New England, asked me what a green tomato was. I laughed and explained. And the beat goes on.

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