If you’ve lived in a specific place for most or all of your life, it’s easy to take certain local traditions for granted. I admit that even now, as many years as I’ve lived, it’s easy to forget that not every experience that I have here in Michigan is an experience that exists elsewhere.
Just about everyone is familiar with Mardi Gras and the wild celebrations associated with it down in good ol’ New Orleans, but here in Metro Detroit many of us call the holiday by a different name: Pączki Day.
A pączek (pronounced POON-check) is a traditional Polish jelly-filled pastry made from deep-fried flat dough with fruit or cream filling and topped with a light dusting of sugar. They are much more commonly referred to as a pączki (pronounced POON-shkee), which happens to be the plural term for these sugary treats. This past Tuesday, Polish bakeries all over the United States were busy filling orders, but (and I recognize that I’m obviously biased) the best place to celebrate this delectable pastry is in a small Detroit neighborhood called Hamtramck.
Hamtramck is known to be “home to the original pączki” and has plenty of celebrations on this day from live music, delicious feats, and of course pączki tasting. The word translates to “little package” or “doughnut” in Polish, but don’t be fooled - the pączki of today’s celebrations are anything but small! They are also not the same as any ordinary doughnut; it is made from a rich, yeasty dough that won’t collapse when you bite into it.
Pączki are a delightful treat, but are reserved for consumption only once a year on Mardi Gras. Since the Middle Ages, Europeans have been baking pączki to empty their pantries of excess ingredients like lard, sugar, and eggs before they began their Lenten fasting.
Since Pączki Day is always on a Tuesday, most of us aren’t taking work off to go down and party in Hamtramck on a day that’s known as “Mardi Gras in Detroit,” but that doesn’t stop us from partaking in the festivities. For at least the last six or so years, our wonderful HR team member Amy gets up early and waits outside Paris Bakery starting at 5am to snag us some fresh made pączki!
As usual, they didn’t disappoint - we all had our fill of them and then had to fight against the sugar crash in the later afternoon. This is one particularly delicious tradition that I hope we never falter on, though!
Pączki are so special in part because they only appear once a year for a very limited window. There are plenty of other goodies like that, too - so tell me, what’s your favorite?