Fat Thursday is almost here! If you’re living or even just visiting Poland in the last week of February you’ll hear the term ‘Fat Thursday’ used. What is Fat Thursday? Read more to discover the history, the culture and more behind the beloved Paczki
What is Fat Thursday?
Fat Thursday is an old Catholic Christian feast that marks the last Thursday before the start of the Lent season. Since the Lent season is typically a time of fasting for most Catholics and Christians, most Poles use Fat Thursday to eat decadent foods such as cake, candy, and sweets. People, around the world and not just in Poland, meet in their homes, restaurants, and cafes and eat large quantities of food all day long. In 2018, Fat Thursday will happen on February 8th. Statistics show that, in Poland, every Pole eats about two and a half doughnuts on Fat Thursday. That means that, in Poland alone, the entire country eats around 100 million doughnuts. In Poland’s most famous pastry shop, Zagoździński in Warsaw, people line up to buy pastries throughout the day. While some outside observers may do a double take to the statistics presented above and question the sanity and cultural implications that Fat Thursday has on Poland, the love that the Poles have for their doughnuts go back centuries. While the Polish people love all kinds of sweets for Fat Thursday, the paczki is by far the preferred pastry among Poles. The paczki is a large donut (typically about the size of someone’s fist) that is filed with rose marmalade. The paczki is a Polish delight and should be enjoyed by everyone who makes their way to Poland at some point in their life, but especially on Fat Thursday.
The History Behind Fat Thursday and the Polish Influence and Culture
The Poles began their love affair with doughnuts back in the 16th century. In the 18th century, historian Jędrzej Kitowicz, the famous author of the treaty Description of Customs during the Reign of August III, wrote that doughnut eating at court was common and he later described their fluffiness and their lightness. He also compared it to older harder doughnuts which could give someone a black eye if it was thrown at someone’s face. While there is some irony in the statement, this is a prime example of how the doughnuts recipe had evolved and changed over time to what we all know and love today.
Besides the brief and scattered accounts regarding doughnuts and Fat Thursday in Poland, the Polish langue and various proverbs show how doughnuts have evolved within Polish culture. Doughnuts, in ancient proverbs, are considered to bring people happiness and if someone refuses to accept or eat a doughnut it is considered both rude and unlucky. In accordance with the heritage and legacy, current Polish pastry chefs today try to ensure that their doughnuts can be eaten by all segments of the Polish population including vegans and gluten-intolerant Poles. The traditional recipe calls for lard, eggs, wheat flour, and a large, and somewhat unhealthy, amount of sugar. While most pastry chefs continue to follow the traditional recipe, variations are common to allow for different fillings and combinations depending on the particular shop or chef’s audience. Typically, the traditional rose marmalade can be replaced with vanilla custard, chocolate ganache, or strawberry filling to ensure diversity. The only true rule that all chefs follow when making paczkis are that they need to be light and fluffy.
Funny enough, the typical American donut’ never became popular in Poland, contrary to cupcakes and muffins which are beloved throughout all of Europe. In the 1990s, after the fall of communism and in the early years of Poland’s capitalist experiment, American chain Dunkin’ Donuts opened a store in the center of Poland. The Dunkin’ Donuts flagship store opened near other famous American chains like McDonald’s. Burger King, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell. While these other chains were successful in Warsaw, Dunkin’ Donuts closes down after only six short years in operation. While Dunkin’ Donuts is currently attempting to appeal to European consumers by offering better coffee and Nutella spread in its stores, it still has work to do before the Polish consumer will accept it.
While Fat Thursday is celebrated throughout Poland and some other European countries, in the United States and Canada, Fat Thursday is celebrated differently in cities that have a large Polish population. Chicago, New York City, Detroit, and Windsor all have a day of celebrations where they eat copious amounts of food to celebrate the Polish holiday. While Europeans celebrate Fat Thursday, the day is called Shrove Tuesday when it is celebrated in the United States and Canada. In these cities, the paczkis have actually become a popular item in Polish pastry shops.
In recent years, some controversy has popped up surrounding Shrove Tuesday. Typical American consumers and health activists have organized protests against the day of celebration because it encourages people to eat a large amount of unhealthy food in the United States. Some American health organizations claim that Shrove Tuesday is just an excuse for fast-food and candy companies to make a lot of money by encouraging and tricking people into eating doughnuts and other sweets that are typically eaten in moderation. While this protest movement has not gained a large number of followers, it is still an interesting part of the American health craze that has recently gained prominence throughout he country. While this small movement has opposed Shrove Tuesday, many Poles and Americans continue to enjoy the pastries that can be found in the Polish grocery and bakery stores in Polish communities throughout the United States and Canada. In Greenpoint Brooklyn (New York City,) Little Poland has celebrations to commemorate Shrove Tuesday which are often widely attended by the Polish and non-Polish populations of Brooklyn. Other celebrations like the one held in Greenpoint can be found throughout the United States and Canada, but they are not as extravagant or as widely celebrated as those in Poland.
Fat Thursday In Poland
As previously stated, Fat Thursday is a national day of celebration in Poland. Fat Thursday is typically called Tłusty Czwartek. Poles all over the country go to their favorite local pastry shops and cafes to get their paczki and enjoy a day of happiness and celebration with their loved ones. Depending on the bakery, the paczki can have icing, powdered sugar, or a vanilla glaze dripped on top. Most Poles enjoy Tłusty Czwartek because they know that they will not have another feast until Easter rolls around. Many bakeries will start preaparing and baking the night before so they are prepared to keep up with the demand that Tłusty Czwartek will bring to their stores. Stores typically open really early in the morning and do not close until very late to accommodate the overwhelming demand on this day of the year.
It is estimated that the average Pole will consume about 1,200 calories in sweets during the Tłusty Czwartek celebration. While these bakeries and pastry shops sell themselves on having a plentiful selection of paczki, they also offer many other sweet options for their customers. The paczki typically weigh around 70 grams and is mainly made up of fats and carbohydrates. This is where the “Fat” in “Fat Thursday” comes from.
Fat Thursday, is not just a made-up holiday that was created to ensure that consumers would spend large amounts of money, it has its roots in Polish tradition and culture. While originating as a Catholic Christian holiday, it has evolved since them to represent a day of celebration where the Polish people gather with their loved ones and celebrate the happiness in their lives while also preparing for the Easter holiday.
Fat Thursday In Warsaw
If you’re in Warsaw there are many different places you can enjoy Fat Thursday. If you work in an office then expect a lot! It is an almost an unwritten rule of Fat Thursday that there must be Pączek in the office, and you must eat as many as possible!
One of the most famous places to visit if you love standing in long lines is Pracownia Cukiernicza “Zagoździński” Pączki z Górczewskiej
People travel across the city to buy their Pączki here! This location has a long history. The family business originally started over 90 years ago at a different location, however this location today has been open for 42 years and is loved by the locals! On a normal Monday Pracownia Cukiernicza Zagoździński make 800 paczki, but on Fat Thursday they make more than 8000! The recipe and taste are unchanged for many years and the price is only 2.20 PLN (half a Euro).
If you want something more high-end and luxury then it doesn’t can much more than luxury on Fat Thursday then Słodki Słony. They pride themselves on having some of the best indigents, but it does come at a cost of 8 PLN per Pączek. Is it worth it? Go try and let us know in the comment section!
If you really want to make it a Fat Thursday then the cheapest place for bulk buying is the major super markets. Last year (2017) Biedronka were selling theirs at 0.54 PLN each. Their price is always top secret until the day of sale so this year it could be even cheaper! Let’s see.
We hope this article helped you learn more about What is Fat Thursday. If you know of any secret places in Warsaw for the best Pączek please share in the comment section so that we can try it for ourselves!