One pączki, two pączki? Fat Thursday, not Fat Tuesday? Are you confused yet?

Let me unconfuse you, as I earlier had to unconfuse myself.

Unless you are Polish, or live(d) in a predominantly Polish neighborhood (like the northern tip of Dorchester), you surely think that a Polish pastry is called a pączki (pronounced more or less like PUNCH-KEY), and you may think it’s identical to a sufganiya or a jelly doughnut or a berliner, and you probably think that Fat Thursday is a typo.

We can fix all these misconceptions.

First, some context: The northern tip of Dorchester that I mentioned in the previous paragraph is commonly called the Polish Triangle, for reasons that you can guess. One of several Polish stores there, DJ’s Market, sells store-made pączki, probably year-round but certainly at least this month in honor of Fat Thursday, so we bought five of them as you can see in my photo. (Sorry: somebody got to the box ahead of me and destroyed half of one of them. We’ll blame the cats.) Now you can tell from the photo in DJ’s website that they must be good citizens, since the sign in their window reads “bądź bezpieczny: wear a mask” (the first two words apparently mean “be safe”; thank you, Mr. Google). So their pączki must be good. As I suggested above, they are something like sufganiyot or jelly doughnuts or berliner, but all four pastry types are actually slightly different. You could do your own research, as they say these days. Barbara and I bought one each of five flavors: raspberry with powdered sugar, raspberry buttercream, prune butter, coffee mocha with chocolate glaze, and lemon with granulated sugar. Yum!

OK, so a word about plurals before we move on to the Fat Thursday question. I suggested above that you can’t say “one pączki,” but why not? The problem, as you probably guessed, as that the word “pączki” is plural—just as you can’t say the Hebrew more-or-less-equivalent word as “one sufganiyot,” since that word too is plural; the singular is “sufganiyah.” The singular of “pączki” is of course “pączek.” (Yes, I know, there’s no “of course” about it, except that Polish is an Indo-European language so a masculine plural ending in “i” is no surprise, and Hebrew is a Semitic language so a feminine plural ending in “t” is no surprise. Also, by the way, you are surely wondering about that little hook under the first vowel in “pączki”; called an ogonek, it shows that the vowel is nasalized. At least three Indo-European languages mark nasalized vowel in various ways: Portuguese with a tilde over the vowel, as in “São Paolo”; French usually with an n after the vowel, as in “blanc”; and Polish with the aforementioned ogonek. If you look at a map of Europe, you will wonder how nasalization managed to skip over Spain and Germany. That question is left as an exercise for the reader. End of linguistics lesson for the day.)

Finally, that leaves the “Fat T*day” problem. We in the good old USA are all familiar with Fat Tuesday, even if we have never been in New Orleans at Mardi Gras. But most of us are not familiar with Fat Thursday, better known as Tłusty Czwartek if that’s clearer. (Notice that masculine singular “ek” ending again!) Like Fat Tuesday, it’s a Catholic holiday just before Lent, marked with carnivals and consumption of fat, sugar, and alcohol. In Poland it’s a national holiday. I’ve been unable to find out what’s going on with the Tuesday-Thursday issue, so let me know if you discover why the observation is on Thursday in Poland and on Tuesday here. I’m guessing it has something to do with the Eastern vs. Western calendars, a distinction which all goes back to the institution of the Gregorian Calendar, but that’s just a guess.

Categories: Dorchester/Boston, Food & Restaurants, Life