Eastern Europe embraces the Southwest at Baba and Pop's Kitchen

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Mark Antonation
Two foodways united in harmony.
I've been making the rounds at Civic Center Eats the past couple of weeks, prowling for something a tad bizarre, a bit more unusual than Korean tacos or gyros in a cone -- maybe for a food substance that might have been created a thousand years ago if the migration patterns of Europeans and ancient hunter-gatherers had worked out just a little differently. The pulled-pork pierogi with green chile from Baba and Pop's Kitchen fit the bill. It emanates from an alternate universe where Polish grandmothers in babushkas and aprons found their way across the Bering Land Bridge and down the continent to a sparsely populated Mesoamerica where chile plants grew in profusion.

See also: A grilled cheese with pretensions from the Comfortable Food truck

I come from Ukrainian stock; my childhood was padded with pierogi and other hearty fare meant to fuel farming people through summers of hard work and winters of huddling under thick blankets. The people who created this food understood economy and efficiency; everything is used -- there are no wasted movements, which is why the singular and plural form of pierogi are the same, and the Slavs have saved us the need for an extra keystroke.

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Mark Antonation
Baba and Pop's -- the United Nations of street food.
The indigenous population of the land that is now Mexico (and Texas, California, Arizona, New Mexico and a good part of Colorado, too) learned that ingesting the fiery fruit of the capsicum family of plants made for an enhanced dining experience... and helped early bartenders sell more beer. Jeremy Yurek, Polish by blood but living and cooking in a region rife with spicy food, has accomplished what few have even dreamed of: combining the simple and rib-sticking food of his forebears with a pure chile verde more in the New Mexico style than the thick, tomato-tinted Denver variety.

For this kind of Slavic-Mexican cultural collision, the closest predecessor I can think of is Ukrainian-born Leon Trotsky's ill-fated living arrangement with Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Mexico City.

Perhaps it's the pulled-pork filling that brokers peace between Eastern European boiled dough and the zippy sauce that coats the dumplings. Yurek's version of pulled pork is content to be toothsome, meaty, tender and mild, without the dominating flavors of Southern barbecue or the lard-rich power of Mexican carnitas. In fact, no single ingredient dominates, leaving the chewy texture of the pierogi with its patchwork of caramelization from a sear on the grilltop to do most of the talking.

Now, thanks to Baba and Pop's, Mexico and Eastern Europe share more than just accordions and pale lager. The Slavic food culture that created the pierogi, slathered like sour cream and sauteed onions across the European map with little respect for national borders, has shown it can withstand -- even welcome -- a minor incursion into its territory. For a cuisine in which horseradish is about as spicy as it gets, Polish food stands up remarkably well to its New World guest.


Location Info

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Civic Center Park

Broadway and Colfax Ave., Denver, CO

Category: General


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18 comments
Tommy Koopa
Tommy Koopa

This looks great, we need to get some

Chelsea Grimmett
Chelsea Grimmett

Recognized the word, obviously, automatically thought of the person who introduced it to me Tommy Koopa

Amy Nelson
Amy Nelson

Green chile and pierogies? This has your name all over it, Kya Degarmo. Lol

TheFabulousMarkT
TheFabulousMarkT topcommenter

Very nice! Another cross-cultural excursion you might enjoy is to Little Brazil in Wheat Ridge, whose cafe features a few dishes which originated in the Middle East (kibbe, sfiha) or Russia (stroganoff) but are now - with a few tweaks here and there - much loved by Brazilians themselves.

Their juices are delicious too - açai, caju, cupuaçu [my favorite]... - mmmmmmmmmmmm

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