Tens of thousands of perogies are devoured by Folklorama attendees at the festival’s eastern European heritage pavilions every year in Winnipeg — a city that boasts one of the highest Ukrainian populations per capita in the country.
About 14 per cent of Winnipeggers have Ukrainian roots. But despite the city being home to nearly 100,000 Ukrainians, the man who eats the most doughy delicacies in one sitting travels to the event from out of town.
"It is kind of embarrassing, between the number of Ukrainians in Manitoba, you’d think one of them could win it," said Scott Gordon, a co-ordinator at the Spirit of Ukraine Pavilion who helps organize its annual perogy eating contest.
John Jugovich, a professional eater who hails from Richmond, B.C., ate a total of 46 perogies in 10 minutes to win the 2019 contest, the fifth of its kind. Jugovich has been crowned the champ of the potato-and-cheese dish every year he’s competed in the contest.
His strategy? Fasting for days leading up to an event.
"I had not eaten nothing for, I believe 36 hours. And even before those 36 hours, I ate very light for two days," said Jugovich, who traces his love for food back to his Ukrainian mother’s cooking.
Jugovich prides himself on having what he calls "a big capacity" due to growing up surrounded by lots of home-cooked meals. The ability to chew quickly and a strong gut are also important, the reigning champ said.
That’s what helped him win the prize pack containing gift cards, clothing and Ukrainian vodka this year.
"I could’ve still had another 46 perogies, maybe not as quickly, but I still had lots of room." — John Jugovich
"I could’ve still had another 46 perogies, maybe not as quickly, but I still had lots of room," Jugovich said.
The professional eater said he was actually disappointed in his score this year since he fell 14 perogies short of his goal — which he attributes to thicker filling than in previous years. He set the record at 59 perogies last year.
Seven competitors were served plates of perogies tossed in butter and seasoned with dill at this year’s event on Friday night.
Each one is screened in advance to ensure they are all committed to the competition and that they aren’t just there for a free lunch.
Their techniques all differ; some competitors choose to dip their perogies in water so they glide down their esophagus.
Gordon said he has also seen people chug water, use a knife and fork and jump up and down during the competition. "I don’t know if he thought that would compress the food in his stomach, but that did not work," he said.
Winnipegger Jorge Losorata placed second at this year’s event with a score of 35 perogies.
Currently on top of the Salisbury House rib competition at a record 8.5 racks in four hours, Losorata said he has to keep brainstorming ways to win the event since he always comes up short against Jugovich.
About 17,000 perogies are served to customers at the Spirit of Ukraine Pavilion, hosted by the Zoloto Ukrainian Dance Ensemble and Company, each year. Even more, upwards of 25,000, are served at the festival’s Kyiv-Ukraine Pavilion, one of the founding pavilions that will mark its 50th annual event today for the second week of the 2019 festival.
This year, the Ukrainian pavilions’ spreads include traditional foods such as borscht, cabbage rolls, kovbasa, potato pancakes and Ukrainian doughnuts and crepes.
The Kyiv-Ukraine Pavilion, put on by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress Manitoba Provincial Council, is also serving up craft beer made from hops imported from Ukraine and malt from the Prairies as part of its anniversary celebration.
Maggie is a cub reporter who covers every beat in the newsroom. She appreciates alliteration, when newspaper ink stains her fingertips and, more importantly, tips on social and environmental equity issues.