Mar 04

Happy Paczki Day: Hamtramck MI

This is an annual re-post in honor of one of my favorite holidays, “Paczki Day” in Hamtramck Michigan!
Have you ordered and purchased your paczki yet? Make sure you get REAL Polish paczki–not some *bootleg* jelly doughnuts that wish they WERE paczki!
Update: One of these delectable treats is called a “paczek” [POON-check]; 
“paczki” [POONCH-kee] is already plural.

Hamtramck is truly unique: a “city within a city”. Hamtramck is completely surrounded by the City of Detroit; so “suburb” is not a proper term. Except for a very small borderline with Highland Park, Michigan, Hamtramck is bordered by Detroit, including the I-94 and I-75 freeways.

1915 Dodge Touring Motorcar

Contrary to popular opinion, “Hamtramck” is a French name, not Polish. Although the city has been known as a “Polish” city for decades, the City is named for a French Revolutionary war hero, Colonel Jean Francois Hamtramck (1756-1803). In the late 1700s, Wayne County was divided into four townships: Detroit, Mackinaw, Segeant, and Hamtramck; of which only Detroit and Hamtramck survive. In the early 1900s, Hamtramck was populated mostly by German-American immigrants; it wasn’t until the Dodge Brothers opened the Dodge Motor Company plant in 1914 that an influx of Polish immigrants came to Hamtramck. In 1922, Hamtramck incorporated itself as a city, in order to stave off being annexed to Detroit.

Hamtramck is Michigan’s most internationally diverse city: although the Polish population has shrunk from 90% to 20%, the Middle Eastern population has increased, with immigrants from Yemen and Bangladesh helping to make up the almost 42% immigrant population (as of the 2000 Census). Schoolchildren in Hamtramck speak at least 26 different languages besides English.

Mitch Ryder

Several famous people are natives of Hamtramck, including Rudy Tomjanovich, Jr. (“Rudy T”), basketball player for the San Diego/Houston Rockets; Mitch Ryder (William S. Levise, Jr.), musician; Jane “Peaches” Bartkowicz, championship tennis player; Gail Kobe, actress and producer (“Twilight Zone”, “Mannix”, “Peyton Place”); Tom Tyler (Vincent Markowski), actor; John Hodiak, actor; and the Honorable al-Imam Warith Deen Muhammad (Wallace D. Muhammad), son of Elijah Muhammad, head of the Nation of Islam.

Paczkis with various fillings

The most famous holiday in Hamtramck is “Paczki Day”. Paczki (roughly pronounced “poonch-kee”) are traditional Polish doughnuts: deep-fried dough flattened and filled with fruit or sweet creams and covered with glaze or powdered sugar. On “Fat Tuesday”, or the day before Lent, everyone in Detroit is “Polish” and “Paczki Day” is a day to forget about the diet and just enjoy Paczkis with friends, family, and co-workers. Luckily, “Paczki Day” lasts only one day, as Paczki have about 700 calories or more each! Although many stores around Detroit sell Paczki for Paczki Day, it is traditional to travel to one of the “real” Polish bakeries in Hamtramck on Conant or Joseph Campeau Streets, stand in line starting at 5 a.m., and purchase several dozen Paczki in white boxes tied with string.

The late Bob Bennett, an award-winning veteran TV reporter for WDIV/WWJ (Channel 4) in Detroit, has been credited with increasing the recognition and celebration of Paczki Day in Detroit; reporting every year from various Hamtramck Polish bakeries until his retirement in 2000.

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