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Arts & Culture

Ansonia Revives Fat Tuesday Tradition: Pączki-Eating Competition

Manny Cambra (seated) gets first place at the revived Fat Tuesday Pączki-Eating contest in Ansonia. Mayor David Cassetti (center, standing) held a socially-distanced version of the competition.
Ali Oshinskie
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Connecticut Public Radio
Manny Cambra (seated) gets first place at the revived Fat Tuesday pączki-eating contest in Ansonia. Mayor David Cassetti (center, standing) held a socially distanced version of the competition.

Contestants sat at opposite ends of six-foot tables around the Ansonia Armory. In front of each person were two boxes of pączki -- Polish jelly doughnuts. A city staffer sprinkled confetti and made sure each contestant had a few bottles of water.

Mayor David Cassetti set his timer for eight minutes, faded the music, and started or -- restarted -- the city’s pączki-eating competition.

In a year marked by loss, Ansonia found a way to bring something back: the pączki-eating competition, a Fat Tuesday tradition started over 20 years ago by the owners of Eddy’s Bakery, a downtown standby. The bakery changed ownership in 2017, and the new owners revived the contest for St. Patrick’s Day in 2019. But the bakery closed a few months later.

Then came 2020, no pączki-eating competition and the coronavirus pandemic. In 2021, Cassetti decided it was time to bring back the tradition himself.

“In the trying times of this pandemic, I like to have feel-good events here in Ansonia,” Cassetti said.

Pączki, pronounced like punch-key, is a powdered, filled doughnut. But the filling isn’t always jelly, Cassetti explained.

“It’s filled with different [things] like Bavarian cream, lemon, raspberry and jelly.”

Ansonia and the Naugatuck River Valley have long been home to a Polish American population. The doughnuts mark a tradition of enjoying one last culinary indulgence before Lent. 

Joe Cassetti, an Ansonia alderman, eats paczki during Tuesday's competition. Paczki are a traditional jelly-filled dpnut eaten on Fat Tuesday as a last indulgence before Lent.
Credit Ali Oshinskie / Connecticut Public Radio
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Connecticut Public Radio
Joe Cassetti, an alderman in Ansonia, eats paczki during Tuesday's competition. Paczki is a traditional filled doughnut eaten on Fat Tuesday as a last indulgence before Lent.

Without Eddy’s Bakery to supply the doughnuts, Cassetti took it upon himself to sample pączki across the Valley to find the best. He landed on Big Y and ordered 120 of them, 12 each for 10 expected contestants.

Manny Cambra predicted he’d eat all 12. This was not his first pączki-eating contest -- he spent several years as a competitive eater, taking part in the old Eddy’s competition. Cassetti said the record to break was 12 doughnuts.

Cambra was not looking forward to the prune-filled pączki, which can be a challenge to eat quickly. When the competition was held at Eddy’s, Cambra said, one of the doughnuts had to have a prune filling.

“It’s not a bad consistency, I would just say it’s difficult,” Cambra said.

Manny Cambra eats paczki at the Ansonia Armory. He finished eleven and a half of the traditional Polish donuts. He said none of Tuesday's paczki had prune filling, unlike past competitions where the prune-filling would slow him down.
Credit Ali Oshinskie / Connecticut Public Radio
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Connecticut Public Radio
Manny Cambra eats paczki at the Ansonia Armory. He finished 11 and a half of the traditional Polish doughnuts. He said this time around, none of Tuesday's paczki had prune filling, which usually slows him down.

But as the pączki-eating contest got underway, Cambra was pleasantly surprised. “Absolutely no prunes, thank God.” However, in a few of them, it seemed like someone forgot to add the filling, he said.

And that worked out well for Cambra: He won with a final tally of 11 1/2 pączki.

Ali Oshinskie is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. She loves hearing what you thought of her stories or story ideas you have so please email her at aoshinskie@ctpublic.org.

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