Servus Heritage Festival
William Hawrelak Park
This year marks the 34th annual Heritage Festival, continuing to celebrate Canada’s multicultural heritage. As a small child – I can remember helping out within my cultural pavilion, and later as a participant in one of the cultural presentations. Some 20 years later, I now attend only as a patron – armed with my trusty fork (my contribution to being green, as I plan on sampling a LOT of food).
Foodosopher: I have the same memories, working with my cultural pavilion – being a patron is much better! My biggest wish with the Heritage Festival is that they were a little more green – so much waste with plastic and wooden forks and plates, but hopefully over time they will implement better measures.
This may seem like a slightly odd place for a review for foodosophy – but it is well known that one of the major elements of this festival is to showcase various eats from the participating countries, thus making this my favorite festival held in Edmonton.
Foodosopher: My friends and I may joke about it as meat on a stick, and meat in dough festival, but you’re right that it does a wonderful job of showcasing many new dishes and cuisines in a town that doesnt have the population base to support restaurants for all the different ethnicities whom live here.
I can put down my fair share of food – but with over 60 participating regions (all with a food offering in some form or another), even I have to admit defeat. A few years back – together with a group of friends, managed to sample over half of everything on the various menus, but we were much younger then…
Arriving fresh off the bus (as there is no parking on-site), we headed straight to the festival grounds. Armed with my fork, my food-bank donation, no plans, and following only the smells of bbq meats, and cooking sweets – we found ourselves at the France pavilion.
Foodosopher: personal rant inserted – it is the biggest food drive for the Edmonton Food Bank each year. Please everyone, if you attend Hertiage Festival, bring a nice donation. If you are a foodosophy reader, chances are you’re very lucky relative to many people who struggle to feed their families each day. I know how lucky i am!
France was offering crepes with one of four options: chantilly (whipped cream), nature (sugar), suzette (Grand Marnier sauce), and chocolat. With my wife leading the way – there was no debate – chocolat all the way. They even had a cute café tent set up so you could sit down and enjoy your crepes and a cup of coffee. Not the same as sitting at a café along Champs-Elysees, but nonetheless a great start to the day.
Foodosopher: we met our friends outside the French Pavilion as well. I passed on starting with dessert, and decided to dive in with some meat instead.
A few tents down – Japan was offering Hiyayakko, Okonomi-Yaki, Takoyaki, and Yakitori. Nothing against the options, but with all of the various bbq’s cooking away -my immediate need to satisfy my weakness for meat on a stick led me to the yakitori.
Foodosopher: Interesting note – there are some food vendors who do not belong to any cultural pavilion – they offer food as well, but as a stand alone enterprise. The churros station, and the fried potato station were both unattached. I sampled both, and they were decent, but overpriced.
Ecuador. This caught my eye as some friends recently returned from a trip to the Galapagos Islands. Reading the menu with my limited Spanish, I saw an item that I didn’t recognize – so I had to give it a try. Caucara con Papas (beef strips with potatoes). Upon receiving a dish with thinly sliced potatoes, an onion heavy salsa, and marinated beef strips, we found the closest picnic table and dug in. This was excellent – cilantro/lime flavours dominant in the salsa, thinly sliced potatoes with red and green peppers, and tender beef strips marinated in a mild cumin/chili spice.
Foodosopher: My first stop was the Peruvian pavillion for anticuchos – marinated beef hearts. While many people are put off by the thought of organ meat, there is nothing tastier than marinated, grilled, beef heart. Seriously one of the best dishes all day. I fell in love with these in Peru – give them a shot.
I followed this up with an Arepa from the Ecuadorian pavillion – it wasnt on the original menu, but I was curious how their take on the traditionally Venezualan dish would be. It was a crispy flat puck of corn – with a tasty version of chimchurri and grilled beef. Very good, if a bit of a bastardization.
Taking a short break from the eats – we toured pavilion after pavilion, each selling an assortment of clothing, crafts, and gifts. Outside of the various tents – many also provided entertainment in the form of dance or music.
Continuing to sample various eats along the way; Green Papaya Salad from Lao, Pyrohy from the Ukraine and a Serbian Cevapi, we eventually hit our first food shortage in Mexico – as they sold out of their tamales.
Foodosopher: I had just missed the tamales as well – by about 10 minutes. People walked by me with the tantalizing morsels. I wasnt pleased. Instead, i had to settle for beef curry from Sri Lanka (good), Samosas from Fiji, Empanadas from a variety of South American countries.
The Korean pavilion was host to an artist who was painting on site – which had me entertained for some time. The cooking bulgogi got me hooked, so we slid in line for their combo offering of beef, kimchi and rice. This was so good – we were tempted to go back for seconds.
Foodosopher: The bulgogi was excellent – better than any Korean restaurant in town. Tender, flavourful, perfect taste and texture. Must try!
As we sat enjoying this meal, we struck up conversations with our picnic table companions. They raved about the scovergi they had at the Romania pavilion. Fried dough & icing sugar? Twist my arm.
Having seen these before in other settings — I was a little curious whether this item has morphed towards carnival fare, rather than being a true cultural food representation. Especially due to the fact – we Canadians like our donuts (we have the most donut stores per capita in the world).
My curiosity increased when I noticed the Croatia pavilion was also offering an identical item. So after some post trip reading, I discovered that the Romanian scovergi to be the closest in representation – where the only Croatian reference to fried dough I found was the krafna, which didn’t quite matchup to the dish they were serving. This item was definitely a crowd grabber – as the lineups for this got larger and larger throughout the day. I’m surprised it’s not on the local Timmy’s lineup yet.
Foodosopher: I passed on the scovergi, as tempting as it was. Had some plantain from the Afrika pavilion, and Burek from Bosnian pavillion. Burek was covered off in in the post on European Deli and was sadly not as good at Heritage Festival as the European Deli, nor as good as last year. The dough was limp, the meat overcooked and not spiced well enough, this was disappointing.
Deciding to scout out something a little more true to the spirit of the event, I scanned the festival menu for something else to satisfy my sweet tooth. The Dutch pavilion, tucked away on the far end of the festival grounds were serving poffertjes (small pancakes with icing sugar). Bite-sized pancakes, light and fluffy, and doused with icing sugar. (Note to self – turn your back to the wind, as a small gust of wind covered my shirt with icing sugar).
Foodosopher: had these last year – wasnt super thrilled with them.
Overall – a great day, good food, mixed with a nice long walk in the sun. I heard a couple people groaning about the cost of food – but I see this event from the perspective of being a fund-raiser for each of these cultural societies, and will gladly support them to keep events like this going!
Foodosopher: finished with some mango, and jerk pork. I fell in love with jerk pork at Scotchies in Mo’Bay, Sadly, this pork was average at best. One piece was excellent, though without sufficient kick, but the other two pieces were overly dry and unflavourful. The fetival that came with it was good as well.
Held annually on the August long-weekend (first Monday of August is ‘Heritage Day’ in Alberta), I hope this post entices some of you to visit next year!
Foodosopher: Amen to that. One of the best festivals anywhere in Canada. Well worth the visit.