The 2011 Heritage Festival

The weather was absolutely beautiful this past long weekend, perfect for one of Edmonton’s premiere summer festivals – Heritage Days. Mack and I made it down to Hawrelak Park on Monday to take it all in.

Heritage Festival


People were out in droves – though we probably picked one of the higher-traffic times to visit. One look at the line-up at the Hungarian pavilion for their version of elephant ears ended up resulting in one of the best decisions we’ve ever made at Heritage Days – we would only eat what we’ve never tried before at the festival.

Heritage Festival

High five!

You would think, being the food lovers that we are, experimentation would be the name of the game at the multicultural paradise. But like the mini doughnuts and corn dogs at Capital Ex, there’s something comforting about having the perogies from Ukraine and the langos from Hungary every year. Sure, we would try a couple new plates here and there, but for the most part, we relished in the tradition of savouring our favourite ethnic dishes. But no more!

Heritage Festival

Loved the “mobile” lion dance troop

We first tried to use the new app that was introduced this year to help us navigate the grounds, but found that it wasn’t that easy to interpret. Although the initial map image overlaid pavilions on top of a satellite image of the park, the “directions to” screen did not, meaning we couldn’t use other pavilions as orientation markers. As a result, we resorted to using the paper map instead.

Heritage Festival

Paper art from Taiwan

Heritage Festival

Mack loves Melona

Though we were first drawn to the Pakistani pavilion because they had no line, it was a solid choice. It hadn’t been indicated anywhere on the menu that the qeema (ground beef and vegetables cooked in herbs and spices) was spicy, but I know it provided some welcome heat for Mack (as I usually prefer milder dishes, it means Mack normally has to compromise his chili-loving ways). The accompanying salad helped play down the heat slightly, and I really enjoyed the side of crispy, layered flatbread.

Heritage Festival

Qeema from Pakistan

We spotted the Bosnia & Herzegovina pavilion nearby, so decided to see if their burek was up to par (the best burek we’ve had thus far has been at The Cheese Factory). Unfortunately, it wasn’t: although the pastry was flaky, the meat inside was flavourless.

Heritage Festival

Burek from Bosnia & Herzegovina

We had heard rave reviews from two different people about the curry chicken at the Malaysian-Singapore pavilion. Although the line was modest, service was quick (and got me away from ogling the tempting bags of shrimp chips). The food was ultimately disappointing though – the sauce was much too greasy, and the chicken tasted more like vegan, soy-based meat replacement than actual chicken. Mack didn’t mind the spring rolls, but I didn’t think the filling had any texture at all. I suppose it was our mistake; we should know better than to order something that Mum can cook better, heh.

Heritage Festival

Curry chicken and spring rolls from Malaysian-Singapore

The only pavilion that I had wanted to visit based on a reading of the menu was Somalia. I wanted to introduce Mack to sabayat, a flatbread that I love. Of course, it had slipped my mind that Monday was the start of Ramadan, so the Somali food service had shut down. There’s always next year!

Heritage Festival

Closed for Ramadan

With the remaining tickets, we budgeted to try another two dishes. Given Mack’s attachment to the perogies from Ukraine, we thought it might be good to sample a similar dish at a new-to-us booth – Romania. It was a bit of a mistake, as by this time in the afternoon, the line-ups at the pavilion were insane, exacerbated by the ravenous hunger for their elephant ears. It was also the most inefficient tent we’d come across, and one where line-jumpers stole ahead of us [grr]. As a result, it would have been impossible for the perogies to have lived up to their wait. They were okay, but Ukraine still wins the taste battle.

Heritage Festival

Mack wasn’t happy about the wait for the perogies

Lastly, we headed over next door to the Japanese pavilion that seemed to be pounding out the plates. With a nod to Jill and Ellen, I had to try the okonomiyaki. Theirs was comprised of cabbage, pickled ginger and flour. The serving was huge and piping hot! It was nicely cooked, with a great texture from the combination of shredded cabbage and a golden brown top. Mack felt it was too “healthy” for Heritage Days, but with the sweetness of the sauce, it was a nice treat and way to end our day.

Heritage Festival

Okonomiyaki from Japan

There were some hits, and definitely some misses, but in a way, it was like attending a whole new festival! I can see a new tradition in the making already…

8 thoughts on “The 2011 Heritage Festival

  1. I find it odd that, despite the issues you ran into here, you are not as vocal here, compared to Taste of Edmonton. After all, in terms of food, as you pointed out, it had its share of hits and misses! Could it be because this event is not ran by restaurants per se (compared to ToE), hence it is more “unique”? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my visit to the Festival and had similar issues; however, rather than just complaining, I just enjoyed it for what it was.

  2. I missed the Heritage Festival this year, and I can’t believe they had Okonomiyaki! Brooke will be disappointed to have missed it, she loved it in Japan and most Japanese restaurants here don’t have it that I have seen. Did you post pics from Eat Alberta? I missed it and have been trying to see what I missed.

  3. Great review! It is my favourite festival in Edmonton and this year did not disappoint! The Aboriginal pavilion did put up a great show, as did the Cubans (a new entrant).
    Unlike ToE, the portion sizes were larger and generally offered very good bang for the buck. What impresses me the most is that all of this is run by volunteers, it is a labour of love:)

  4. Kim – I think there is a huge difference between Taste of Edmonton and Heritage Days, for the reason that Subhadeep pointed out. For many small ethnocultural groups, Heritage Days is not only a way for dedicated volunteers to showcase their culture, but also to fundraise for their group.

    As Subhadeep also pointed out, portion sizes are also more reasonable, and you can actually have a full meal there without breaking the bank. Mack and I shared the 30 tickets, used 28 of them, and were more than full. To eat an equivalent amount of food at Taste of Edmonton, you’d likely need 40 tickets, at $1 a pop.

    I think at the end of the day, my point with Taste of Edmonton (as others have said) is that it can, and should be a better festival. With something branded as a “Taste of Edmonton”, one would expect food that represents what Edmonton has to offer…and not just a collection of what appeals to pedestrian summer palates.

    CourtJ – we did try the okonomiyaki at Ichiban, but my friends (who are more versed in traditional Japanese food than I am) said that it wasn’t what they expected. And no, I didn’t post any pictures from Eat Alberta…I was going to get to it, and then didn’t. You can check for an aggregation of posts about the conference.

    Subhadeep – I hear a Myanmar pavilion might be introduced next year!

  5. Here is what I consider the “problem”: For all intent and purposes, ToE is supposed to be a for-profit type event; Heritage is, as it has been pointed out, a volunteer, fund-raiser type event. Read: Apple and oranges, yet you are comparing them. If you really want to compare them, then you should be unbiased about it – you are not being so.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like Heritage Festival and would like to visit it next and upcoming years. It showcases better multi-culturality than events in other parts of Canada. For example, Summer Night Market in Vancouver is an almost all-Asian event.

  6. Kim – in your differentiation of the two, wouldn’t you expect the for-profit event to be better? Especially the food, given restaurants, and not volunteers, are churning it out.

    Anyway, as I said, I am optimistic that the event organizers can improve on Taste of Edmonton, if they are open to new ideas to attract a different, even bigger crowd.

  7. I don’t necessarily expect for-profit to do necessarily better food; instead, I expect them to be doing what they should be doing: make money. And, given the setting, what is the easiest way to do money? Whatever is easier to make, the lowest common denominator and what people wants to eat. If you don’t like it, that is fine. There will be 99+ people who won’t care what you think.

    Could Taste of Edmonton do better? Absolutely, there is always room for improvement. For example, given all the fuzz Tres Carnales has created, I am certain they themselves or some other Latin restaurant will try to snatch a stand (I must add that, Tres Carnales is “just OK”) for that intent and purpose. Will I hold my breath for it? Absolutely not. In events like this, I speak with my $$$ and will do so by choosing to patronizing them or not (and, if I choose to go, to get stuff I like or attracts my interest – or, at least a stand where I don’t have to queue for 5 minutes!).

  8. Great post Sharon. I’m glad you and Mack tried new items at this year’s Festival. I added heaps of new dishes to my Heritage Fest menu too and blogged about my favs. Hello Persian ice cream and Scandinavian karjalan piiraaka!

    And as a Heritage Festival volunteer, I appreciate this statement: “For many small ethnocultural groups, Heritage Days is not only a way for dedicated volunteers to showcase their culture, but also to fundraise for their group.”

    Well-said, lady. Thank you.

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