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.
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.
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!
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.
Paper art from Taiwan
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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…