Hot in Hawrelak: Heritage Days 2012

Summers in Edmonton are ripe with tradition, and for us, the Heritage Days are a seasonal fixture. The throngs of people revelling in the whirlwind of diversity is intoxicating as much as the sights and sounds of the festival itself. And really, it is the best place in the city to sample foods of over eighty cultures all in one place – a huge al fresco food crawl, if you will.


Nicaraguan dancers

Last year, Mack and I made it a mission to only sample dishes we had never tried before. It worked reasonably well to open our palates up to new tastes, but this year, we were a bit more lax, indulging in old favourites alongside novel ones. Thom joined us at the festival this year, just as open to our explorations!


Mack’s favourite perogies from Ukraine

But boy, was it ever hot on that Monday – probably the warmest day we had ever been down at Hawrelak. It was probably too hot to really enjoy ourselves, as we seized whatever opportunity we had to duck into the shade. As a result, many of our food tickets were used in the vain attempt to try to cool our body temperature – cold drinks, watermelon slices, frozen bananas. Perhaps not the best use of our tickets taste-wise, but I can tell you – I don’t think a mango slush has ever tasted better.


Frozen bananas from Peru

Food-wise, my favourite item that we tasted that day was courtesy of the Taiwan pavilion. A few months ago, Sunny Yang, the Public Relations Director for the Edmonton Taiwanese Association, contacted me and asked if I wanted a complimentary tour of their food offerings at Heritage Days this year. I happily accepted, and we met up with him that day.


Taiwan pavilion

Sunny introduced us to Joanne Liu, the volunteer in charge of their most unique savoury offering, what they called a Taiwan hamburger.


Joanne presents a Taiwan hamburger

A flat steamed bun was lined with barbecue pork, lettuce, onion, radish, carrots and parsley. It was not only a healthy alternative to much of the deep fried fare available, but a tasty one at that. Joanne said it was a dish she would make her kids to snack on, filled with whatever she might have on hand. It’s the type of sandwich that New York’s BaoHaus and San Francisco’s Chairman Bao have helped make popular – maybe it’s time an Edmonton restaurant or truck take it on full time?


Taiwan hamburger

We also got to try the mashu rice ball dessert, made from rice flour. One encased red bean paste, rolled in coconut, while the other featured a centre of green bean paste with black sesame seeds on the outside. Mrs. Chen was the veteran volunteer in charge of making these fresh throughout the festival. Mack and Thom commented on how filling they were; the mashu are deceivingly small, but dense, and not too sweet.


Taiwan mashu

Even though these items have been on their menu for several years, I’m embarrassed to admit that without this invitation, I probably would have gone even longer without trying them myself. Thanks again to Sunny and the hospitality of the Taiwan pavilion volunteers! I will be back next year.

We continued our food tour in Nepal, trying their Kukhurako Masu chicken curry. It was far from being boneless (as advertised in the menu), but was served in the most delectable sauce. Unlike some curries, the heat was palatable, but more prominent was the flavour from long-simmered onions, garlic and other spices.


Kukhurako Masu chicken curry

Mack wasn’t able to indulge in Congo’s curious spinach and peanut butter dish, but Thom and I gave it a go. The peanut butter was too faint for it to be memorable, but we were glad to have finally sampled it.


Spinach and peanut butter

Having gone through the menu the day before, Mack singled out Venezuela’s Tequenos as a must try. Why? The ambiguous description: “deep-fried wheat cheese fingers served with pink sauce.” It turned out the translation probably needed some work, as they were essentially just battered cheese sticks. We found the cheese to be on the sour side; it really wasn’t for us.



Our day ended not with a plate, but with a game. Throughout the afternoon, my sister had been texting me updates of the Canada/US women’s soccer game. When she told me it was tied and going into extra time, I dragged Thom and Mack to the only TV on-site at the Telus booth to watch the rest of the game. Although the outcome wasn’t what we wanted, it was neat to be able to watch it alongside other patriotic fans.

Watching Canada vs. US

Go Canada Go!

Kudos to the Heritage Days organizers for another great year!

Symphony Under the Sky 2009

Mack and I attended our first Symphony Under the Sky concert in Hawrelak Park over the weekend, and it pushed me to realize one reason to love Edmonton.

It was a task itself to get to the venue – a lack of planning on my part meant we ended up driving, and encountered more vehicles parked around Hawrelak than I have ever seen before. After crawling through the one-way thoroughfare with no luck, we drove to the University and took a free shuttle bus from Stadium Car Park. While we usually take public transit to events of this nature, as it was our first time, I don’t think it was pressed upon attendees enough that parking would be limited (but yes, I accept our punishment for forsaking transit).

At any rate, we arrived having missed the first song, and had to listen to the second (a medley of well-known Hollywood tunes) standing. Our tardiness meant our purchase of reserved seats ($27 a ticket versus $18 for grass seating) was an unexpected boon, even though the available selection (in July, no less) was few and far between.

Our view of the stage

The concert, titled Hollywood Adventures and Romances, was an evening of familiar silver screen scores and songs. While I do enjoy the occasional purely classical number, I have to admit I tend to prefer popular music. The program included songs from Titanic, The Sound of Music, Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas, and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (my favourite was indeed the latter, and I spent Labour Day re-watching the movie on DVD). Mack enjoyed the encore of the theme from E.T., his favourite childhood film.

Robert Bernhardt was our conductor for the evening. His sense of humour helped make the light evening of music more enjoyable. Also worth mentioning was one of the cellists, who not only brought out a lifejacket before the Titanic number, but also a hat and whip before the theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and a set of alien ears before E.T. Tyler Hamilton, a top-10 finalist from Canadian Idol’s first season, made a guest appearance, and sang an amusing duet of “People Will Think We’re in Love” with soprano Kathleen Brett.

We spent some time at intermission wandering the area, and avoided the temptation of mini doughnuts and Fat Franks (they are everywhere!). We spotted some concert freeloaders just outside of the amphitheatre fence – I’m sure there will be a similar article written about the best place to treat yourself to Symphony Under the Sky as there was about the Folk Fest.

Packed Amphitheatre

At the break, we ran into one of our former high school vice principals also taking in the show. She indicated that she was a Symphony Under the Sky regular. This comment triggered the thought that all Edmontonians likely have a favourite festival, and a time of year in Edmonton that they look forward to most (for me – the Fringe, of course). And though Labour Day may trigger a change in season, the festivals don’t end here (the Edmonton International Film Festival is in a few weeks, with dEdmonton just around the corner, followed by LitFest, among others).

On the people power front, festivals rely on locals to donate their time. Nearly every event, whether a day in duration or fourteen, would not happen if not for Edmonton’s amazing culture of volunteering. But more than that, I’ve come to realize the variety of festivals – from anime to multicultural, social justice to theatre – provides citizens with the opportunity to lay claim to one in particular that speaks to them and it becomes their yearly in-city escape; a perennial convergence of those with a shared passion for that theme, medium or philosophy.

I think it is about time Edmonton dropped our “City of Champions” nickname to formally adopt “Festival City” instead. While it’s not a new concept (Edmonton Economic Development Corporation has marketed the city as a festival destination for years), it occurred to me this weekend how our year round events, each one distinct and unto their own, help to bring out the best and showcase the tip of the iceberg of what we have to offer.

Lovely scene after nightfall

Thanks to the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra for a great evening, and for the realization of one of the many reasons why Edmonton is a great place to live.