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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Go Canada Go!
Kudos to the Heritage Days organizers for another great year!