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!

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…