It’s that time of year again, my favourite festival in Edmonton, the Heritage Festival! This is a three-day extravaganza of celebrating cultural, musical and culinary heritage around the world. It takes place every year on the August long weekend from Saturday to Monday.
We missed it last year because we were in Denmark (yes I know, boo hoo) but you know what? I really missed attending this festival, because it’s become an annual tradition. The extra-cool thing for us is that after we’ve visited a new country, we can often look forward to visiting that country’s pavilion the next year at the Heritage Festival and feel like we’re experiencing it all over again.
This year is extra special because it’s the 40th Anniversary of the festival. Plus, I’d had the great fortune of winning 30 food tickets from Explore Edmonton in an online contest, so we were able to splurge a little more than we normally do. (Thanks again guys!)
Traditionally we bike from home to the festival because you’re not allowed to park at Hawrelak Park while the festival is on. They really encourage taking public transit or walking, biking, etc which is fabulous. The skies had opened up the morning of the first day of the festival, so instead of braving it on our bikes we drove part way and walked the rest.
Although the festival offers great entertainment and shopping pavilions too, on the first day we were all about the food. Some of our standard favourites get sold out fast, so we wanted to hit some of those early. Plus with the still-looming threat of rain when we first headed out, line-ups were shorter than usual and we wanted to take advantage. But enough about that, let’s get to the food!
The Heritage Festival requires a menu, which we picked up as soon as we arrived. Although all the food items are listed at each pavilion, it’s much easier to plan the day by picking up the printed menu and checking things off as you go. We arrived hungry, so the first stop on our culinary journey was Venezuela.
We ordered the Toston con Salsa de Queso, just because the combination of sweet plantains with cheese and hot peppers sounded really mouth-wateringly good. It didn’t disappoint, though the cheese was just nacho cheese sauce. The hot peppers really made the dish though:
It was warm, tangy, sweet and spicy and sent our tastebuds into overdrive. So, while on the hunt for spicy dishes, I decided we should visit Eritrea next. Ethiopian food is a favourite of mine, and there was an Ethiopian pavilion, however all of their dishes only came with one side dish on injera, a spongy sourdough that you eat with your hands. I much prefer combo meals when injera is involved, and Eritrea’s pavilion offered combos, so my decision was made.
I ordered the tzebhi zigni (spicy beef with chili peppers, onion and spices) and timtmo, spicy lentils, served on injera. The second the server spooned out the spicy beef my mouth started to water. There is a warning about injera though – it has a tendency to expand. Long after you’ve said “I’m full,” the injera says, “no, wait, I need to stretch out my legs,” making you feel like an over-inflated balloon for an hour or two. So it’s usually best to stop eating just before you actually feel full, but that’s pretty hard because this stuff is awesome.
After a few spicy dishes I really wanted to go find one of my favourite sweets at the festival to cool my palate: riskrem from the Scandanavian pavilion. It’s basically exactly what it sounds like; creamy rice pudding topped with raspberry sauce. Ughhhh I die, it’s so smooth and not too sweet. It also gets sold out fast, so even if I don’t have it again this year, at least I grabbed it on the first day to soothe my craving.
By the way, this is how we tend to choose our food orders: spicy/savoury, spicy/savoury, something sweet, something liquid, repeat. And since we just had something sweet, followed by some water that we brought with us, it was back to step one: spicy and/or savoury. So we wandered over to the Dutch pavilion to grab another of our festival tradition foods:
Haha no, actually not herring, though you can get it here too! I meant proper Dutch-style frites with fry sauce. The fry sauce is kind of like mayonnaise but not quite the same. Although to be honest I think I would be hard-pressed to really tell the difference unless I tasted them side-by-side.
Seeing the blue sky overhead, it was easy to forget it was still cloudy and sprinkly when we arrived. The much-improved weather started to bring out better crowds and longer lines.
Unfortunately we had dressed for rain, not sun, which also meant we didn’t bring sunscreen. So we didn’t stay as long as we usually do the first day. But we decided we’d walk around a little more before heading home.
There’s always a few non-heritage related kiosks around, usually educational in some way, or radio stations hosting contests, that sort of thing. The Way We Move is a city-supported initiative to encourage people to use their cars less and use a more sustainable form of transportation. They were out advertising their “1-Day-a-Week-Pledge”. They encouraged people to sign up and pledge to carpool, walk, bike, or take public transportation one day a week. Luckily Mark and I already carpool every day so we’re ahead of the game. But as a gift for making the pledge, they were giving out trees. Yup, we got a whole tree! Now we just have to figure out where to plant it!
Tomorrow we’ll return to the festival where hopefully we will explore a bit more on the entertainment/shopping themes. And definitely more on the food!