Edmonton Heritage Festival-Day One 2016

Our favourite local festival has begun: the 41st Annual Edmonton Heritage Festival. Three days of food, music, performances and shopping! This year, the festival hosted pavilions representing 67 countries and 85 cultures, which is incredible.

There was a bit of a price hike on tickets this year. Last year, tickets were $1 each, but there was a small discount if you bought larger sheets. For example, a sheet of 12 went for $10, and a sheet of  30 went for $25. This year the tickets were a flat rate of $1 each, no matter how many you purchased. This wasn’t terrible, but it also seemed like many items had gone up in price. In previous years, combo meals that may have cost 8-10 tickets were now 12.

Just one example of the price hikes was with the honey cakes from Korea. Last year they cost 2 tickets, and this year they cost 4. While a bit of inflation each year should probably be expected, this starts to add up fast. The higher prices didn’t seem to deter visitors, though. There were still plenty of items in the 2-6 ticket range too; we were just a little pickier about what items we chose to get good value.

Another addition to the festival this year was a hot air balloon ride! The rides were only offered for people who had won a contest hosted by the Edmonton Heritage Festival Association. I ended up being one of those lucky few to win, so I was pretty excited!

The festival opened at 12 pm, and our balloon flight was scheduled for 12:30 pm. My husband and I showed up to Hawrelak Park a little after noon so we could grab some food first. We quickly discovered this was too early though. Most food pavilions weren’t finished setting up and we were told they would need another half hour.

We decided to head for the hot air balloon ride instead, and get food later. But when we arrived at the designated meeting spot, there was no balloon in sight. We waited around for a half hour, and even asked at one of the many ticket booths, but the volunteers didn’t even know a hot air balloon ride was being offered. By this time the food pavilions were set up, so we headed off to grab a few bites.

We started things off with a samosa and bhagia from the Fiji Islands:

The bhagia are made with spinach and onion dipped in batter and deep-fried. It reminded me of pakora, which I really like. Both items were delicious and satisfied our cravings for a savoury snack.

Around 1:30 we popped back over to the area where the hot air balloon ride was supposed to be, and lo and behold, the team was just getting set up:

We watched as the team cordoned off the area for safety purposes before commencing with inflating the balloon. A volunteer was checking in all the contest winners, so we approached her, and she re-booked our 12:30 flight 2 pm. We also signed waivers regarding personal safety and potential risks, etc. The balloon was tethered the entire time though, so we were pretty safe. This was about maximum height:

There was a bit of confusion about the logistics as well; initially they told us that the basket could hold four people. But the pilot(?) told us he could only take two at a time. This worked nicely for us actually, since we would have the ride to ourselves this way. They also told us that the flight would take about a half hour. This seemed like a long time to hang out in a low-flying tethered balloon going nowhere. And it turned out we were right: the first people up were on for about ten minutes before the balloon touched down again. Then it was our turn!

Getting into the basket took a bit of flexibility, especially since the balloon kept wanting to take off without us! The view would have been better if we’d been much higher up of course, but since I have a fear of heights this was a perfectly fine view for me:

hot air balloon view

We touched down a few times, then rose back up as the wind current bounced us about. I definitely enjoyed the rise more than the descent, which made my stomach lurch slightly. The landings were a little rough and slightly jarring, but overall it was pretty cool. Even with the glitches (late start, miscommunication on logistics and length of ride, etc) I appreciated the effort put into this little bonus event. It was my first introduction to hot air ballooning, so if we ever decide to do a full ride one day, we’ll know what to expect!

After the balloon we were getting pretty hungry. One of my mandatory go-to’s at the Heritage Festival is the riskrem from the Scandanavian pavilion. It’s basically the creamiest, most dreamy rice pudding you could ever imagine, topped with a lovely raspberry sauce. (I didn’t worry about taking photos of it this year because I already took photos last year and blogged about it.) It never disappoints, and I’m pretty sure my eyes roll fully to the back of my head with joy as I eat it. While I spooned pure heaven into my mouth, Mark headed to the Egypt pavilion to grab a falafel wrap. It was tasty, but a bit small for 6 tickets. But with many items, unless you see someone else ordering it first, you can’t always judge the size accurately based on the ticket price.

We headed to the Afghanistan pavilion next. One of my husband’s colleagues recommended that we try doogh; a drink made with yogurt, water, cucumber, and mint. While in line, we kept hearing the vendors yelling out the two separate food lines: one was for the kebabs and the other for something called bolani. We decided to try the bolani along with the doogh:

While I like all of the ingredients in doogh separately, what I wasn’t expecting was that it was a salty drink, not sweet. I’m sure it’s an acquired taste but I just can’t do salty drinks, so Mark had the rest. But I can say that I tried it, and that’s what much of the Heritage Festival is about: trying new and different foods from around the world.

Now the bolani, on the other hand, was an unexpected win. It’s pan-fried dough stuffed with potatoes, green onion and spices. Here’s a better look after we tore into it:

It was incredibly tasty, and the yogurt dip (like a thicker version of the doogh) worked so well with the mild flavours of the potato and spices. While we munched away, we had a few people stop to ask what we were eating. We would get this one again!

We didn’t take in too many performances on the first day, but we did watch a great taekwondo demonstration while we finished the bolani.

We’ve had a lot of thunderstorms this year, and this day was no exception. As we watched the black clouds gather overhead, my husband and I decided to head for home a bit early. We got a little wet on our bike ride home, but we managed to beat the brunt of the storm. We left none too soon, too. Once we got home I checked Twitter to get an update. The festival shut down early due to the severe weather. Hopefully the next two days will have brighter skies!

Read about Edmonton Heritage Festival Day Two here.

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