This post chronicles my visit to the Taste of Edmonton food festival over the lunch hours on July 22 and July 23 2021.
This blog post was written from July 22 2021 to July 24 2021, basically in the evenings of both days of my visit (and a couple hours into the morning of the one after). Chronologically, this page lines up with the weekly blog entry of My Diary #014.
The Taste of Edmonton ran (or runs, since it’s still running as I’ve writing this) from July 22 to August 01 2021. It’s basically an Edmonton food festival showcasing different foods from different cultures, although what it basically is is different restaurants from the city charging overpriced fees for the tiniest of morsel portions of food. Apparently it used to be a lot better, but these days tends to not be worth the money. The first time I visited this event was in 2019 though, so I missed this alleged period of time when the prices were actually reasonable. You can be the judge of which ones this year are overpriced, as I will include food pictures as well as prices in the sections below.
Still, it is an opportunity I enjoy because it’s the chance to gather new experiences. One of the biggest regrets I have from travelling is not trying out the Fried Seagull that was on a cruise ship in Korea that I took, since by the time I decided that I wanted to try it, it was already sold out. That event has since inspired me to try other weird foodstuff, within reason, though.
The way the pricing works for this event is as follows: You can buy a number of food tickets for a certain price, the more you buy, the cheaper the per-ticket cost is. Each food and drink item offered by the restaurants then has a ticket price listed along with it, with most of them costing between 2 to 4 food tickets each. In this event, they don’t accept cash, only the tickets. You can also see a food and drink listing here (local), and as Mell pointed out, it’s really cool that they clearly have vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and commonly allergic ingredient logos besides the food offerings.
I was aware that this was coming up, and had planned to make my way down at some point to partake in it (despite the costs), but the exact day I was going down was up in the air. I didn’t decide to go down until basically an hour before I actually went down, and I lumped it together with a trip to the optometrist (I went there, which was in the Southgate Mall near my house, and then took the train down to Churchill Station, 9 stops away. It didn’t even cost me a ticket, thanks to my University employee pass. This festival was located in Sir Winston Churchill Square, basically next to the station. I had been there last year and for various other things before so I was reasonably familiar with the place.
Tickets were bought on-site, and I had read that they didn’t accept cash, so I brought a credit card along. The couple in front of me when I was lined up actually ran into this issue because they tried to pay with cash and the ticket clerk shook her head. They had to use their card in the end. Anyway, I went with 20 tickets for $35, which was the same amount I bought two years ago, so the cost of each ticket here below, for sakes of valuing the food, is $1.75.
I also had a resolution to avoid sampling the Asian food here, since that’s the cuisine culture that I’m most familiar with already. It would be pointless to come here and try them again when I already know I like most of it!
Day 1 (Jul 22)
It was really overcast when I arrived, with the temperature clocking in at about a windy 15 degrees Celsius, and me in a short-sleeved blouse, a knee-length skirt, and toting along an umbrella together with my usual sling bag. I loved the threatening weather, though I knew from the forecast that it was doomed to rain (though there was an on and off severe thunderstorm watch earlier in the morning that had vanished). And indeed, it started to drizzle, and then rain quite sprightily, 15 minutes after I arrived there. Still, I arrived at about 1:20 pm and stayed until about 2:20 pm. I know food pictures are expected here, but I am going to start with some location pictures to get them out of the way.
There was no one official entrance to the place since it was an open area and there was no admission fee. This was pretty much the “entrance” if you came from the LRT or the most important bus stop in the area though:
The ticket booth was that lady in the pink coat in the middle of the picture. One of something like eleven ticket booths.
These are some pictures of the area before it rained:
I really liked the scenery behind the stalls and the buildings surrounding the festival,, particularly the Art Gallery of Alberta looming over part of it:
It kind of gave the stalls and festival a feel of being nestled and tucked away and part of the community, rather than an event being held here that had nothing to do with the actual location. Due to the rain, and the rather long duration of the event, there also weren’t a lot of people here even though it was basically lunch time. Which meant that none of the queues for the food stalls were long at all, if there was even a queue.
I had asked my friends in my main Discord server for suggestions on what to get, so this first day was basically trying out some of the items they had suggested. For starters, this was a Kynji suggestion:
Food Item #1
Stall: #38, Afghan Chopan Kebab
Food: Kabuli Pulao (2 tickets, $3.50)
This was really, really good. Long rice grains with potato and some sort of meat on top, and some carrot strips in there too. I had worried about the raisins bit as I don’t like dried raisins in rice, but there weren’t any in this dish, and I was happy about that.
Food Item #2
Stall: #1, Baba’s Bistro
Food: Nalysnyky (2 tickets, $3.50)
This one was.. it was nice, but the portion was pitiably small, and it basically tasted like perogies with some sort of cream on top, to the point that I wasn’t sure they hadn’t just given me the potato perogies instead, heh. Or at least, it tasted more like what I imagined a perogy to be (despite the shape and cheese) than what I imagined a crepe to be. Either way, with the portion size, this dish didn’t even last 1 minute.
Food Item #3
Stall: #E, Native Delights
Food: Bison Pemmican Bites (2 tickets, $3.50)
I mean, I’m not sure what I was expecting, I knew what pemmican was and all, but Jah summed up this one well when he said in Discord that “Thanks for the tree bark. I guess.” They were hard but not tasteless, and not bad either, just not something I want a full meal of. Parts of it reminded me of Chinese pork jerky (aka bak kwa) but thicker, darker, and far less tasty/juicy.
Food Item #4
Stall: #38, Afghan Chopan Kebab (same as Food Item #1 above)
Food: Bolani (3 tickets, $5.25)
This one was actually pretty nice, although I’m not sure there was enough of it to be worth $5.25. However, the crust was crispy and the potato inside of it was fairly great. As was the sauce! It didn’t come with a fork or napkin this time, perhaps because it was my second trip to the store, but I had extra napkins by this point from previous stores anyway. It actually kind of reminded me of Chinese or Indian curry puffs, without the curry, and much, much flatter (and thus with a lot less filling too). And those are a lot cheaper than these, sooo.
The rain had been pouring for 45 minutes at this point and showed no signs of abating, so I decided to head on back home and come back to use the rest of my tickets the next day. I had eleven tickets left, and the tickets looked like this:
Day 2 (Jul 23)
So, overnight, I read on the news that one of the stalls on the site suffered a fire yesterday a couple hours after I left. This is unfortunate, although I believe there was thankfully just one injury and it wasn’t life-threatening. What was also unfortunate was that I did not have a picture of the stall before it burnt down, as I do remember vividly noting that food truck stall for its name, Snickerdoodles, when I walked by it on Day 1. As part of a streak of chronicler inspiration that hit me, I took a picture of every single stall today as I walked around the venue, and the one I have of that stall is a burnt one rather than an open and manned one, since it was closed today. I’m not sure if this is a good thing because it’s a rare picture, or a bad thing because I don’t have a complete picture set of the open stalls. Anyway, that mini-gallery will be at the end of this section.
The sun was out in force today and thus there were tons more people than yesterday. It was busy! And annoying! So many people lazily standing in front of stalls and making it hard for me to capture good pictures of them. I was there from about 12:50 pm to about 2:40 pm today, Here are some of the better general pictures from today’s crop.
Lots of people. And a dog. There was a roaming ticket cart that wasn’t there yesterday as well, and the walk-in fountain adjacent to the venue was open at full blast today, with plenty of kids (and adults) splashing around in it.
Anyway, I compiled a list of foods that I was going to try to eat this time, so I knew exactly what to get today and didn’t spend much time hemming and hawwing. The food stall pics are all down below in the next section, so here are just the food pics and their associated dire costs. I also bought 5 additional tickets, at a cost of $9, but I’ll still consider each meal ticket to have cost $1.75 instead of $1.80.
Food Item #5
Stall: #H, Quick Meal Mediterranean Food
Food: Dolma (2 tickets, $3.50)
Two tiny portions of rice-like filling wrapped in some sort of veggie frond, with something resembling tartar sauce on the side. It was unremarkable, though the sauce was nice. Was this really worth $3.50? I actually liked the feel of the dish, the tightly-packed leaf around the rice was easy to pick up and eat, but without the sauce it was rather tasteless (though I might be biased as I was probably comparing it to Chinese rice dumplings and how tasty those can be), and the sample size was even worse than the nalysnyky yesterday, about as bad as the pemmican bites. Sample sizes like these are what cause many people in the general public to think of the Taste of Edmonton as a bit of a scam, I think. I mean, everything here is obviously some degree of overpriced already, but this was particularly stingy. Some of the stores seem to be in it to see how little they can get away with to maximize profit.
Food Item #6
Stall: #7, Normand’s Restaurant
Food item: Bison Carpaccio (3 tickets, $5.25)
As I approached the store, a lady came up and cut in front of me, and then proceeded to gush to the friendly stall owner about how good the curry cream prawns on rice (4 tickets, 3 prawns), that she had just polished off, were. He was very happy about that and yelled to the general audience as she left, something along the lines of, “Ladies and gentlemen, another satisfied customer!” I laughed at this. When I made my order, he called this dish “meat candy” and promised that I would like this too. I’m not sure if I’ve eaten bison before, maybe as part of some burger (I know I’ve eaten elk burgers, but I don’t remember bison), and I’m not sure how to describe the taste (except that it was rather “smoky”, but not in a bad way), but it was a nice contrast with the vegetables on the side, and I think they went well together. He was right, and I liked this one quite a bit.
Food Item #7
Stall: #4, The Canadian Brewhouse
Food: Face Off Fried Pickles (2 tickets, $3.50)
See what a fair portion for 2 tickets looks like? These were whole pickles wrapped in a fried crust. And they were delicious. The taste was definitely really strong, and I could still feel a bit of its overwhelming taste when I burped an hour or so later just before I left. Anyway, the Canadian flags on the toothpicks were cute too, though parts of the dish were a little crumbly and were in the midst of breaking down. I did realize that I should have just brought my own spoon and tupperware (as a dish) along.
Food Item #8
Stall: #31, Koutouki
Food: Spanakopita with Tzatziki (3 tickets, $5.25)
This one was difficult to have an opinion on. It wasn’t bad, but they didn’t provide any utensils to eat it with, and the baked bread was really crumbly and rapidly disintegrated. I think I had to throw away about 1/6 of the dish because it had literally crumbled into little bits by that point, and was all mixed in with the sauce, and I had no way of consuming it that didn’t involve lots of licking of the baking paper, and getting sauce all over my nose and face. I’m sure it was probably a fine dish, perhaps even good, but it was so difficult to eat that I couldn’t even tell you what was in the dish since that’s not what I remembered about it in the end. And due to that, I didn’t feel like it was worth anywhere near $5. I don’t think it’s a good food dish to offer in a fair like this.
Food Item #9
Stall: #A, Irie Foods Xpress
Food: Escovitch (King Fish) with Rice (3 tickets, $5.25)
I’m not sure I could distinguish this particular fish from any other generic fish out there, particularly the fishes often found in Indian rice dishes. In addition, the rice was quite dry, falling short of my expectation in that regard. Despite that though, this dish was pretty good overall, and I took quite a long time working through it (well, that was partly because they gave me a fork to eat rice with so the end bit involved a lot of slowly scooping up little grains of rice at a time) and savouring it. I didn’t like it as much as the Afghan rice dish from yesterday, but I did still like it overall. However, the fish was full of small bones, i pulled out six and probably swallowed a few more as well, so this goes without saying but this is definitely not suitable for really young or really old people or anyone that might be in any danger of choking on the bones.
Food Item #10
Stall: #E, Native Delights ((same as Food Item #3 above)
Food: Traditional Fried Bannock (3 tickets, $5.25)
It came with an optional helping of jam, and I took it. As for the dish itself, well.. that little ball would struggle to be justified as being worth 2 tickets, never mind 3, especially because it was basically a small ball of lightly fried bread with nothing special inside. That’s what the jam was for. The bannock itself was extremely plain and unremarkable. It was my last dish though, using up my last 3 tickets, so at least it went down quick, so that I could rush home afterwards once I noticed the time.
Gallery of Stalls
Before I link the gallery, here’s a map of the venue.
The stalls aren’t named on the map, but are in the digital guide linked at the very start, and most (not all) had a stall number on the banner in front of the store as well. The back of the map looked like this:
I guess that earlier dog was there illegally after all. I liked the tongue-in-cheek humour in this, and indeed managed to barely refrain from any extreme shenenigans and anarchy. This should have been posted at more entrances though. I think this was the only signboard in the entire place and it was tucked away on one end of the venue.
There were some interesting quirks in the stall numbering, like there was no stall #41 on the map, as well as no #16 to #20. What happened to them? They get sucked away to an alternate dimension? It’s so weird that they have things like stall #13, and the alphabet stalls for the food trucks, which were segregated and relegated to the very ends of the stall rows as though they were second-class citizens (they even have a stall I and a stall L, along with a stall 1, which is another no-no), and yet they have seemingly inexplicable gaps in the numbering. One of the Canada Dry booths obviously took the spot where #41 was supposed to go, and yet the other one didn’t take the place of any numbering. This is inconsistent!
Anyhow, here are pictures of every single food stall in the event, and a few other miscellaneous stalls in the event. They’re arranged in numerical order, followed by the alphabet ones, and then the misc stalls at the end.
Of note was stall 34, Irie Foods, where one of the stall attendants had randomly come out and did the splits on the ground in front of me, earning herself whooping laughter from the other attendants in that stall. She was extremely flexible! I sadly missed that exact moment on camera, and only got a shot of her on the way to standing up again from the ground.
The other one was stall 44, Hoang Long Rice and Noodle, where the shot also captured a woman and a young child playing with and smelling the flowers in one of the giant flower pots lining the path along that section of the venue. That was a sweet moment!
And then there was stall B, the Snickerdoodles stall near the end of the gallery, which was cordoned off and visibly damaged. Something to the tune of $65,000 damage to the trailer and another $10,000 to the contents, according to the news article above.
Finally, at the end, there were a few unnumbered stalls (why??) — the alcohol and soft drink ones (but the lemonade stalls were numbered!), followed by a few sponsor booths. I picked up a brochure from that farmer’s market booth, and it turns out to be an indoor market, open 3 days a week, located not very far from my house at all, about a 25 minute bus ride or 45 minute journey by foot. I should visit that one of these days…
It definitely wasn’t worth it overall from a monetary efficiency point of view, as the food ranged from very overpriced to slightly overpriced. I didn’t even go for any of the 4-ticket foods or higher, or I’d certainly have complained about it even more. The experience still was worth it though, and I basically sampled a whole bunch of cuisines that I never would have tasted otherwise. I didn’t spend anything on travel to this event, and there was no tax, so I spent exactly $44 overall on those ten sample dishes (25 tickets).
I did notice that if I liked something from a stall, I probably would like anything else from the same stall as well, and if I disliked something from a stall or considered it overpriced, then everything else from the stall would follow suit. This conclusion is strongly supported from my sample size of two (Afghan and Native stalls). Also, definitely avoid anything roughly shaped like a spring roll, if getting one’s money worth is a concern at all.
My favourite stall by far and away was the Afghan one, to the point that I’d consider them visiting them if I was in the area, or ordering takeout if I found out that they were within delivery range of my house from a delivery app that didn’t also price gouge with extra “fees”. I loved the rice, liked the bolani, and would most likely have loved the mantu dumplings as well, I just didn’t want to order all three things from one stall as I valued variety.