- Food and Cooking
2012 Taste of Edmonton
A world of flavours!
Taste of Edmonton is my favourite of the Edmonton summer festivals, and the one we look forward to the most. It grows every year, so there's always something new to try as well as old favourites for a yearly treat. Dozens of food and drink vendors showcase some of the best ethnic and local foods available in our adopted city.
2012 had a few new things to offer, including a Curb Your Hunger section just for food trucks and the Atco Gas Cook Off, featuring teams of chefs and food bloggers showing off their skills.
Warning! You may not want to read this while hungry!
The following photos are taken by me using a Nikon D80 with an 18-55mm lens. All photos have been resized and cropped, with most having some minor adjustments to lighting.
How to Get There
If you're planning to take in the festival, the first order of business is getting there. All the action takes place at Churchill Square in the heart of downtown.
Unlike other events, it must be noted that for this one, you have to leave your dogs at home (service dogs excepted, of course).
Driving: If you're driving in, I'll warn you right off the top; there's not a lot of parking in downtown Edmonton, though there are a number of parkades and parking lots to choose from in the area. I would recommend any of them over the parking meters, unless you expect to stay only a short time. If possible, leave your vehicle elsewhere.
Bus: The area is a major transit hub, with dozens of buses from all over the city eventually making stops either right in the area, or within a block or two. Edmonton has a pretty decent transit system, and many of the buses are wheelchair accessible as well.
LRT: Edmonton's Light Rail Transit has a station directly below Churchill Square, as well as several other stations nearby. There are some stations with Park and Ride lots, where you can leave your vehicle parked for free while taking the train, which is a great option for visitors driving in from out of town. All trains are wheelchair accessible. The LRT stations also have ticket vending machines.
Walking: Of course, there is always your feet! If you are visiting Edmonton, there are a lot of hotels in the downtown area, suitable for a range of budgets. There are so many things to see and do in the area, it's well worth it to find a place to stay downtown, leave your vehicle at the hotel, and take a walk. I've lived in or near the downtown core for six years at the time of this writing, and I'm still stumbling on new and interesting places during our frequent walks!
Our Plan of Action
After years of taking in the festival, this year the girls and I decided to be more methodical about the whole thing! We walked through the festival a couple of times before taking part, making sure to pick up a Site Map and some tickets.
Tickets are used instead of cash. Before the festival begins, they can be purchased in advance at Tix on the Square. The tickets cost $1 each and come in sheets of 30 (to keep up to date, visit the festival's website). If you purchase them before the festival starts, there is a 10% discount. Once the festival starts, you can still buy them by the sheet at Tix on the Square, where you can buy them using debit or credit, however there are many ticket booths scattered around the square where you can buy as many or as few tickets as you wish, cash only. Mobile ATMs are also brought in so no one has to go hunting for a machine if they run out of cash.
Since there would be three of us, we got three sheets of tickets. Then the girls and I went over the menu and, using colour coded highlight markers, marked off which dishes were on the "must try" list, then the "new things we really want to try" and finally a "old favourites" list. We knew we wouldn't likely hit all of them, but knowing how crowded things can get, this would allow us to split up and find the exact places we wanted to try, and spend as little time as possible going through the crowds! We also planned to start right at opening time, 11am, to get there before the lunch rush.
We split our taste testing over two day, arriving just at 11am. Some places didn't manage to open right on time, but it worked out. My younger daughter, who hates crowds, volunteered to hold a table for us - places to sit and eat become hard to come by, very quickly! My older daughter and I would decide who was going where and getting what, then we parted way. I brought my camera along to take photos of the vendor tents (I missed one, unfortunately), then when we got back with the food, I would quickly take photos, then we'd start tasting. I had a notepad as well, and we even used a rating system this year, with a best possible combined rating of 15.
Things didn't always turn out as planned. Some places weren't where they were supposed to be, according to the map. Others were out of what we wanted when we got there. We had more places we wanted to check out on our list then we had a budget for, so if one thing didn't work out, there was something else on the list waiting to be tried.
There were some places we made no effort to go to, not because there was anything wrong with them, but because we were already familier with them and their food. The first day was a day for trying new things. The second day was to indulge our favourites, as well as anything else that caught our attention.
More than Food
A Taste of Edmonton isn't just food tents, of course!
There are actually three other "taste of" tents for the adults to enjoy. As my younger daughter is only 16, we have yet to take any of them in.
The largest and most popular of these is A Taste of Beer, which shared space with A Taste of Spirits. Some of this year's offerings includes Aprikat, Brewberry and Robson Street Hefeweizen among the beers and 5 Alive Dangle and Bellini Slush among the spirits. The seating for these areas are outdoors, where tipplers can see and enjoy live the live stage entertainment as well.
A Taste of Wine has its own tent in another area, with most of its seating indoors. Their menu was listed in categories for Best Buy (4 tickets), Very Good (5 tickets) and Outstanding (6 tickets) with a rather extensive selection.
New this year was A Taste of Beverages; an area of vendor tents just for non-alcoholic drinks, such as a variety of coffees, bubble tea and more. For those less adventurous in their beverage tastes, drink vending machines were also available around the square.
Sadly, the girls and I had other things on our calendar and missed the Atco Gas Cook Off. Atco Gas provided a kitchen for competitions that took place over two days, including Best Food Truck Entrée and "Cooking with the STars" BBQ Cook-off.
Would you like a side of art with that?
Along with the live entertainment and other events, there are also a few talented artists set up as well - a great time to check out their diverse styles and perhaps bring something new home. Or perhaps a temporary tattoo is more your thing!
Are you a foodie?
Do you like events like this, and trying all kinds of new and different cuisines?
The Main Event!
Our rating system, for a maximum total of 15
5 - Astronomically, knock your socks off, AWESOME!!!
4 - Really good, but our socks are still on our feet.
3 - Meh. Mediocre. Not bad, by any means, but our socks just yawned a bit.
2 - Okay. Edible. Enjoyable, even, but our socks didn't even give a wiggle.
1 - Bad. Enough to make our socks cringe a bit.
- Dishes so bad, they could only rate a negative, sending our socks hiding in our shoes to tremble in fear and trepidation.
Whiskey and Dark Chocolate Ribs - The Westin Edmonton - Share Restaurant
The Westin is a new addition to the festival this year, and I was really anticipating this one. I must throw in a disclaimer: I LOVE ribs! They are one of my favourite foods. So is dark chocolate. This one was sure to be a winner!
And it was. The meat was fall-off-the-bone tender and tasty. The coleslaw was fresh and crunchy, mildly complimenting the richness of the meat.
None of us could taste the chocolate or whiskey, though. Excellent, but to be honest, the ribs I make myself at home are better.
All three of us gave it a solid rating of 4.
Total rating: 12
Maple Bacon Poutine - Hudsons Canadian Tap House
For those of you unfamiliar with poutine, it is an iconic French Canadian dish that's enjoyed all across Canada. The best poutine that all other poutines are compared to is from Montreal, though there is certainly some tough competition elsewhere.
So what is poutine? French fries, cheese curds and gravy. Some add other ingredients, but basically, that's it. It may not sound like much, but a good poutine is heavenly.
A bad poutine, however, is a crime against all things wholesome and wonderful.
We like our poutine, and when we read that magical sounding combination of "bacon" and "poutine," this was definitely at the top of our list of new dishes to try.
Did it live up to our expectations?
Unfortunately, no, not really. My younger daughter found it very sticky, really good with a hint of maple. She gave it a 4 1/2. My older daughter found it so salty, she couldn't taste anything else and couldn't eat more then a taste. She gave it a 2. As for myself, I also found it very salty, and also very ordinary. I expected more. I gave it a 3.
Total rating: 9 1/2
Shrimp, Cucumber and Herb Crepe Wrap - The Creperie
This was a new menu item for this year, and none of us were very sure what to expect of it. I'm not a big seafood fan (except for expensive things, like lobster!). I found it nice and fresh with good textures, but it wasn't my thing. I gave it a solid 3. My older daughter loves seafood. She liked the textures as well, especially for the crepe, and found it mild tasting and good. She gave it a 3 1/2. My younger daughter liked the "cool" taste of it and found it okay. Another solid 3.
Total rating: 9 1/2
Prime Rib Stuffed Mini-Yorkshire Pudding - On the Rocks
I have to admit, when I saw this on the list, I was really excited. I love prime rib, and I love Yorkshire pudding. How could it go wrong?
How could it, indeed!
My younger daughter had the first taste, and her reaction was to immediately cringe and gag. She found it disgusting; spongy and watery. Her reaction is why the "-" got added to the rating list! My older daughter gave it a taste and she, too, found the pudding watery, spongy and tough. The meat was very good, though, so she gave it a 3. They finished off the first one in the process of tasting, so it was with great trepidation that I reached for the second one to try.
I liked it. The juices tasted great soaked into the pudding, and the meat was tender and delicious. Surprised, the kids gave it a try, too. The second one was actually much better then the first. I gave it a 4.
What we figure is that this one really should have been tasted first. Had it been eaten first, still fresh and hot, the juices would not have had time to make the pudding so spongy.
Total rating: 6
Bacon Bomb Slider - Smokehouse BBQ
This was our first taste from the new Curb Your Hunger food trucks, and another one we were pretty excited to try. After all, it had the magic word in there: bacon! I've seen the Smokehouse BBQ truck around downtown, and as a lover of all things meat, especially BBQ, I've been really wanting to give them a try!
Unfortunately, this is another one that didn't live up to expectations. My younger daughter found it a touch spicy for her tastes, and found it didn't have much bacon. It was good, but not something she'd want to order again. She gave it a solid 3. My older daughter thought it was all right, but a bit too sweet for her personal taste. Another 3. I found it good; nice blend of flavours and textures. For something called the Bacon Bomb Slider, however, I found myself asking, "where's the bacon?" Another solid 3.
Total rating: 9
Golden Alaska Roll with Sweet Cajun Maho - Zen Sushi & Grill
Zen Sushi & Grill
The girls and I are fairly recent converts to the joys of maki. My younger daughter and I aren't quite as brave as my older daughter, who loves her raw fish, but maki is a safe bet for all three of us, and as a new item available this year, we had to give it a try.
None of us expected to see deep fried maki, however! I found it very odd to eat maki that's warm! It was crispy, which I liked, and the cajun mayo was nice, but it didn't exactly blow me away. An enjoyable 3 1/2 from me. My older daughter enjoyed it more. She liked the texture and the sauce as well; not her preference, but good. She gave it a 4. My youngest daughter gave it a mere "not bad" and rated it a 3.
Total rating: 10 1/2
Deep Fried Pickles with Tzatziki - The Canadian Brewhouse
This patriotic number (Angus Gold Steak Bites with Steak Sauce also came with a little flag) was a new item we had to try, even though we've had deep fried pickles before. They were from another restaurant, so we could compare them somewhat.
My younger daughter found it "very pickly" and declared it a nice, good snack food. She gave it a 4. My older daughter also enjoyed it, though she found the breading slightly oilier then she was used to. Another 4. I found them juicier then expected, probably because they were cut pieces rather then the whole pickles I'd tried before, and found them very tasty. I'd say they were better then the other place we'd had them at. Another solid 4 from me.
Total rating: 12
Pork Belly Sandwich on Baby Bun with Carrot and Daikon - Drift
Another one from the food trucks, the description of this one intrigued us. I was looking forward to trying it, but had no idea what to expect.
My younger daughter quite liked it, calling dibs on the remainder after we'd all had a taste. She gave it an enthusiastic 4. My older daughter also liked it. She found it a bit cumbersome, but the combination of sweet, salty and crispy was worth it. Another 4. I enjoyed the crisp textures as well, though it was slightly greasier then I expected. That was a good thing, flavour-wise! Another solid 4.
Total rating: 12
Fish Sandwich - The Act
This is our last taste from the food trucks, and one of the most expensive at 6 tickets (the only other item we got that cost 6 tickets were the ribs).
When it comes to fish, we're all over the place. My youngest daughter doesn't like fish at all, I tolerate it and my oldest daughter loves fish. When my younger daughter took the first taste, she was actually quite surprised by how good she found it. She still could only give it at 3 1/2, though. My older daughter, on the other hand, really enjoyed it. Not quite enough to give it a 5, though. She gave it a 4 1/2, our highest rating of the day. Me? I enjoyed it as well and felt it was a really good "comfort food." I rated it a 4.
Total rating: 12
Hungarian Sausage on Garlic Roll with Sauerkraut - Bistro Praha
We had tried and enjoyed a Hungarian sausage dish last year, so I was looking forward to this new menu item. Unfortunately, it didn't quite compare.
When my younger daughter gave it a try, she found the sauerkraut nasty and horribly sour. The sausage tasted like a basic hoagie, but she liked the bread. She gave it a 3. My older daughter felt the sauerkraut went well with the sausage, though the sausage itself, she found a bit dry. She found the bread pretty basic. It was good enough for her to rate a respectable 3 1/2. Me, I was unimpressed. Good, but nothing special. The bread I found to be rather greasy, as though it was pan toasted in oil or fake butter. It was still good enough to rate a 3.
Total rating: 9 1/2
Peach Puff Pastry Melba - Zinc
By this time, we were ready for our first desert item! It looked very pretty, too.
My younger daughter was the first to give it a try. She found each of the items rather bland on their own, but they did very well together. She gave it a solid 3. My older daughter round it really good, and worth a rating of 4 1/2. I liked it as well. Nice and light, and not too sweet. Well worth a rating of 4.
Total rating: 11 1/2
Pear Pie with Whipped Cream and Caramel Sauce - Chef's Grill & Bar
Our second desert item, and last taste test of the day - by now we were feeling pretty full!
As usual, my younger daughter got the first taste. We knew we were on to something when she was rendered speechless and started melting onto the table. Once she regained her composure, she gave it an enthusiastic rating of 5! My older daughter also waxed eloquent about it, but it didn't quite have that died-and-gone-to-heaven effect on her. It was close, though, with a rating for 4 1/2. I, too, found it really excellent, with a wonderful combination of flavours. Again, not quite enough to knock my socks off, but well worth a rating of 4 1/2, making this dish the winner of the day.
Total rating: 14
Green Onion Cake - Hong Kong Bakery
Day two was our day to enjoy our familiar favourites, and green onion cakes are one of the tried and true.
We'd haven't had one from Hong Kong Bakery in a long time, though, so while it's an old favourite, it was also a new taste test for us. All three of use found it good, but not as good as others we've tried. That brought our rating down to 3 1/2 from my younger daughter, a 3 from my older daughter, and a 3 1/2 from me. It's the sort of thing we'd get again, but not if one of the other places we've had them at is available.
Total rating: 10
Vegetable Tempura - Korean Village Restaurant
This is one of those things we like to get every year. It's not the best tempura we've encountered, but a solid favourite and a satisfying dish.
My younger daughter was not as thrilled with it, but then she's just not as big a fan of tempura veggies in general - probably because there's someplace else she likes a lot better - giving it a 3. My older daughter likes her tempura vegetables a lot more, and she enjoyed it enough to give it a 4. I find it a good comfort food, giving it a decent 3 1/2.
Total rating: 10 1/2
Deep Fried Wonton with Crab Meat & Cream Cheese - Panda Hut Express
This is it.
This is the dish we compare all others to! When festival season starts and we see the Panda Hut Express tent going up, we can hardly wait! We don't order in very often, so these summer events are the only time of year we get them, and oh, my!!! are they worth the wait!
The deep fried wonton is nice and crisp, wonderfully complementing the creamy, savoury filling. The filling is pure bliss. Flavour perfection. All three of use gave it an enthusiatic 5, making it the highest rated dish of the festival for us.
Total rating: 15
Wasabi Beef on a Bun - Hawkeyes Too
This was something my older daughter and I had tried last year (my younger daughter opted to stay home last year), and we both really loved it, so we looked forward to having it again. I am extremely sensitive to spicy heat in foods, but I love the flavours of them, so I'm always on the look out for something I can actually eat, and this is one of the few that make the grade.
It was the first time for my younger daughter to try it, though, and she was not particularly impressed. It was good, to be sure, and she enjoyed her taste of it, giving in a rating of 3. My older daughter really enjoyed it, making making it worthy of a 4. As for me, I found the meat tender and juicy and flavourful, but to my surprise, I found the bun rather dry. That knocked my rating down, but it was still worth a decent 3 1/2.
Total Rating: 10 1/2
Calamari with Lemon Garlic Sauce - La Pasta Tratorria
This one was actually not on our list at all, but when another item on our list fell through, this one replaced it.
Calamari is one of those touch and go foods; either it's done really well, or.... Not. This dish was quite good. My younger daughter gave it a solid 3 1/2, and called dibs on the remainder. My older daughter liked it quite a bit, too, giving it another decent 3 1/2. Me? I really liked it a lot. The sauce in particular really made it for me. I have it a 4 1/2.
Total rating: 11 1/2
Chicken Tikka & Garlic Naan - New Asian Village
I have to admit, this dish had me worried. As I mentioned above, I don't do spicy food well, but I love the flavours. Which means I love Indian food, but can't usually eat it. Also, I can't eat peppers. I'm not allergic to them or anything. They just make my stomach turn, even though I love how they look and think they smell delicious. I love naan, however, so I figured I'd at least have that!
Much to my surprise, it wasn't anywhere near as spicy as I was afraid it would be. I was able to enjoy the chicken, which I found very tender and flavourful. The naan, meanwhile, was incredible. This left me giving a double rating - a 4 1/2 for the Chicken Tikka, but a 5 for the naan. Even my younger daughter, who was doubtful at the sight of the dish, gave it a great rating of 4 1/2. My older daughter wasn't as enthusiastic, though she still have it a very good 3 1/2 rating.
Total rating: 12 1/2 - 13 1/2
Roti Canai (Malay Bread) - Tropika Malaysian Cuisine
This is one we tried last year and really enjoyed, so I had to pick it up again this year.
The sauce it comes with is very spicy, but thankfully, just a tiny bit is enough to really make the already excellent flavour of the bread pop! My younger daughter was doubtful, but once she tried it, she gave it an enthusiastic 4. My older daughter doesn't quite get what I like about it, but she still gave it a decent 3 1/2. I gave it an enthusiastic 4 1/2.
Total rating: 12
Canada Maki - Kyoto Japanese Cuisine
Kyoto is one of our favourite restaurants, and they make the best tempura. We were actually wanting to get the tempura shrimp. Unfortunately, they were out at the time, so we got their Canada Maki, instead.
My older daughter and I had had it before, but my younger daughter discovered her liking for maki quite a bit later then we did. The last time she'd joined us for the festival, she had refused to try it because of the roe. This time, she was willing to give it a go, and ended up giving it a rating of 4 1/2! My older daughter loves her maki and knew what to expect. Unfortunately, for some reason, they were really messy and falling apart - perhaps they weren't rolled as tight as they should have been - which kind of took away from the experience. It still warrented a 4 from her. I love the stuff, messy or not, and gave it a 4 1/2.
Total rating: 13
Bacon Wrapped Scallops - Palace Banquets
There's that magic word again - bacon!
Despite my younger daughter and I not being big seafood fans, bacon wrapped scallops are an exception, and this is an item we get every year. It's absolute heaven! She and I both gave it a rating of 5. My older daughter, however, found the bacon on hers was very stringy, making it difficult to eat, bringing her rating down to a 4.
Total rating: 14
Chocolate Peanut Butter Truffle - La Past Trattoria
By this time, we were ready for desert, and our choices had more to do with how many tickets we had left. Truffles? Chocolate? Peanut butter? This one had to be good!
And it was. My younger daughter really enjoyed hers, giving it a 4. My older daughter isn't as big on sweets, though, and didn't like the texture as much. It was good, but for her, not worth more then a 3. I really loved it, though. The peanut butter makes it a lot chewier then a truffle usually is, but I found that a plus, not a minus. I have it a 4 1/2.
Total rating: 11 1/2
Chocolate Dolce Cake - Palace Banquets
Our last item of the day was one of the new menu items, and another from Palace Banquets.
It looked absolutely beautiful! So very tempting. When my younger daughter tried it, she practically melted in her seat. She absolutely loved it and gave it a rating of 5! My older daughter, who really doesn't do sweets much at all, also liked it a lot and gave it a 4. When I tried it, however, I was less enthusiastic. The flavour was nice, light and not too sweet, but something about the texture put me off. I could only give it at 3 1/2.
Total rating: 12 1/2
Would I recommend this event?
To make it short and sweet, yes, absolutely! I'm already looking forward to next year!
Yes to the shows and displays: For the sake of space, I barely mentioned any of this, but they are there, and they are good. There aren't a lot of either, since the food tents, plus the Taste of Wine, Beer and Spirirts areas, take up most of the space, but they are well worth taking the time to check out.
Yes to the food vendors: I can't speak for the areas that serve alcohol, but when it comes to the food, it's well worth it. Edmonton has a strong food scene, with excellent restaurants and chefs, and now a growing food truck scene as well. Here, you get to try out some of the finest, and it's a great way to discover new restaurants to check out later on.
About the only thing I'd consider a down side is the cost. Though we bought 3 sheets of tickets, we did end up buying another 10 tickets, which means that for the three of us, we spent $100 over two days - and that's without buying any beverages, alcoholic or otherwise. Yes, we got to try a lot of different things, but it can quickly add up. I think it's worth it as a once a year treat, though, and my girls seem to agree.
Is it worth coming to Edmonton for ?: If you're at all a foodie and thinking of doing some traveling in July, yes, I definitely think it would be worth heading to Alberta's capital to take in this festival.
A good problem to have...
Taste of Edmonton has become a victim of its own success!
After the 2015 festival, the city has asked organizers to find a new venue, as they have outgrown Churchill Square.
Keep an eye on http://tasteofedm.ca/ for info.
Are there similar festivals where you live? Feel free to tell us about it!