Food festivals in Calgary and Edmonton can be gateways into exotic culinary territories.
The first time I bit into a prairie oyster – a cooked bull testicle – it set me back on my cowboy-booted heels. Maybe it was the hot sauce. Bottlescrew Bill’s Pub in downtown Calgary holds a Testicle Festival for several weeks around the time of the 10-day annual Calgary Stampede, held in early July. I was getting a taste of local culture and it had a fiery kick.
Well, now I could cross that delicacy off my bucket list. The testicles were arranged on the white plate in a dainty row. The chef had corn frittered them, so there was a bit of crunch on the outside hiding the sponginess on the inside. It tasted a bit like liver. Ranchers would pan fry them over the same fire used to heat branding irons. The restaurant uses modern preparation and cooking techniques, but even so, I felt like a maverick cowboy.
City Culinary Events Offer Global Tastes
While you can discover local dishes, the food festivals in Alberta’s two largest cities also offer international flavours year-round.
Taste of Edmonton can draw more than 500,000 people when it runs each July in the city’s Sir Winston Churchill Square. The banana bread pudding that sits in a small lake of caramel sauce is delicious, but don’t try it right after the deep fried pickles with tzatziki. There are themed gastronomic adventures such as Taste of the Brewery, as well as daring culinary workshops. Deboning pig heads, anyone?
Taste of Calgary held outside the city’s downtown Eau Claire Market offers visitors a mix of samples from some of the best restaurants and beverage companies. You move among vendors at stations and there are tables where you can sit and munch, enjoying live entertainment. I’ve savoured the crispy shrimp dumplings from Globefish and in the beverage garden, Dead Reckoning Royal IPA from local Big Rock Brewery.
There is also The Big Taste Foodie Festival in Calgary, held in March at downtown venues. It features 76 eateries and 13 foodie events with everything from bowling tournaments to cocktail dinners. I love this festival, having dined on scrumptious Tandoori Tiger Prawns at Mango Shiva Indian Kitchen along Stephen Avenue.
Sip, Dine and Relax
The Rocky Mountain Wine and Food Festival is the largest of its kind in Alberta. It runs traditionally in October, in Edmonton and Calgary. If you like to mingle, this is the place. There is a Grand Tasting Hall in each city where visitors can try wines, single malt and blended scotch, micro-brewed beers and ports that range from bargains to luxuries. Wine and food experts are available for questions and there have been seminars such as cheese tasting.
Tasty Cultural Diversions
Cultural festivals offer delicacies in tents and stalls that can take you off the beaten track. Nibble on Africana ‘s Nairobi Bhajia (slices of fried potatoes) at the celebration of African music and culture at Afrikadey! Try Caribbean inspired food at Carifest. Both events run in Calgary during August.