A number of years ago I was down in Florida at EPCOT Centre (which stands for, as our driver let us know: Every Person Comes Out Tired) and they were having an international food and wine festival. For a few dollars, you could try different samples of foods and wines that were paired to match, representing a number of different countries. The prices were decent, some of the food was good, while some was terrible, but it was a neat way of trying different things.
The following year I realized that we had something similar, right here in Calgary – the Taste of Calgary food festival. The basic premise; you buy some tickets (this year they were a dollar each, though in the past I could have sworn that if you bought more tickets you got a price break) and then trade the tickets for individual items from different vendors. All of the vendors are local restaurants.
Last year (and the year before) one of the items I really wanted to have was sold out by the time we got there – so this summer we went much earlier – arriving close to 11am. When we got there it was fairly calm, but by the time we were settled and ready to get our tickets, it was busy!
It took me a while to get the photos off my iPhone, hence why this post is coming so late after the event itself!
So, what did we try?
Oven Roasted Potatoes with Tsatziki from Pegasus ( 2 tickets = 2$)
The potatoes were ok… a bit hard, a bit tough on the outside for a plastic fork (the tines bent!) and a styrofoam plate, but the tzadziki was AWESOME – lots of little pieces of cucumber, very fresh. I’ve had better potatoes from Opa though – though perhaps it’s because it had been sitting in the warming tray for too long? There were three potato wedges and a good helping of sauce.
Sushi combo from Sumo Lounge ( 5 tickets = 5$)
Not nearly as good as what they serve inside, and it was a bit fussy to try to balance the little container of sushi, the little container of soy sauce, and the little container of ginger, but still a cute little sushi sample. I found that their rice wasn’t as firm as I would like, but the fish tasted nice and fresh. This was a piece of tuna, a piece of salmon, and then four California rolls.
Fuji Scallop from Fuji Yama ( 5 tickets = 5$)
This is a fried chopped scallop with mayo, tobiko, and mandarin orange slices. We split this one, and although there wasn’t a lot there – I’m glad that we did. This would have been much nicer if the scallops had been raw instead of fried – they had a toughness, and lacked the fresh flavor that I prefer. The orange gave it a nice taste though. While I don’t think that I would order this – I did like the idea, and could see myself asking for this raw instead!
SoHo Gyozad from Soho Bar & Grill ( 5 tickets = 5$)
We split this one as well, and I kind of regret even bothering to begin with. The Gyoza were very perogie-like – very soft and dough-y. The filling might have been flavorful, but we wouldn’t have known it – because there was so much chili on the outside of the dumplings that I couldn’t taste any other flavor. This one left us NEEDING a drink of water or something, so from here we went inside and got something substantial to drink. This would be a definite NO if I were to go to SoHo…
Persian Ice Cream (Saffron-flavored) from Shiraz Persian Cuisine ( 2 tickets = 2$)
This was just a tiny sample of ice cream – but that was ok, because half way through I was tired of the flavor. It was ok, but nothing really special. It was one of those “oh, let’s try this, it’s different” kind of things – rather than something I could see myself getting again.
Thai Fresh Spring Roll from Delicious Thai ( 4 tickets = 4$)
After the hot Gyoza, we were ready for something cool and refreshing, so while my companion got a salad from Delicious Thai, I ordered the spring roll. It wasn’t a spring roll as I’d normally have it – in fact most of their dishes weren’t what we would have expected based on the name. Normally I’d call what I got a Salad Roll – with noodles, lettuce, cilantro, carrot, tofu, and a prawn wrapped up in a rice wrapper. They did have an interesting mint sauce for it though instead of the regular peanut sauce which was nice, albeit a bit sweet. I normally find that I can only eat two full-sized salad rolls – these were half-sized (and two of them) which was just right. Too much more and I would have been tired of them. I could have split this order and been happy too though.
Ginger Snapped & Bodacious Black Currant mead from Chinook Arch Meadery ( 3 tickets = 3$ each)
While I ordered the Ginger, my companion ordered the Black Currant, and frankly, I liked the black currant better. There was a slight ‘heaviness’ to the mead, though the flavors were pleasant and not overpowering. I could see both of these being very nice during a meal, though sipping them on their own (one only has so many hands!) I didn’t fully appreciate them.
Lemon drop shot from Dr. McGuillicuddy’s ( 3 tickets = 3$)
Inside the Cheers Garden (aka the beer tent) it was really hot, so I asked for my shot over crushed ice. It was cool and refreshing. Not much more to say really. The server was really nice and accommodating though!
Frozen Mud Pie from SoHo Bar and Grill ( 5 tickets = 5$)
We had seen this earlier, and weren’t ready for a whole piece each, so we split this one too – it was yummy, though I prefer it without peanuts, and my companion thought the crust was a bit too dry. Considering how hot it was – I think it was ok – to soft of a crust wouldn’t have held up well once the ice cream started to melt! I really liked this and would share it again. (A whole piece would probably be too much).
Mango Smoothie from Jugo Juice ( 3 tickets = 3$)
I’m not actually a big fan of these places – I find them overpriced. However, this was nice – but too much of the banana flavor, not enough of the slightly tart mango flavor I was aiming for.
There were a lot of additional vendors at the market this time around – there was a car display that was taking up a huge amount of room, and a number of other vendors were there giving out freebies (we got some Dove shower gel, and tree seeds) plus a few fashion/beauty vendors selling things. Some of them made sense, others didn’t. I find too often that big corporations come to these street festivals and seem to almost be intruding. You can always tell when others feel the same way by the big empty spaces in otherwise packed areas….
One complaint (and it’s the same one I’ve had for a few years now) – although there are lots of recycling bins for drink containers, there is nothing there for all of the plastic forks, plates, etc. Each year I make a mental note to bring my OWN dishes the next time around, but other than a water bottle – every year I forget. A reusable plate program with a rinse station would be awesome… or even just making all of the vendors use paper plates instead of styrofoam.
In some cases you get a LOT for your ticket, in other cases, you get very little. Generally speaking I’d say it’s mildly overpriced, but an interesting option if you want to try a new food but don’t want to commit. It’s also very social and active, which makes for a fun day or evening out. Nubian Express has what I can imagine is the best deal – last year I had something from them, and it was a large plate of food – this year their display looked equally as large.
Want to try it next year? Their website states that the next one will be Aug 16-19 2012!
I know it’s a bit late – but if you attended this past year’s Taste of Calgary, what was your favorite food vendor? Share with us in the comments below!