I haven’t been to Taste of Calgary in two years now, and wasn’t going to go this year for the same reasons that others may have about this event: it’s crowded, the food isn’t going to blow you away, and it’s pricey if you want to try many different things. Now as an introvert, a picky eater, and a frugal millennial with a big appetite, that’s three big checkmarks on the ‘do not go’ list. So why then, did I go this year?
- I enjoyed Taste of Edmonton last month and decided I should give Taste of Calgary another go.
- The weather is amazing this week and summer is almost over. 🙁
- I do stupid shit sometimes because I feel like it.
If you’re new to the city or have never gone, Taste of Calgary is a 4-day event at Eau Claire Plaza where restaurants will trade you sample-sized portions of food for tickets. Tickets are $1 each, with most dishes costing between 2-5 tickets. Diving in on opening day with the sun blazing at 33°C, this is what we spent our tickets on:
We got the Green Papaya Salad to start. The combination of shredded veggies, peanuts, fish sauce, lime, and chili was reminiscent of when you get to the end of eating Bun (Rice Vermicelli Noodles) and there’s a random mixture of bits and shreds soaked in sauce that has accumulated at the bottom of your bowl. If you turn that into a salad, this is what it would be. Not amazing, but not bad; it was a nice and refreshing on a hot day.
I was really excited for the yorkshire pudding, imagining a nice, crisp outside with a soggy, soaked, juicy inside. Unfortunately, this did not live up to that image. It may have been the temperature (or lack of), but this did not provide the savouriness nor richness that I was looking for. It was okay.
I’ve had the Kimchi Fried Rice at Watercress Express before, and it is easily one of the best fried rice dishes in the city. Adapted to a more Taste of Calgary appropriate format, this comes with boiled egg instead of a fried one, and you can get your choice of skewer (Sate Beef or Lemongrass Chicken) for only an extra ticket to make it a combo. I asked the girls that were serving which of the two skewers was their favourite, and they unanimously said the Beef so we went with that. The skewer had a good savouriness to it, while the hot sauce added a subtle sweetness to complete this dish. This was probably one of the better 5 ticket items of the event.
An item that appeared to be good value was the BBQ Sampler from Minas. This was probably the most popular item on their menu, and while everything was decent, I would say that it is comparable to other BBQ you may have had before at home or at a friend’s house. If you’re looking to sample some unique items at Taste of Calgary, this is probably not one of them. If you just want to have meat? Minas has got your back.
Eating this was like consuming a giant slice of fat. A very enjoyable, thick, crispy slice of fat. The steak sauce added an extra coating of flavour to the bacon, but I personally felt that it shines best on its own without the sauce.
Another dish filled with fatty pieces of goodness was the brisket burnt ends, also from vintage group. The burnt ends were soft and melty, drenched in a sweet, savoury BBQ sauce. This was worth the 3 tickets fo sho.
The fruit perogies from Heritage Bakery & Deli made Avenue Magazine’s list of 25 Best Things to Eat in Calgary for 2015, so this was definitely on my list of things to try at Taste of Calgary. I mean blueberry perogies? That sounds delicious! The one we had however, was underwhelming. It just wasn’t the warm pocket of fruitiness that it should’ve been, although I haven’t completely given up on them yet. I’ll grab a bag of these from Heritage at some point and give them a go at home before I discount them. I did, however feel that 1 perogy for 2 tickets was too few, and that 2 perogies for 2 tickets would’ve been fair. Perhaps 2 perogies for 3 tickets if we were to really haggle about it.
We saved the best for last, and the Caramelized BBQ Pineapple from Pampa was our favourite dish from Taste of Calgary. We’ve tried the one at Bolero before, and Pampa’s is just as delicious! Juicy, sweet, and grilled to a perfect golden brown with a coat of cinnamon, this is a must have item.
I forgot to take a picture, but one of our favourite items from Taste of Calgary was actually free! Make sure to drop by the Armstrong Cheese trailer for a sample of the Green Apple and Red Pepper Jelly Grilled Cheese Sandwich. This is one of the best combinations of ingredients for a grilled cheese I’ve had! Other freebie samples at the event include Diaryland Milk and Pure Leaf Teas.
Tables were relatively occupied, but it also wasn’t difficult to secure one as people are just using them to have a dish or two before moving onto their next samples. Now that all of that is said and done, you might be wondering.. what’s the verdict? Linda Hoang’s recap of her Taste of Edmonton experience addresses a lot of the complaints about food festivals such as this one, and I have to say that there’s a lot of arguments that I agree on after giving it some thought. Reading her piece has definitely changed my attitude, and as a result I was able to enjoy the event for what it’s supposed to be. I’m going to attempt to summarize and add onto Linda’s points with our experience at Taste of Calgary, in a much less elegant manner than she is able to provide:
- Yes, there’s going to be a lot of fried, grilled, and fatty items, but you’re not heading to Taste of Calgary with the expectation of having a hearty meal or a lean salad.
- For $20 (which is probably a reasonable budget for this event), you can get a nice, quiet sit-down meal at a restaurant, complete with service, air conditioning, and without the crowd. However, that’s not what an outdoor summer food festival aims to provide; they’re completely different things. If anything, you’d want a food festival to be busy, wouldn’t you?
- Not every dish is going to be the most amazing display of culinary excellence that enters your mouth, and that’s okay. I don’t think most people are expecting to be blown away by food served instantaneously on a paper tray from a tent. Taste of Calgary is about sampling an assortment of cuisines and enjoying the summer weather in a festive, outdoor environment, which it achieves to do.
There’s going to be some hit or miss, but you can still have a great time at the festival if you go in with the goals of simply trying new things and enjoying the beautiful weather. Overall, we had a good experience and would love to return next year to try a new round of samples. Did you go to Taste of Calgary this year? Anything that we missed out on trying? Let us know your thoughts on the event!
Taste of Calgary
Eau Claire Plaza – Calgary, AB