FOOD: A ‘taste’ of Edmonton is about right

Khazan’s butter-chicken-in-a-tent was tasty.

Some, not me, have seen fit in the past to deride A Taste of Edmonton as the River City’s Festival of Small Portions, a pay-to-play agglomeration of lean-to food factories cranking out small bites for ticket-wielding foodies clogging up a Sir Winston Churchill Square desperately in need of shade. But of course, that’s the point—to give the patron a varied and delectable range of lower-priced eating experiences, so that she may try lots of different ethnic fare, niches, novelties and thoughtful twists (and permit for one failed experiment involving something inadvisable and deep-fried).

In that spirit, I repaired to the sapid caravanserai know as A Taste of Edmonton of a weekday lunch hour, thinking I had given myself a reasonable headstart on the noon rush, only to find myself in the midst of a muggy jostle-palooza of erstwhile brown baggers and the curiously culinary trying to find the end of the line for Korean Village’s hurricane potato (4 tickets).

The grilled quail at Hoang Long was all sorts of skeletal fun.

In case you don’t know the rules, participation in A Taste of Edmonton entails the purchase of tickets for $1 each (GST included, the ticket boasts), which are then exchanged in varying quantities for comestibles at an ever-growing array of food stalls and, increasingly, food trucks. The task of the AToE-goer is to see that those tickets buy one a satisfying experience, where something like value for money (all things considered) is roughly achieved. The task I set myself was to see if I could make a reasonable lunch out of $20. The answer was a resounding “Sorta.”

I decided to build on a foundation of something reliably tasty and satisfying, a serving of Khazana’s butter chicken (5 tickets). Naturally it tastes a lot better at their restaurant and you can’t get Khazana’s fresh naan to go with it from their kiosk, but it’s A Taste of Edmonton. Let’s try to get in the spirit of the thing! Would it surprise you to know that Khazana does a serviceable butter chicken out of a tent? Rich, buttery, perfumed with whole spices and gently fiery, it pairs with a creamy mango lassi (3 tickets) for a no-tearing-on-the-dotted-line-necessary asking price of two rows of tickets. Once tickets start getting separated from their ranks, you end up with an orphan or two if you’re not careful.

….no, really. Lots and lots of bones. Tasted good, though…

It’s worth noting that Lingnan’s hot dry chicken – aka “crack chicken” – and Urban China’s ginger beef make for similarly reliable gut liner in generous portions over rice.

Next I approached Smokehouse BBQ’s towering food truck for a bacon bomb slider (4 tickets)—I didn’t know what it was, I didn’t need to see a picture, I only knew I wanted it.

That worked out in my favour. As a slider, it was on the smaller side, but inventively compiled. Instead of a beef patty, it was anchored with a slice of grilled Italian sausage, ‘smothered,’ as they say in the biz, with onions sautéed with bacon, topped with coleslaw and a drizzle of barbecue sauce. You can’t really go wrong with that ingredient set, can you?

Passing through the site the day before, I had become somewhat fixated on sampling Hoang Long’s grilled quail with pomegranate sauce (5 tickets). An absurd indulgence in unadorned meat—sometimes delivered on a stick—is characteristic of the festival, and the quail delivers a variant on the theme: a splayed bird torso latticed with bones and other inedible infrastructure, grilled to perfection. The squirt of pomegranate sauce is a bit abbreviated, but the quail itself is tender and juicy and deeply imbued with some wondrous, subtle marinade, though the ministrations I enacted extracting a reasonable quantity of the meat probably exceeded the bounds of dignity as far as public behaviour goes.

No burgers were hurt in the making of this sausage-based slider.

I was only 20 minutes into my lunch hour and down to 6 tickets. How should I spend them? A chicken samosa (4 tickets) from Guru? Bean sprout salad from Japanese Village (4 tickets)? Some toothsome cake of the lava or green onion variety?

For reasons unknown even to me, I went with Zen’s golden Alaska roll with Cajun mayonnaise (5 tickets). I was not thrilled. Shredded crab meat bound with mayo, wrapped in seaweed, deep fried to barely crisp and slathered with a sweet-spicy mayo confection—what was I thinking? I ate more of it than I expected to after the first few bites, but I sure didn’t finish. It left a film in my mouth that my remaining single ticket could not efface.

A Taste of Edmonton continues daily in Sir Winston Churchill Square from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. through July 28. See the complete A Taste of Edmonton menu at