FESTIVAL GUY: Heritage Days expensive, fattening

Heritage Days GigCity EdmontonIs Canada becoming a melting pot? For all the hullabaloo about multiculturalism in Canada, this weekend’s Heritage Festival seemed pretty North American.

The festival seemed to serve its product – overpriced food and irrelevant cultural offerings – in a homogenous, inoffensive, stale, typically Canadian package. Meaning: charge too much and make sure it’s deep fried.

No matter how long folks have been in Canada, these vendors are no suckers, having adopted the predominant North American cultural norm of stiffing their customers at the till. The pride in Edmontonian’s hearts for summer finally arriving two months before the next snowfall seems to make people much more willing to crack the billfold for some pretty dodgy items. Four dollars for roasted corn on the cob?! Seriously? Aren’t these four for 99 cents at Safeway?

With 100,000 people congregating in such a small space, there were lots of line rides to be had at Hawrelak Park. Some of these rides took people to some pretty fattening places. It made sense that the most frequently seen item at the festival was elephant ears. Whoops, sorry … I meant Croatian donuts. Or maybe it was “scovergi,” as they were termed at the Romanian pavilion. These virtually identical items made for the longest lineups at the festival outside of the Chinese Pavilion. The battle for elephant ear supremacy was intense. There were a lot of these at Klondike Days, too.

Popularity of certain booths weren’t always dependent on demand or quality product. The lineups at the French pavilion weren’t due to demand for their products – mainly crepes, the French haute couture version of a pancake – but due to bad and inefficient service. Since the French did not have any dancers up on display, this may have comprised the cultural component for their pavilion.

The Korean taco

The Korean taco

There were some surprises – like Borneo having its own deep fried entry. A country more noted for its untouched jungles than an international chain of donut shops, they decided to give up the fight against progress and combine one of their food staples (the banana) with dough and a vat of hot cooking oil. I would have thought “what is with this Western obsession for deep fried foods?” but I was too busy thinking “Wow, these guys learn fast.”

The downer of the festival was the Kurdistan Pavilion, but only because they ran out of baklava by Sunday afternoon. The award for “weird culinary mish-mash gone awry” goes to the Korean Pavilion for their Korean Taco. The price was absurd and the quality was poor. It was sweetly tasting ground beef with a little bit of lettuce in a stale taco.

The cultural components, while nice in an inoffensive way, came across like standard tourist cliches, as if they were being paraded in front of a bunch of middle class Westerners – which largely they were – and it appeared not just disrespectful but anachronistic. I could not help but wonder what meaning do old world values, customs and practices have in the information age? It seems today no one would care about this stuff unless that was actually Lindsay Lohan dancing in traditional Croatian garb. Apart from watching them while people ate, very few really seemed to care.

Some of the booths selling cultural items seemed a tad tawdry, too, reminiscent of roadside trinket shops tourists get shuffled into in whatever exotic country they might be happening to visit. Some didn’t seem very culturally consistent, like the SpongeBob Squarepants finger puppets found at the Peruvian gifts tent. And the “World Famous Sri Lankan Pop Stand” only sold Coca-Cola products.

All in all, Heritage Festival accomplished, well, pretty much what it does every year – lots of people, lots of weight gained, lots of money spent, lots of lineups, and some cultural stuff. Rest assured 2014 will unfold in much of the same way. Maybe with even more deep-fried stuff.

Coca-Cola products

Coca-Cola products