Saturday, July 12, 2014

Eating My Way Through...Calgary Stampede 2014

It's the most wonderful time of the year! No, not Christmas. Every year this week many Calgarians dust off their cowboy hats, break out their Wrangler jeans and turn Calgary into a western party called the Stampede. The Calgary Stampede features the largest kick-off parade in North America, Grandstand rodeo events like Chuckwagon Races and Bullriding, a large carnival with midway rides, nightly concerts and various exhibits, and other special events throughout the city including concerts and free pancake breakfasts.

Usually, I am what people consider a "Stampede Scrooge". Don't get me wrong, it's an excellent source of exposure and income for the city with many tourists flocking here and spending lots of money on the grounds. It was also a great way to bring the community together during our massive flood last year, and many amazing stories of humanity came out of ensuring the Stampede would go on, "Come Hell or High Water". There are many reasons why the Stampede is an awesome week-long event; too many to list here. But for someone who despises large crowds, boorishly drunk people (when I'm not drinking-ha!) and lineups over 30 minutes long, Stampede isn't really my thing. With all of this said, there is one midway feature that gets me excited enough to brave the crowds, drunks and lineups, throw on my cowboy hat and denim and scream out "Yee-haw!"

The Food.

Each year, the Stampede releases a list of the new, unique and sometimes weird new foods on the midway. Here is the link to this year's list. After salivating over the majority of the foods, my friends and I decided to find as many of these featured items as possible without bursting, and eat our way through the midway.

1. Red Velvet Mini Donuts
Of all the featured food items this year, the most talked-about sweet treat seems to be the Red Velvet Mini Donuts. My summer student insisted that I cover this one, and it was one of the first stops of the day. Warm, moist red velvet donuts with a light glaze of cream cheese icing served on a stick for convenience while walking around. They were wonderfully soft and not overly sticky, but I personally prefer "Those Little Donuts" that are deep-fried in front of you and served with cinnamon sugar on top.

2. Crocodile, Python and Kangaroo Sliders
I'm always looking for something new to try, and different meats is always on that list. I was able to sample 3 more with the sliders package at the Gourmet Burger vendor close to the Indian Village. For $12, you get 3 sliders with your choice of the meats listed above and Ostrich served with a tomato slice and a handful of chips. My personal favourite was python. It has a mild, unique flavour that is sort of like pork. The crocodile slider tasted like chicken and the kangaroo slider resembled venison as it was a little gamey.
Want something more mainstream? Gourmet Burger also offers up a full menu of burgers with both regular and unusual toppings such as the Monkey Burger, which comes with Peanut Butter, Bacon and Banana!

3. Creole Cajun Chicken Po'Boy
The word "Po'Boy" alone gets me excited; how can you go wrong with a sandwich full of delicious meat and creamy sauce served in a baguette-like bun? Unfortunately, the vendors found a way for this sandwich to fall flat. It wasn't anything more than a glorified chicken sandwich on a run-of-the-mill hamburger bun. Yahoo to the flavourful coleslaw and the spiciness of the breaded chicken.
Rope in Instead: The Turkey Dinner Poutine from the same vendor. It's a mishmash of both worlds, and it's also a great base if you plan to hit the beer gardens for awhile.

We also ate some food that wasn't on the featured list this year but have become tried-and-true favourites:

4. Deep-Fried Cheesecake and Deep-Fried Snickers Bar
This is everything it promises: a snickers bar breaded, deep-fried and served on a stick. They are both gooey, melty delicious treats, albeit a bit messy to eat. Perfect for satisfying a sweet tooth! The picture below is of the cheesecake.

5. The Quebec Poutine, La Poutinerie
La Poutinerie takes this Canadian treasure to the next level by adding different items into the mix. I chose the Quebec Poutine which includes maple syrup with the traditional ingredients. It added a wonderful dimension to the savoury and salty flavours and the portion size was enough to leave you full without feeling too full.

We were also pleased to find out that some of the beer gardens allow minors until 8pm! It was a great chance for parents to imbibe with a beer or 2, and my daughter enjoyed a fruit smoothie while watching her daddy ride the mechanical bull! Win-win!

Although Stampede is almost over this year, there's still a chance to get down to the grounds and try some of the weird and wonderful foods on the midway. Maybe this year I'm not such a "Stampede Scrooge" after all. Happy eating and happy Stampeding!