Earlier this year we kicked off this series in New Orleans, for the iconic Jazz Festival – an event that is as much a food festival as it is one that showcases the best music in the world. Next we take you to Calgary in Alberta, Canada, for one of the world’s longest running festivals – The Calgary Stampede – which started in 1912.
Dubbed “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth”, the annual rodeo, exhibition and festival sits closer to an Australian Royal Easter Show than it does to something like Jazz Fest, with one of the world’s most iconic rodeos sitting at centre stage alongside world class music performances, a nightly stage show spectacle (complete with massive fireworks display) and one of the most diverse (and unique) food selections of any event on the planet.
While the festival is full of the usual North American festival treats, inspired as much by the cuisine of the American South (this is a rodeo after all) as it is by what you will fine as popular in Canada. There are massive Corn Dogs, pizza slices, BBQ meats (including giant turkey legs – which is a must try for anyone who hasn’t had one before) and corn bread (such as the piece pictured below, complete with beautiful Southern BBQ sauce).
But every year, alongside the usual selection of treats, are special one-off “Featured Midway Foods” that the Calgary Stampede ticket holders anticipate with as much excitement as the rodeo itself (which, as I discovered last year, is a whole heap of fun). Some of these sell out almost instantly – like the Dragon Dog, which sits in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most expensive Hot Dog in the world at $100 – and others, like the Red Velvet Chicken Strips or the much talked about Cockroach Pizza, I couldn’t even find. The massive festival can make finding the best treats difficult for even the most Veteran of the Stampede goers. But what I did find was delicious… and as gluttonous as you’d expect…
Here, the “Jurassic Pork Mac and Cheese” saw creamy mac and cheese topped with pulled pork and crispy onions by the food truck Reel Mac and Cheese. Delicious.
Then, one of the most gluttonous dishes I’d ever eaten: The Peanut Butter Kabob, bringing dinner and dessert together in the most ridiculous – but delicious – of ways. A massive Peanut Butter and Jelly (Strawberry Jam) sandwich is deep fried and cut into four piece, and then stuck on a stick, separated by deep fried Reese Peanut Butter cups, and served with a healthy dollop of whipped cream. Even when we shared between two people, we couldn’t finish it. And I think we may have heart a few heart attacks along the way. But it was the living definition of delicious.
If you wanted to focus more on your dessert option, however, then you needed to hunt down the Family Freezed Gourmet Ice Pops who were delivering the Mini Donut Pops, featuring frozen dulce caramel cream, with mini cinnamon donuts bringing together two festival favourites into one unique – and delicious treat.
And if none of these take your fancy, then just get yourself a classic Poutine (the Canadian dish that sees chips covered in hot gravy and squeaky cheese curds) from the La Poutinerie, which is scattered around the. For a visitor to Canada, this may prove just as exciting as the featured foods mentioned above. Though I recommend a trip to Quebec to find the best Poutine in the country.
For the next edition in 2016, some of these foods will return, and others will be replaced by new “Featured Food”, which have just been announced you can explore on their officially website HERE. From unique fusion dishes like the Teriyaki Chicken Perogies and Butter Chicken Fries, to a take on a classic Carnival staple – the Bacon Beer Battered Corn Dog – the “Meatball Sub on a Stick” and deep fried tequila shots (is there nothing they can’t find a way to deep fry!?), there is something pretty amazing for just about everyone. And like in the year we went, there will potentially be concoctions that you’ll never see again…
Come for the rodeo and stay for the food when the Calgary Stampede returns in 2016 from July 8th to 17th. For tickets and all the details, head to their official website. Air Canada flies to Calgary from Sydney and Brisbane via Vancouver. For accommodation in Calgary, we recommend the Hotel Blackfoot or the Kensington Riverside Inn, where we stayed during our visit.
Any prices mentioned are in Canadian dollars. Photos by the author.