Story by Jody Robbins
CALGARY, ALBERTA — While the mood is upbeat at Stampede Park, most everyone notices it’s a more subdued celebration this year, because of the dramatic flooding that tormented southern Alberta two weeks ago. Attendance levels are down approximately 25 per cent from last year’s centennial celebrations for the Calgary Stampede, organizers say. The drop in attendance, though, hasn’t diminished any of the annual frenzy for food that is always a part of the attraction of the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.
From girdle-busting Stampede breakfasts to Those Little Donuts to all-things-fried-on-a-stick, the obsession with tasty treats at the Stampede is nothing new.
It all started in 1931 to celebrate the 75th birthday of Pat Burns, one of the Stampede’s initial Big Four financiers. To mark the occasion, a colossal 3,500-pound birthday cake (said to be the largest in the world) was baked and served to 18,000 of the city’s underprivileged citizens, during the Great Depression.
Fast forward several decades and the food craze remains a highlight of the festivities. If there were ever a time to loosen those belt buckles, this year would be it, as 31 new treats have moseyed up to the midway for Stampede 101. And if this year’s culinary carni delights don’t tempt hungry pardners, the addition of food trucks surely will.
Yep, 18 of Calgary’s finest food trucks — some of them fresh off volunteer duty to aid flood victims and workers — will be cruisin’ onto the grounds for the inaugural Calgary Stampede Food Truck Rally this week. From Thursday to Sunday, six unique food trucks will roll into the agriculture zone from 4-7 pm, allowing guests to purchase a nibble.
“There is something new for every Stampede foodie, from delightful international flavours like flautas de pollo to downright daring offerings like pickle shooters,” says James Radke, operations manager of the Stampede’s midway programming. “After nearly doubling our centennial list of new foods, this year’s spread is not for the faint of heart.”
Diets be Damned at the Calgary Stampede
The old adage that calories don’t count during the Stampede will be put to the test with the addition of several deep-fried delicacies. Festival-goers who go big before going home can’t miss sampling the biggest calorie bomb available: Deep-Fried Butter. Cubes of frozen butter are tightly wrapped in homemade pie crust before being deep fried to perfection. Don’t scoff. The homemade pastry is light and flaky, and when the warm, cinnamon butter centre oozes out of its casing, it’s a comforting gush of cozy flavours, made manageable with several napkins. Calorie count: 200. Consider yourself informed.
Got a sweet tooth? Sink your teeth into Deep-Fried Kool-Aid or Deep-Fried Bubblegum — actually a marshmallow dipped in bubblegum flavouring before being doused in oil. I can’t lie, this tastes just like that gum you left on your bedpost when you were 10 (if you were to pick it off and eat it today), but it scores points for prettiness, and the gummy texture works wonders on whiny kids.
If you’re a salt freak, you can’t go wrong with Naaco Food Truck’s latest concoction: TNT. Inspired by Indian street food, the treat includes rice puffs, corn flakes, and deep-fried chickpeas that are coated in salsa and Indian seasonings then served up in newsprint. It’s crunchy, spicy, and full of local flavour. “We threw as much local product as we could stuff in there,” says Aman Adatia, Naaco owner.
A food staple that gets the star treatment at the Stampede is bacon. Stampeders know if it ain’t fried, put on a stick or wrapped in bacon, it ain’t fit to be consumed at Stampede Park. Galloping up to the plate this year is Chocolate Bacon Fudge, Chocolate Bacon Candy Apples, and a Bacon Sundae Funnel Cake coated in powdered sugar. Looking for a little more substance? Go for the Double Bacon Corn Dog, a hot dog encased in bacon and deep fried then battered and deep fried again.
While the calorie count may be high, the dollar figures are low, with midway foods coming in at less than $10 each and averaging about $8.
Best New Food at Stampede 101
At last week’s Sneak-a-Peak event, an exclusive posse of media foodies, including yours truly representing Vacay.ca, took a culinary tour of Stampede Park to nosh through these new midway delicacies. Competition was fierce, but there can only be one winner.
The honour of Best New Midway food at the 2013 Stampede went to … the humble Idaho Taco. This gloppy delicious mess begins with, you guessed it, a jumbo-baked Idaho potato, before being pounded with the toppings of your choice. A bit of butter, dollop of sour cream, shredded lettuce, ground beef, cheddar, black olives — you name it, they’ve got it. A real stomach liner that one is, and just the thing before a night at the saloon.
Stampede is all about endurance. You wouldn’t want to sample all of these tempting treats in one go, but lassoing a few before the festival ends on Sunday is part of the fun. At a Stampede that’s been dampened by the awful weather that preceded it, this year perhaps more than any other provides plenty of reasons to let loose and indulge.
More About the Calgary Stampede 2013
Dates: July 5-14
Ticket Packages: Stampede-goers can purchase packages online for rodeo and Grandstand events.
Rodeo Events: Although some concerts have been cancelled because of the floods, each of the 10 days of the Stampede will feature rodeo and chuckwagon events, with 120 competitors in six main rodeo competitions.
More Info: Visit the Calgary Stampede’s website for more on pricing and event schedules.
2012 Coverage: See photos, videos and articles about the 2012 Calgary Stampede on Vacay.ca.
More Alberta Flood Coverage on Vacay.ca