I'd love to visit a food festival or two in Canada this summer. What are the best ones?
Whenever I’m on the road, I sniff out culinary events as if I haven’t eaten in days. But while crowded big festivals are usually fun, I’m also a salivating fan of smaller community happenings where you meet the locals, chat with producers and depart with a jar or two of something weird and wonderful.
Luckily, summertime Canada is crammed with tasty dishes of all sizes.
Pack those pants with the elasticized waist and start your crawl in B.C. On May 11 stop by Vancouver’s B.C. Spot Prawn Festival (spotprawnfestival.com) at Fisherman’s Wharf for a giddy al fresco party of cooking demos and heaping plates of fresh-caught crustaceans.
Or hop to Vancouver Island’s May-long Feast Tofino (feasttofino.com), a showcase of foodie events including dockside tastings. Even better, stick around through June 7 to 9 for Grazing in the Gardens at the Tofino Food & Wine Festival (tofinofoodandwinefestival.com), an idyllic rain-forest wandering with artisan nosh, live music and a glass or three.
Sample even more Vancouver Island goodies at Victoria’s four-day Taste Festival (victoriataste.com) in late July: opening night gala on July 25 recommended. Be sure to combine your visit with a trip to the brand new, foodie-focused Victoria Public Market (victoriapublicmarket.com), opening in the old Hudson’s Bay building in June.
Back on the mainland – perhaps after a Canada Day detour to Saturna Island’s annual pagan-esque Lamb Barbecue (saturnalambbarbeque.com) – faceplant into Richmond’s red-hot Asian dining scene at two taste-tripping summer-long night markets (richmondnightmarket.com; summernightmarket.com). You’ll find dozens of stalls hawking everything from pepper-fried squid to taste-bud-popping stinky tofu.
Work off that expanding waistline with a quick jog, then head east. Late-May’s Berkshire & Beer hog and ale party at Edmonton’s Yellowhead Brewery (yellowheadbrewery.com) is a worthy pit stop, while July’s gigantic Calgary Stampede (calgarystampede.com) delivers a calorie-hugging midway of carnivorous grub, including deep-fried prairie oysters (bull testicles): I tried them once and that’s all anyone needs to do.
Make a hot dog pit stop at Regina’s grassroots Great Saskatchewan Mustard Festival in mid-September, but first dive into Canada’s foodiest province. In mid-August, Downtown Montreal serves Quebec’s first course with the Omnivore Food Festival (omnivore.com), where culinary hot shots from around the world cook for the gourmet delight of strolling visitors.
Alternatively, cheese fans should sample June’s Festival des Fromages Fins in Victoriaville (festivaldesfromages.qc.ca) where classes, pairings and cheese sculpting teach all you need to know about the pungent world of curds. Return for August’s Festival de la Poutine in Drummondville (festivaldelapoutine.com), coupled with three days of live music.
Toronto’s huge, Greek-themed Taste of the Danforth (tasteofthedanforth.com) street party Aug. 9 to 11 fills bellies every summer, but wider Ontario also delivers intriguing side dishes for those unfurling their appetites beyond the city.
Burlington’s four-day, lakefront Ribfest (canadaslargestribfest.com) serves thousands of esurient meatarians on Labour Day weekend, while the Brantford International Villages Festival (brantfordvillages.ca) celebrates global cultures with cuisines from Poland to the Philippines in early July. If you can’t wait for September’s Niagara Food Festival (niagarafoodfestival.com), consider August’s family-friendly Leamington Tomato Festival (leamingtontomatofestival.com) with its sticky tomato stomping option.
Naturally, Atlantic Canada offers a sprawling buffet of seafood-focused shenanigans. New Brunswick’s delightful Shediac Lobster Festival (shediaclobsterfestival.ca) is a July highlight, while Campbellton’s smaller but perfectly-formed Salmon Festival (salmon-festival.com) includes a parade and plenty of stomach-stuffing partying.
Hopping to PEI, mid-September chefs-up Charlottetown’s International Shellfish Festival (peishellfish.com) – a raucous kitchen party of oyster-shucking and chowder-making contests – while you can eat dessert early at late-July’s week-long St. Peter’s Bay Wild Blueberry Festival. Fuel-up for its giant community dances with homemade blueberry buckle at the local barbecue.
By this stage, your food fest belly may have you mulling a draconian diet. But I’d suggest having another slice of buckle before making any rash decisions.
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