Although street food in Vancouver begins and ends with hot dogs, cultural festivals allow us to experience what life would be like if any dish could be enjoyed from an alfresco stand. Here are six festivals for which you’re advised to show up with an appetite and not hold back—summer comes but once a year.
Watch the gyro meat turn this Sunday at Greek Day, the climax in a month of Hellenic Canadian Congress of B.C. celebrations. According to fest chairperson Peter Capadouca, gyro means spinning round, and the spits of beef, chicken, or pork spin “like a gyroscope”¦but not quite as fast”. Sixteen Greek benevolent societies will be cooking up street food including gyro, Greek salad, spanakopita, and loukoumades (honey-soaked doughnut balls). In the culinary tent, cooking demos will show how to make dolmades, tzatziki, and more.
Why not try: everybody’s favourite, souvlaki; organizers estimate that over 30,000 skewers will be sold. Save room for: tiropita, those flaky, buttery, cheesy pastries. When: June 21 Where: West Broadway between MacDonald and Blenheim streets Info: 604-738-7126
Scandinavian Midsummer Festival
This is a fest that stands out among others because 90 percent of the food offerings are made by Scandinavian community volunteers rather than commercial outlets, and it’s all very reasonably priced. Look for the Danish frikadeller dinner, consisting of large frikadeller meatballs, mashed potatoes, and red cabbage. Food coordinator Tina Praegel says the meal traditionally comes with one frikadeller, but “we serve it with two because people always come back for seconds.” Also on offer is a Norwegian salmon barbecue with wild Atlantic salmon, which is different from an ordinary West Coast salmon barbecue because “It’s a Norwegian serving it.”
Why not try a Danish open-faced pickled herring sandwich. Save room for Swedish Tosca pecan cake, Danish marzipan cookies, and Norwegian krumkaga, a strawberry-and-whipped-cream-filled waffle cone. When: June 20 and 21 Where: Scandinavian Community Centre, 6540 Thomas Street, Burnaby Info: 604-294-2777
Caribbean Days Festival
A costumed parade, steel drum bands, and spontaneous dancing bring the spirit of the islands to the Caribbean Days Festival—and the North Van waterfront location does its part with lovely ocean breezes. Hungry revellers can break for Jamaican jerk chicken, Marva Vidal’s roti, and a host of other options. “We try not to have just Caribbean food, but all kinds of multicultural-type food,” says concession co-coordinator Arnold Cambridge, adding that African and Malaysian food will be available.
Why not try goat curry, a popular Trinidadian dish. Save room for Carib or Red Stripe beer, enjoyed under the sun at the beer garden. When: July 25 and 26. Where: Waterfront Park, North Vancouver. Info: 604-515-2400
Powell Street Festival
Since Oppenheimer Park is being upgraded, this year’s Powell Street Festival will take place at Woodland Park. “All the food booths will be on one side, so you can scope things out easier,” says programming director Kristen Lambertson. Offerings include yakitori, okonomiyaki, sushi, and chilled ramen salad. Last year’s zero-waste challenge paid off: “We managed to reduce our garbage output by 80 percent from the year before,” Lambertson says. “We’re trying to keep that up and do even better this year.”
Why not try yaki onigiri (grilled rice balls). Save room for Japanese curry beef on rice. When: August 1 and 2. Where: Woodland Park, 700 Woodland Drive. Info: 604-739-9388
Latin Summer Fest
At this year’s fest, there will be Chilean empanadas, Salvadoran pupusas (thick, stuffed masa flatbread), Mexican tacos, roasted corn, and more. “There’s such a huge variety of food,” says general coordinator Ana David, explaining that Latin American cuisine draws on influences from Africa, the Caribbean, and Europe.
Why not try curtido, a Salvadoran pickled-cabbage relish available at many booths but made differently at each. Save room for Mexican churros. When: August 16. Where: Trout Lake Park. Info: 604-533-4380
This year, TaiwanFest marks its 20th anniversary with a weddings theme. Chefs from Taiwan who are schooled in preparing food for Taiwanese wedding banquets will create a display of a 12-course sample feast and demo some of the dishes. A short documentary will let visitors see inside the kitchens at a Hakka wedding and a neighbourhood roadside-tent street banquet. “A lot of people who used to live in Taiwan have good memories of this type of banquet,” says Charlie Wu, the fest’s executive director. This year’s food fair will highlight street food from Tainan, known as “the city of snacks”, including bamboo sticky rice (rice steamed in a bamboo tube) and calamari chowder.
Why not try coffin toast, a hollowed-out bread concoction stuffed with meat and veggies. Save room for sucking the juicy goodness out of a stalk of sugar cane. When: September 5 to 7. Where: The Plaza of Nations and the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre.