Summer rife with cultural food festivals

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      Your phone rings. Your friend wants to know what’s on for the weekend. A trip to the mall? Boring. You remember your summer resolution to check out more cultural festivals around town. Before you know it, you’re out the door, picking up your friend, and heading for the action and the food extravaganzas”¦

      The Scandinavian Midsummer Festival takes place June 18 to 20 at the Scandinavian Community Centre (6540 Thomas Street, Burnaby; info 604-294-2777). You pay $7 for a day pass (kids under 12 free) and you’re in. After a visit to the Viking Village, where you play some good ol’ Norse games, you cheer on entrants in the wife-carrying contest, held next to the midsummer pole. As entertainment chair Monica Olofsson explains, “You can win your wife’s weight in beer. That’s the first prize.” Watching all that, ahem, heavy lifting reminds you that you must keep your energy up. You start with a Danish open-faced herring sandwich, move on to Swedish meatballs, and finish with Norwegian waffles and pulla, a sweet Finnish cardamom bread.

      You have some time to recover before Greek Day (West Broadway between Macdonald and Blenheim streets; info 604-738-7126) on June 27. When you arrive, you make a beeline for the new Athenian Agora, where venders are dressed in togas and ready for haggling. After you get your groove on at the Super Paradise Disco, which captures the bumpin’ action of one of Greece’s most famous beaches, you check out the cooking demos conducted by celebrity chefs and members of the community. “Even Grandma could come and demonstrate, since Grandma is always cute,” says Jenny Siormanolakis, event coordinator and production manager. Then it’s eating Hellenic-style, with olive oil samples at the Krinos Foods tent and moussaka, spanakopita, and roast lamb. You wait in line and snag some loukoumades, honey-soaked doughnut holes.

      You and your waistline are really getting into the festival spirit. The Powell Street Festival (Oppenheimer Park; info 604-739-9388) is on July 31 and August 1, and you wouldn’t miss it for the world, especially now that it’s back in the historic centre of Japantown. You leave your bike with the free valet service and walk around the fairgrounds, listening on your iPod to the site-specific PodPlay by Neworld Theatre. “It’s like you’re experiencing your own personal audio play,” says general manager Kristen Lambertson. The fest continues its zero-waste challenge, so you don’t feel guilty about your compostable containers full of takoyaki (octopus fritters), okonomiyaki (savoury grilled pancakes), and imagawayaki (pancakes with azuki bean filling).

      Your calendar has a big red circle around August 15, since Latin Summer Fest (Trout Lake Park; info 604-533-4380) is a blast. “There’s a lot of hugging and smiling, and of course spontaneous dancing!” says Ana David, general coordinator. You take in the folk-dance performances, and then shake your booty to the sounds of a 14-piece band. The calories you burn justify having churros (deep-fried dough sticks), Salvadoran pupusas (stuffed tortillas), and Portuguese roast chicken. There’s no beer garden since this is an ultra-family-friendly event, but you’re more than happy to slake your thirst with a Mexican tamarind soda.

      Not many sleeps until the next event! You’re really looking forward to the first Philippine Summer Festival (Richmond Olympic Oval; info 778-895-6667), which is happening August 28 and 29. “I have been preparing for this for the last three years,” says Rey Fortaleza, chair of the hosting Filipino Canadian Cultural Heritage group. You arrive just in time to watch the parade showcasing different regions of the Philippines. After the parade, it’s time for singing and dancing performances. But the main act is, of course, the food. You dig into barbecued chicken and pork; chicken adobo stewed with vinegar, soy sauce, bay leaf, and garlic; and kare-kare, beef or oxtail stew in a peanut sauce, served with bagoong, or shrimp paste.

      By this point, there’s a slight chill in the air as the kiddies get ready to go back to school. You don’t want the festivals to end (sniff!) and vow to keep the party going with TaiwanFest (Plaza of Nations; info 604-263-9311), which takes place September 4 to 6. There’s plenty of crazy, Lady Gaga–esque fashion on the runway, plus rockin’ music from Taiwanese indie bands. You watch chefs re-create famous Taiwanese dishes using West Coast ingredients and manage to sneak in a sample or two. You end the day by getting full on Yi Lan green onion pancakes, a rich Taiwanese street snack of stewed meats and seafood (lu-wei), and president’s milk pudding (tung-yi). “It’s almost like crí¨me brí»lée, but it’s not as creamy,” says festival spokesperson Sherry Wang. With every spoonful, you reaffirm your love of summer festing (or is that feasting?).