Calgary’s Stampede Festival, in which world-class cowboys head up north to Canada to compete for a multimillion-dollar purse, is an exciting event for anyone who follows rodeo events as a sport. Of course, you don’t have to be a die-hard rodeo fan to enjoy the festival; each July, people from around the world head to Calgary’s annual celebration of Western heritage to don cowboy hats and do a little two-steppin’ amongst friendly beer drinkin’ Canadians. The festival is also a family affair, with a huge midway of games, rides and, above all, interesting foods — some that would cause any chuck wagon cook to do a double take.
Each year, new novelty foods garner attention for their uniqueness, so much so that they are highlighted in the festival’s program. Here’s a roundup of some of the ones I tried in the midway, between watching the bull riding events and the chuck wagon races:
Bacon Caramel Apple (pictured above): Here’s something with so much promise in its name that perhaps its self-induced hype led to its actual mediocrity. A Granny Smith apple is dipped in caramel (or chocolate), then coated in bacon bits. Never mind that the bacon bits are obviously of the imitation variety; the intended saltiness is still present. However, when salty competes with sweet and double-teams sour, none of them actually win. There’s no dominant taste here, with the salty, sweet and sour sort of canceling each other out, and in the end, the flavor falls flat. My verdict: Two (out of five) stars.
Chocolate-Covered Bacon: No need to explain what this is because it’s exactly what you think. Crispy strips of bacon are simply dipped into melted chocolate and served on a stick. It seems like a no-brainer: It’s bacon. It’s chocolate. What’s not to love? Salty and sweet harmoniously come together here, and I was appreciative that the chocolate hardened, so it wasn’t a dripping, sloppy mess like it could have been. Four stars.
Deep-Fried Butter: Sure this dish with the name that screams heart attack is not new to the carnival food scene, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it during Stampede. Little scoops of frozen butter are coated in batter and deep-fried, making the outsides crispy while melting the insides. They’re topped with cinnamon sugar to make them overall sweet dessert treats, almost like churros with a buttery surprise inside. However, if the butter is not coated well before frying (which can happen), it can simply leak out, leaving you with nothing but a piece of fried dough. Three stars.
Double-Bacon Corn Dog: No midway is complete without a corn dog, and here they’ve stepped up the game. A hot dog is wrapped in bacon before being dipped into batter, which contains bits of bacon, as well. The end result is an über salty treat that more or less tastes like what you would expect — and it’s not that far of a stretch from the taste of a plain, salty corn dog. Two stars.
Sweet Corn-Battered Corn Dog: Here’s another corn dog with a twist — one that actually works. A hot dog is dipped in a batter that contains bits of corn, adding a touch of sweetness to what would otherwise be a sodium bomb. Three stars.
Godzilla Mac ‘n’ Cheese: Not everything at the midway is served on sticks or deep-fried. At the mac and cheese truck, toppings are added to a standard classic to bring them to a new level. In this Japanese-inspired version, mac and cheese is garnished with shredded nori (seaweed), teriyaki sauce and Japanese mayo. The end result truly does bring the dish’s inherent salty cheesiness to a new level of umami and sweetness — perhaps over the threshold of sweetness for me, as I’m not a big fan of teriyaki sauce. However, that doesn’t mean you’re not going to enjoy this, especially if teriyaki is your thing. Three stars.
Chocolate-Banana-Bacon Elephant Ear: This monstrosity of a fried dough treat is so big it’s not served on a skewer — it’s served on what appears to be a paint stirrer. Fried dough conceals bananas and full strips of bacon, which are topped with chocolate syrup and powdered sugar. This was by far the sloppiest thing I ate at the midway, but its chocolate, banana, bacon and generic “fried” taste came together well. Three stars.
Deep-Fried Bubble Gum: Gum is chewed — and swallowed — in this weird concoction, and it’s not bad once you get used to it. It’s not hard because the gum is fried to the point that it loses its gummy texture and is more like a fondant, wrapped around marshmallows and garnished with powdered sugar. Yes, it might be too sweet for some tastes, but there’s something about the unique taste of bubble gum that plain sugar doesn’t have, which makes this dish quirky. Three stars.
Erik Trinidad is a food and travel writer, and author of Fancy Fast Food: Ironic Recipes with No Bun Intended, based off his popular food humor blog.