Unique and creative Stampede food produces a cult following

It has become an annual Calgary ritual in July.

People just can’t wait to try the new food offerings on the midway during the Calgary Stampede.

And each year there are plenty of new tantalizing, extravagant and creative culinary delights for everybody’s discerning palate.

If you haven’t gone to the Stampede yet, you still have a few days left to head down to the grounds and explore the edible attractions.

Bernice Hill, a food writer and blogger at dishnthekitchen.com , Twitter and Instagram, says there are two separate kinds of midway foodies. There are the ones that return year after year for their favourites and then there are the thrill seekers. 

“Midway staples like the colossal onion and mini donuts have been around a long while and people have come to anticipate them. They are part of a repetitive experience pattern that the foodie expects from Stampede,” says Hill.

“As for the thrill seeker foodies, people are drawn to the weird, wacky, wonderful and bizarre. They’re at Stampede for a wild ride and part of that wild ride is midway food. They want to eat something that just isn’t available at any restaurant. Maybe for some people it’s just as daredevil as being strapped into a 45-foot tall rotating claw, that spins you in every way imaginable, including upside down! 

“Now, this year’s best new midway food in the people’s choice category was the deep fried chicken skins. Deep fried chicken skins are delicious, but are they really midway food? They kind of walk the line because for some, they are considered an extreme food, however you can still order them at some Calgary restaurants. Some people are a bit more adventurous than that. They want the squid on a stick or the item with giant bugs on it.  The best new sweet midway food, Smoking Butterbeer, has added in a whole new category. It brings an extra entertainment factor with the dry ice plus, it’s entirely Instagram worthy.”

Cube Fries

There really is no limit to the types of unique food offerings the Stampede has found for consumers. This year there’s Pickle Pizza,  Corndog Poutine, Pork Hind Hock, Wild Boar Bacon Elk Burger, Cube Fries and Avocado Coconut Ice Cream.

James Radke, Manager of Retail Attractions and Midway Operations for the Stampede, says each year it’s a big collaboration between the Stampede and its independent vendors to come up with new food ideas.

“We spend a lot of time on the internet cruising for new ideas. In September/October, we are always dreaming up ideas and in November we have meetings with our vendors at conventions that we go to here in Canada and in the United States and we sit down with them one on one and discuss options and ideas. They obviously travel a lot more than we do because they go to all the other fairs and festivals, exhibitions all over North America,” says Radke. “They see all the ideas that are popular, and cool and trending as well.

“It’s a full year process because we’re already thinking about ideas for next year even. We’re already finding things on Instagram or whatever and asking specific vendors if they can do it for 2020 and those vendors are also coming to us with ideas for 2020.”

Radke says the Stampede looks for a fusion of ideas – a fusion of flavours and a fusion of cultures. 

“There’s nothing better than taking two seemingly normal products like pizza and funnel cake and combining them to create a funnel cake pizza. That knocks everybody’s socks off.”

He says the Stampede doesn’t have a target for how many new foods it will offer each year but the ultimate goal for the kinds of food it will have on the Park fall under four categories – traditional foods (cotton candy, corndogs), staples (hamburgers, hotdogs), new and unique foods, and extreme foods (frog legs, chicken feet, chicken hearts, scorpion pizza and cricket pizza).

Stampede food really has become like a cultic following. Radke says posts involving new food by the Stampede through different media channels have totalled more than 90 million impressions this year. 

So does Radke have a personal favourite?

“The bacon wrapped deep fried onion rings. Those are really, really, really good this year.”

Pickle Pizza