THINGS TO DO:
Food & Dining
Edmonton may have started as a fortified fur trading post, but the fertile farmland all around soon lured adventurous European settlers, most notably the largest influx of Ukrainians in the country's history.
So it's not surprising that I find some kind of perogy or sausage on nearly every menu, or that there's such a strong network of community garden plots and farm markets around the city, and a real commitment to home-style artisan food.
I want to explore the roots of Edmonton's eclectic food scene, from the ground up. There are a dozen city markets to explore, from the Old Strathcona Farmer's Market - the famed year-round market with its 130 vendors - to the trendy new Grand Market on 124 Street.
The century-old downtown City Market sprawls along 104 Street in spring and summer and moves indoors to City Hall for winter. Gail Hall's Seasoned Solutions loft cooking school is right around the corner. She meets us for a cooking class that starts with a walk among the stalls to pick up fresh local ingredients and a chance to meet the vendors and farmers. It's the perfect way to put a face on your food.
Seasonal produce ranges from asparagus and fresh garden peas to tomatoes, sweet corn, beets, berries and tasty varieties of small potatoes.
It's potatoes that fill perogies, that well-loved Ukrainian dumpling that's so ubiquitous here. I find them in the farmers' markets and the supermarkets, some made by machine, some made from scratch and hand-pinched by grandmothers at Baba's Own, where all-natural ingredients and no fillers is the golden rule.
Tradition with a Twist
Creative cooks are riffing on the traditional, too - filling their perogies with wild mushrooms, spinach and feta cheese, even Mexican-style refried beans. But they're traditionally stuffed with cheese and potato, cottage cheese, mushrooms and sauerkraut, even fruit, and served with sour cream or dill sauce at Ukrainian restaurants. We have our fill at Uncle Ed's, alongside the famous smoky garlic sausage made in nearby Mundare, then stock up on smokehouse meats from their retail store.
No food tour's complete without a look around hip 124 Street, with its 40 restaurants, galleries and the legendary Duchess Bake Shop. While the beautiful pastel macaroons and perfect madeleines in the display case are tempting, it's the homemade butter tarts and pies that we carry home.
It's all world class but pure Canadiana, which is just what exploring Edmonton's eclectic, artisan food scene is all about.