CALGARY — This year's midway menu at the Calgary Stampede includes ice pops made from pickle juice, deep-fried chicken skin and octopus deep-fried or in a lollipop.
The 10-day festival celebrating the cowboy life tries to outdo itself each year in its culinary offerings.
"I keep pushing people's tastebuds to try something unique and different, changing the perspective on what midway food is," James Radke, the Stampede's midway operations manager, said Wednesday as he chowed down on some "flamin' frog legs."
Radke aims to really excite or really scare people with the food.
"If I can create an emotional response in people — whether that response is positive or negative — I don't really care which one it is, but a response is key."
Octopus will have a strong showing this summer, as will hearts — be they the deep-fried centres of artichokes or barbecued chicken hearts on a stick.
There will also be pickle-flavoured cotton candy and ice cream.
"We have pickled cotton candy, pickled (ice) pops. We have pickled pizza coming out in two more weeks. It is a very popular trend this year," Radke said.
Jeremy Andrews is excited about the pickle ice pops he has created.
"We love dill pickles. We just thought what can we do with a dill pickle that hasn't been done," he said.
"We've created our own pickle brine, blended a little bit of pickles in there and it's really, really good. Hung over or not, it's a great treat."
Corn dogs are still on the menu, but with added options, including one coated in hot Cheetos and another one with ramen noodles.
Radke said the Stampede gets its ideas from the internet as well as from checking what's on offer at fairs in Canada and the United States.
The Stampede works with Gordon Food Service, which has a test kitchen that all of the vendors can use. About 25 per cent of the ideas come from local food trucks.
This year, visitors with a sweet tooth will be able to try butter-beer ice cream or a pizza topped with hot sauce, pepperoni, bacon — and maraschino cherries.
"This is Stampede limited time only. If you want to try it, you have to come down to the Stampede midway. That is the only place you'll be able to get the Cherry Bomb pizza," said Dayna Palmer from Pizza 73, who added it's not going to be available nationally.
"We're really excited by the balance of the sweet and the heat and the way everything comes together."
One of the expected favourites is creamy truffle lobster dumplings. The Dumpling Hero food truck has been offering it for years in Calgary.
"It's always been really popular at events and festivals. It's always the No. 1 seller," said Tracy Cheng as she served the dish out of the food truck. "This is our first year at Stampede."
The rodeo and midway run from July 5 to July 14.
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Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press