By Graham Hicks

Nobody really knows how many people wander through the Fringe in Old Strathcona for these fading days of summer, from last Thursday to this coming Sunday. The daily attendance figures are an “educated guess.”
But enough growly stomachs traipse through to attract 21 on-site food venders, shelling out up to $6,000 for the right to sell at the Fringe. Most of the vendors return, despite the competition both at the Fringe and off-site in Old Strathcona.
I, for one, hate wasting money on lousy street food – the greasy, lukewarm stuff that leaves you with a big lump in your tummy and follow-up problems of passage. So here’s a quick guide to the good, the great and the to-be-avoided on the Fringe food front.
Forget the myth. Decent green onion cakes cannot be had at the Fringe. Green onion cakes were an Edmonton festival legend when Siu To, currently running Noodlemaker, and his family made them from scratch. The task became too daunting for Siu once his kids had their own careers.
The current green onion cakes, sold by A Taste of Mongolia just inside the west-side entrance (the booth simply has “green onion cakes” on its signage) are a poor substitute. Slightly dry, doughy, nothing to write home about at $4.50 each.
The Elephant Ears from the aptly named Elephant Ears (next to McIntyre Park, beside the gazebo) are as sinfully good as ever. A big pancake-sized piece of fried dough, hot and crispy with powdered sugar. Not a healthy calorie in the bunch, but darned yummy.
The Italian Bakery’s spicy sausage used to be pleasingly plump, packed with flavour and well-spiced. This year the sausage, on the bakery’s signature torpedo bun, was small, dry and spindly for a hefty $7.50. Mine had fallen apart on the grill, but was still served. The booth has delicious pastries, but the sausage is in dire need of upgrading.
Save your hard-earned money for the two best food booths on site – the Chilean Churros King on the north-south main drag, and the Little Village Greek food truck anchoring the Fringe north end, next to a secondary beer tent.
The Churros King always has great churros – the South American answer to doughnuts – but it’s Luis Caro’s sandwiches and now paella that I crave. Meat lovers, you must try the Churros King’s chacarero (Chilean sandwich) – a fresh bun, thin-sliced tender seasoned beef, piled high with tomato slices, mushy green beans, home-made cilantro salsa and home-made garlic-drenched alioli. Never was $8 better spent. (Declaration of interest: After years of seeking out Churros King food at festivals, the Caros have become friends.)
This year, Luis introduced paella and it is gorgeous – piled deep with calamari, octopus, squid, mussel and chorizo sausage, all worked into a beautiful soft rice infused with saffron. Twelve dollars for this much seafood is excellent value, especially when a dish is so well prepared. Because it takes time to cook and is made in batches, at times one must return to the booth when the next batch of paella is ready.
Finally, a significant new upgrade to Fringe street food, the Greek “fusion” Little Village food truck at the north end of the Fringe territory beside the north-end beer tent. An offshoot of the Koutouki group of restaurants, The Little Village’s shrimp and scallop ceviche salad is the most refreshing palate cleanser on the Fringe grounds, generous on the seafood side, with lime, olive oil, chopped celery, garden veggies and a perfect hit of cilantro. The excellent quality more than justifies the $7.50 ticket. Still to be tried, (if only one could eat forever and never gain weight), were the Little Village lambwich, drunken pork and herb-roasted chicken sandwiches.
There’s top-notch food to be had at the Fringe. You just have to know where to find it.