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Published on : Thursday, November 21, 2013
Imagine a massive arena, filled with tables and tasters and colourful Ukrainian dancers bedecked in flowered headpieces, ribbons and red leather boots whirling to traditional music. A volunteer in full ethnic costume arrives with a tray filled with shots of vodka, each topped with a dill pickle garnish, just as a trio of accordion players stops next to your table for a lively serenade. You can witness this at the annual sausage fest in the heart of Prairies.
Then there is garlic sausage—coils and coils of it—to try. This is the King of Kovbasa taste-off.
Whether you call it kubasa, kielbasa, kovbasa or just Ukrainian sausage, these rings of chunky, smoky, garlicky chopped ham came west with immigrants from the grain belts of Eastern Europe a century ago, who claimed a free quarter section of western farmland on the Canadian prairies.
The area east of Edmonton, known as Kalyna Country, lays claim to being Canada’s oldest and largest settlement of Ukrainian pioneers, a region where you’ll find famed sausage makers like Stawnichy’s of Mundare, immortalized by the world’s largest roadside kubasa sculpture in the town centre.
While it’s arguably one of the finest local smoked ham sausages around, up there with the Polish version from Jan’s Meats in Calgary, AB, and the Ukrainian Co-op sausage in Regina, SK, only Saskatoon hosts an annual King of Kovbasa challenge to fête this popular prairie comestible.
It all happens in February, an ideal time for a lively celebration to take the chill off a Saskatchewan winter.
There’s a panel of local celebrity judges, but what really counts at this event is the “people’s choice” prize. The 600-plus tasters gathered here take their duty seriously.