My Top 10 Tips for Food Festivals

With the Toronto Underground Market making its return this Sunday, I have been thinking about my experience at last year’s event. It was one of my first big food festivals and I feel l picked up a few good do’s and don’t’s for new-comers to a food festival of this magnitude. Here’s a quick list of some of those tips. Hope to see you all there!

  1. Sharing is caring: At the last event I found that the main thing that limited me from trying more items was my stomach capacity. There were a few items that I missed out on simply because I couldn’t eat one more bite. I shared everything I could with my girlfriend which allowed me to maximize the different foods I could experience. Plus, everything is better with friends!
  2. Bring supplies: Bring a bottle of water and some napkins/Wet wipes. This’ll save you some trouble for messier, hands-on items so you don’t have to worry about being sticky all night. Also, having something to drink is vital to cleanse your palate in between stands.
  3. Plan ahead: Research the most popular vendors on blogs or reviews and make sure you find a way to try them out. Long lines are often a good indicator of popularity but sometimes there are hidden gems that you wouldn’t expect. Just because a vendor doesn’t have a line doesn’t mean they aren’t good, they might just move products faster.
  4. Be strategic: A few of the more popular places, like La Carnita and Comida del Pueblo, can have lines that last an hour or more. Plan to either: A. RUSH these places as the doors open to get a good spot in line, or B. designate a couple members of your party to stand in line while everyone else explores more. Make sure to bring your place holders some snacks to tide them over.
  5. Have fun: Hopefully you are having a night out to enjoy yourself, so relax a little bit. Don’t get upset about lines or crowds. This is an inevitability at any popular festival so you’ll have to accept it for what it is. If you really want to avoid all lines, there are plenty of vendors that will never have a line  and I’m sure they would love your company (and business).
  6. Be social: There will be LOTs of other people at the event and you won’t be able to try everything. Be friendly and ask for advice if you see someone eating something at a vendor you are considering. They might be able to help you make a better choice or maybe even avoid a certain item that falls short. If everyone is following my previous tip they won’t mind chatting with you a little bit.
  7. Be adventurous: Make sure to experiment with new foods or items that you wouldn’t normally think to try. I see an event like this as a chance to try new and interesting things. Read over the menus, look for something that jumps out at you and go for it! Don’t be shy.
  8. Be early: I was once told by a boss, “If you are on time, you are late. If you are 10 minutes early, you are on time”. This applies to popular events like this as well. The crowds will be smaller so you have better chances of getting those popular items and a parking spot. During the peak hours in the middle of the show I’ve heard it can be real tough to find a parking spot.
  9. Bring small change: Items range from $3-$6 usually so break out the piggy bank and bust out the toonies and loonies. It’ll make your transactions faster and I’m sure the vendors will appreciate the coinage.
  10. Be nice to your palate: We found that we were overwhelmed by sweet after having several different dessert items and I think this slowed us down. This time around I’ll be focusing more on the savory items and picking a few choice desserts for the end of the night.

These are my favorite items from last November’s TUM:

Top items (that I tried):

  1. Jalapeno Cornbread Grilled Cheese from Comida Del Pueblo
  2. Duck Confit Hash from Elle Cuisine
  3. Cedar Flavored Marshmallow

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5 comments on “My Top 10 Tips for Food Festivals

  1. psycosack says:

    Great tips, ill be sure to save this link next time I go to a food festival!

  2. […] at this event I chose to skip the grilled cheese and try the new items on their menu. I had to follow my own tips after all. I’ll give you a relatively quick run down of my experience at the March TUM. Earlier in the […]

  3. Maryam Khan says:

    Really great tips! I think a lot of people forget how important having napkins are, especially the wet ones for stickier foods. It’s also not very easy to share photos of what you’re enjoying if you’re worried about getting your phone dirty. The coin tip is great, too. It’s so easy to get one of those paper coin rollers/holders and carry one or two of those around in place of lugging around pockets of change.

    Thanks again for the great read! (:

    • Jon Chan says:

      Thanks for the comment Maryam! I’ve gotten feedback from a few vendors that they really appreciate the coins as well because most people slap town $20s and burn through their change.

      Another little tip is to dress appropriately, the last event was freezing cold but this one should be much better weather.

  4. These tips made my experience at the April TUM amazing!! I got to try all the foods that I wanted, and only waited in a couple long lines. Thanks for the awesome tips!! I am looking forward to the Street Food Block Party this Satruday armed and ready.

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