Edmonton is one of Canada’s most dynamic and lively cities, serving as a cultural crossroads for the arts, food, music, education and entertainment. During a time of uncertainty, lifelong resident and professional blogger Linda Hoang takes us on a journey through her city, highlighting its unbreakable optimism and showing us what makes this Alberta city shine so brightly.
Linda, 31, has had a passion for sharing her enthusiasm for the world around her since the age of 10. However, it wasn’t until 10 years ago that she shifted her focus from “online communities” to local communities — in particular, Edmonton and surrounding areas — eating, exploring, and sharing her experiences with her followers.
Linda’s keen epicurean senses allow her to find and share splendour in all her experiences, such as her fondness for discovering decadent dishes like the savoury Xiao Long Bao (Chinese soup dumpling) in a hidden gem of northwest Edmonton, Shanghai 456.
She loves to uncover these types of restaurants, as well as an array of other inspiring opportunities that Edmonton has to offer. Even a pandemic can’t dampen her spirited exploration of her hometown.
“Edmonton’s arts scene is very vibrant — they have adapted so well,” says Linda. “I think arts and culture is so vital for the area and it has been amazing that these places have found ways to offer arts experiences even during this time.”
Much can be said about Edmonton’s architectural and cultural institutions, "which are currently open, thriving, and implementing new ways to enrich visitors' lives.”
Institutions like the Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA), located at Churchill Square in an unforgettable modern building made from patinated zinc and stainless steel, are currently taking online bookings for scheduled visits. Not too far from the AGA, you can drive by the Neon Sign Museum, which lights up the east wall of the TELUS building and is always open. Meanwhile, other Edmonton spaces, such as the University of Alberta’s Botanic Gardens, are offering The Picnic Box Twilight Experience, a romantic and delicious outing for a late summer’s eve.
“The Botanic Garden Picnic Experience is a special way to see the gardens and take in a sunset. Best of all, the food is all sourced from local producers,” Linda tells us. “You can always grab take-out and hang out in the North Saskatchewan River valley parks system, which is the largest urban park in Canada.”
Linda’s life has deep roots within Edmonton’s culinary scene, with a love for local fare instilled by her parents at a very young age.
“My mom and dad have a Vietnamese noodle soup restaurant called King Noodle House Pho Hoang,” says Linda. “I grew up in the restaurant, and the experience made me like and appreciate food more, appreciate small businesses. It was common for us to try new restaurants together on their days off. I like to challenge myself, I always try to order something different when I am at a new place.”
Linda’s desire to try new things and see new places in the city where she grew up hasn’t changed since COVID-19. If anything, it has grown. During the pandemic, she’s made an effort to get the word out about out-of-the-way, lesser-known and new restaurants — places that wouldn’t get much attention or don’t have an online presence, places like Yoshii Express, a small Japanese restaurant that opened during the pandemic.
After Alan Demachi, the sweet owner of Yoshii Express shared the struggles he has faced opening during the pandemic, Linda used her network to share his story. Within hours, lines of people were outside Alan’s shop ready to give his tonkotsu ramen and chicken curry a taste. Edmontonians want to support their community and often pull together to help those who need it most, especially during this time.
“Not only is Edmonton a great place to discover art, food and music, but there is a special spirit within the community,” Linda tells us. “I don’t know if what happened with Yoshii Express would have happened elsewhere — or was it because of the people of Edmonton? They want to help out, and they don’t want to see someone struggle in that way.”
Besides helping local businesses with direct action, Linda is always looking for new murals, alleys and general cityscapes that she finds appealing. She calls them “Instagrammable Walls” — interesting, coloured, textured or mural walls around town. She shares her findings in the form of online guides and, more recently, has been leading curated, physically distant, arts and food walking tours, giving not only the location of each wall, but the history of the neighbourhood and artist information too.
Over the years, Edmonton’s local culinary scene has become increasingly diverse and eclectic. One of Linda’s summer walks featured food stops at Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC)-owned restaurants like Awash and Samosa House. This summer she also reached out to a local Black foodie, Alanna Morton, to guest-write a Guide to Black-Owned Restaurants in Edmonton. Even though Linda eats out all the time, she still constantly finds unknown and unique dining experiences in the city.
“I think it’s cool how diverse Edmonton is in terms of food, but really in terms of people,” says Linda. “I grew up here and I am very involved in the community, but I am still discovering new parts of my city. There’s still so much more just around the corner.”
The authenticity of Linda’s passion for her city during these times is self-evident. She is staying physically distant but is still exploring and she wants you to do the same. She says she’s inspired by fellow creatives in the city who are also finding new approaches to music, arts and food in the time of COVID-19.
“I have a comedian friend here named Lars. As soon as the pandemic hit, he had to come back early from Australia where he was doing a comedy tour. When he got back he was trying to figure out like, ‘How do I still do comedy during a pandemic?’ Now he’s actually been booked up almost every night for months going to people’s backyards and doing a backyard fire pit comedy tour,” Linda shares.
Edmontonians have been creative, like MilkCrate owner and chef, Steve Brochu, who launched Choose-Your-Own Cooking Classes, or folk artist Martin Kerr, who started Stay at Home Street Concerts. They’ve come up with ways to make sure cultural events are still able to shine, innovating and figuring out how to shift events or business models, while celebrating very “Edmonton” things. The summer isn’t quite the same as it usually is, but there is still lots of opportunity to enjoy those sometimes 16-hour stretches of sunshine.
“Edmonton really is a festival city, and although some have been postponed, other events have shifted online, or to hybrid models, or to mobile events,” Linda proudly explains.
As for the actual festivities? They’re still finding ways to make it work.
“I think there are still cool ways to have fun experiences,” Linda continues. “For example, the Kaleido Festival, a popular arts festival, is renting a flatbed truck this fall to have artists and programming on the truck and travel around to different neighbourhoods.”
And the “smell of summer,” as Linda puts it — green onion cakes, a popular staple eaten at various outdoor summer festivals — may not be available at your usual events this year, but you can still visit the Green Onion Cake Man's restaurant in the Alberta Avenue neighbourhood to get your fix. Green Onion Cake Man is owned by Sui To, the man who is credited with bringing the green onion cake to Edmonton. His popular festival dish can still be enjoyed, even if festival summer in the city has changed somewhat.
There is no shortage of ways to explore and experience Edmonton this summer.
“Edmonton is resilient and we are still able to find ways to celebrate the arts and support performers and businesses. Despite the challenges that are going on, there is lots to do, see and eat in and around the city,” says Linda.