Calgary Italian Festival fills gap in summer cultural event lineup

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Phatty Crust pizzas are made during the first Taste of Italy festival at the Bridgeland Community Center in Calgary on Sunday, September 11, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS/FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Visitors to Bridgeland on Sunday would have found it impossible to miss the sounds, then the sights and the smells of Italy.

Calgary’s first Taste of Italy festival took place on September 11, featuring food vendors, artists, cultural performers and, of course, traditional games of bocce.

“You know what, for many years I always thought Calgary needed an Italian food festival, and they don’t have one,” said festival founder Lonny Balbi.

“We’ve got you the Greek festival, there’s the Caribbean festival, and there’s all this other stuff, but nothing for the Italians.”

He said the genesis of the festival was really about bringing members of Calgary’s Italian food community together to share that aspect of Italian culture.

“What is the first thing you think of when you think of Italy? You think about food, and so people loved it, and I just said, let’s do this,” he said.

Food vendors for the inaugural year included Roma Catering, Sauce Italian Kitchen and Market, Italiano Please, Gustoso Italian Street Food and Phatty Crust.

Demand for some of the dishes on offer was so popular that the lasagne sold out within the first hour of opening, and large queues lined up around the central piazza for the pizza.

Entertainment was provided by DJ Nico, the Calgary Crescendo Choir, Gli Azzurri, Amy Hef and Greg Rumpel.

Lonny Balbi, founder of the innagural Taste of Italy festival, sits on a vintage ’62 Vespa at the festival’s photo booth at the Bridgeland Community Center in Calgary on Sunday, September 11, 2022. The festival is the first of its kind in Calgary, joining other festivals cultural events such as the Greek festival and the Caribbean festival in the mix of culture days. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

The vintage Vespa from 1962 was little appreciated by visitors

Miles Matulionis brought his vintage 1962 Vespa to serve as a photo booth for festival goers.

He said it was really great to share that with Calgarians.

“Already so many people have sat down to take pictures and they love it,” Matulionis said.

“Even when I drive it around town, I get so much attention, so it’s a real pleasure to be here.”

He said it was an easy decision to get involved in the festival.

“To be honest, I’m amazed there has never been an Italian festival in Calgary,” Matulionis said.

“We have such a strong Italian community here, and there was no festival. So you put it all together, I think it’s awesome, and I can’t wait to try all the food here.

Both Matulionis and Balbi said they were happy the inaugural festival took place in Bridgeland.

“You know, the Italian community really started here, so we wanted to come back to Bridgeland and it was a tribute to going back to basics,” Balbi said.

The Calgary Crescendo Choir performs at the innagural Taste of Italy festival at the Bridgeland Community Center in Calgary on Sunday, September 11, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS/FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Plans for the 2023 festival already

Balbi said that with hundreds of people attending and enjoying the festival, it was already a success.

“It’s been, it’s wonderful, it really is, and it’s our first year and it’s going to be a learning experience,” he said.

“Depending on how it goes, well, we can add more vendors, we can change locations, we can do all kinds of things.”

As for Vespas, Matulionis said next year he would consider bringing more of his vintage collection for people to see, including his 1959 model.

As for the festival, he thinks it will continue to be a success for years to come.

“I think it’s just going to get bigger and bigger,” he said.

Balbi laughed at how big he thinks the festival will become.

“Oh, yeah, we’ll start over. It will be so big that all the restaurants in Calgary will close because how can they compete with us, ”he said facetiously.

For more details on the Taste of Italy Calgary festival, visit tasteofitalycalgary.com.

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