The ridiculous food and drinks at the 2022 CNE
After a two-year hiatus, the CNE is back for 2022 with all the over-the-top food and drinks that we've come to expect.
The 2022 Canadian National Exhibition opens this Friday, ushering in 15 days of revelry with plenty of exhibits, carnival games and rides to scope out, plus random foods – of course – to gorge on.
Yes, there are the mini-doughnuts and top food truck finds, but if we're being honest, food at The Ex has always been about the annual lineup of wacky and weird eats.
This year's graduating class includes the tried (Bacon Nation's bacon ice cream waffle), wild (squid-ink Korean corn dog, anyone?), and not quite wonderful (Mac & Cheese lemonade, um… what?). Always unusual, these are the novelty snacks meant to increase view counts.
No matter how adventurous an eater you are, proceed with caution. I put my iron stomach to the test against the most extreme items to compile this list of things you need to try… or not.
Here's a look at the outrageous creations coming to the CNE this year.
Chocked full of Oaxaca cheese, the ginormous machete-length taco from Machette (Food Building) is also filled with a choice of either chorizo, ground beef or mushroom. ($25)
Large enough to feed a family, this was more like a letter-folded two-foot long flatbread than a taco.
Yuck or Yum? Neither yuck nor yum nor a taco.
Presented like a lava lamp – just don't forget to turn on the LED light stuck to the bottom of the cup that you can turn on before you sip, Eative's (Food Building) butterfly pea flower- and edible-slime spiked drink transforms from blue to purple when you swirl to "activate" it. ($12)
This is a 'gram-friendly drink that's meant to mimic the captivating swirls that ripple in a lava lamp. Taste-wise, it's like any colourless lemon and lime-flavoured soda like Sprite or 7-Up.
Yuck or Yum? It’s inoffensive so… yum-ish?
Known for their airy Japanese soufflé pancakes, Fuwa Fuwa's (Food Building) latest hybrid creation crosses a croissant with a waffle before embellishing it with soft serve ice cream and toppings like Tiramisu, Oreo, chocolate banana, or fruit. ($9)
Essentially a Will It Waffle? experience, this sophisticated breakfast-meets-dessert satisfies on so many levels. Besides a slightly chewy, mildly flakey and all-around buttery base, there are the fresh toppings that kind of make you forget it’s supposed to be carnival food. Also, they're so pretty.
Yuck or Yum? Yum all the way.
Instead of filling their traditional Hungarian pastry cones with ice cream, the fine folks at Eva's Original Chimneys (Food Building) will happily pack it full of vegan-friendly butternut cashew mac and cheese, crispy jalapenos, and pesto aioli.
Or you can try the Jerk mac and cheese that’s got crispy plantains and jerk aioli. ($12)
A portable meal that's perfect if carbs are your thing. Between the contrasting textures of the pastry cone to the al-dente vegan sauced macaroni, there's the filling's flavour which is actually bold versus restrained.
Yuck or Yum? Yum.
Why divvy your enjoyment of a regular burger with a bag of Flamin' Hot Cheetos (FHC), when you can have them both smashed together. Bacon Nation (Food Building) is behind the Frankenfood, topping a fully-loaded double cheeseburger with extra thick bacon and more FHC between two halves of a red FHC bun. ($17)
Okay, so here's the issue: This is a tall burger. Not because it's a double cheeseburger, but because it's a double cheeseburger with big, puffy Cheetos towering inside.
So, the first obstacle is getting the mammoth burger inside your mouth. Then it's to get a bite of everything in it (failed twice) without getting Cheeto crumbs all over you (impossible).
If you like to wear or stain your clothes red with Cheetos, then this is the food item to go for. Otherwise, you could smush everything down or pull out the crisps – yeah, we know it defeats the purpose – before eating the pub-style burger.
Yuck or Yum? Yum-ish.
Eative (Food Building) turns sugar into a soft candy that's stretchable like slime and completely edible. ($5 for 4 oz.)
Think of sparkly glue and you've got this iridescent confection that comes in a rainbow of colours. But just like Skittles, each colour tastes the same.
That same is kind of like corn syrup that you're instructed to pull and play with between two popsicle sticks before shoving it in your mouth (if you don't get it all over yourself first).
The taste? Kind of like an almost creamy non-caramel flavoured Werther’s caramel or lollipop that’s been left in a hot car for too long.
Yuck or Yum? Yum for 5-year-olds, but kind of yuck for those not wanting cavities.
So Cute Ice Cream (Midway) is pushing ketchup or mustard-flavoured soft serve ice cream that's garnished with fries or a pretzel, respectively. ($10)
Taking the classic condiments to forbidden new levels, you can choose to enjoy your soft serve sweet or savoury. To do this wacky combination justice, I tried it as a twist topped with yellow and red sprinkles.
It was, surprisingly, innocuous. Kind of like when you eat something that had ketchup or mustard on it and hours later you lick your lips and taste the residuals of your lunch. Yeah, that.
Yuck or Yum? Neither, but a whole cone’s worth would verge in the yuck territory.
Pull'd (Epic, Food Building) has taken the famous glazed doughnut and stuffed it with pulled pork and coleslaw. ($15)
If overly processed soft saucy meat with creamy sweet coleslaw and glazed doughnuts calls to you, then this has your name all over it. Once considered an absurd carnival challenge, doughnut sandwiches are now pretty mainstream, as are the flavours packed between the soft springy glazed Krispy Kremes. Also, hello sugar.
Yuck or Yum? Kind of yuck.
San Francescos' (Food Building) architectural marvel stacks the vendor’s herb panko-crusted meatballs with mozzarella sticks in a waffle cone. It’s all drizzled with garlic aioli. ($14)
Why wait to eat dessert when you can enjoy it before your appetizers and entrées. Advertised as a full meal in a cup, the rendition of fried foods strung on a stick sits nicely in a waffle cone filled with more cotton candy. If there's ever a case of the camera eats first, this would be it. In fact, the camera can eat all of it.
Yuck or Yum? Yuck? Honestly, this is one for the 'gram.
Real Fruit Drinks (Midway) isn't only hawking a tabasco-spiked version of their refreshing 2019 hit (pickle lemonade) but is also appealing to fans of Kraft Dinner with a Mac & Cheese Lemonade. ($10)
Absurd and completely unnecessary, these lemonades aim to refresh, but are the equivalent of those Jelly Belly line of BeanBoolzed jelly beans with their insane – and often disgusting – flavours (who decided boogers would be a good flavour and how did they know what boogers should taste like??).
The Mac & Cheese drink is a showstopper that claims to use a proprietary blend of cheese (powder), adding toothsome macaroni noodles to the base the way boba tea has chewy tapioca.
I tried the spicy pickle lemonade which for all intents and purposes tasted like the brine from a jar of Bick's Yum Yum Sweet Pickles but spiked with pickled jalapeno.
Yuck or Yum? Yuck.
Move over poutine. Get Your Own Taters Food Truck (Princes' Blvd) sells crispy tater tots that are topped with everything from jambalaya (sausage and shrimp), pulled pork with mac & cheese, or Korean BBQ bulgogi and kimchi. ($17.50)
Freshly made and satisfying, these are pub-grub at its finest that tops golden tater tots with sweet ripples of bulgogi beef, kimchi and a homemade dynamite sauce. This is real food.
Yuck or Yum? Yum. Would eat this again.
CafEhTO (Food Building) is kicking things up a notch by dousing a peach mango-spiced ice cream or black currant-spiced sorbet with Tabasco sauce. ($8)
Rich and thick, the frozen dessert served here is reminiscent of soft chewy candy like Starburst but cut with a Tabasco and chilli sauce. It’s not quite the chilli crips on vanilla ice cream that has blown up stateside, but it's an admirable alternative.
Yuck or Yum? Yum-ish.
A specialist in deep-fried dim sum and desserts, Farm to Fryer's (Food Building) unusually coloured contribution to this year's snack menu features their deep-fried squid cakes with squid ink aioli. ($12.50)
It's three pucks of slightly creamy chopped squid that are shielded by a thick crispy crust. Yes, you can taste the essence of squid, but the most earthy thing about it is probably the squid ink aioli.
Yuck or Yum? Yum-ish.
Move over activated charcoal, hello squid ink. SaltSpring Concessions (Midway) takes the humble corn dog a level up by splicing the end of a hot dog – so it resembles squid arms – before it's wrapped in mozzarella, rolled in inked batter and panko crumbs, and then deep-fried. ($10)
Perhaps inspired by the pandemic hit Squid Games (although eating a cephalopod-shaped food seems more Fear Factor for some), this visual spectacle has an earthy flavour that hits you as soon as you bite into its squid ink-stained batter.
What gets me first is the generous amounts of sugar coating the beast and the layer of cheese tucked inside. It's sweet, savoury, and filling, plus was a best-seller at other exhibitions across Canada – including The Calgary Stampede.
Yuck or Yum? Yum, until you get about halfway. Best shared.
Yogen Fruz (Food Building) has a vegan-friendly dragon fruit lychee float that tops lychee-flavoured soda with a dragon fruit and strawberry sorbet.
Fresh, fruity and bubblegum-y, the dessert drink is surprisingly not terrible and feels like you’re getting a serving of fruits in there somewhere.
Yuck or Yum? Yum-ish.
Looking for something less challenging?
There are ample indoor and outdoor options including food truck events with more than 30 vendors in total representing Toronto's diverse food scene.
Slated each weekend of the CNE, there's the new Mardi Gras Meet-Up (August 20 – 23), the CNE's annual Food Truck Frenzy & Craft Beer Fest (August 25 – 29), plus the new Celtic Celebration (Sept 1 – 5).
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