Whenever the PNE rolls around it’s bitter sweet. On one hand I look forward to fun at The Fair every year, trying a whole bunch of weird and wacky foodstuffs. But on the other hand it marks the quick end to summer as the two week long occasion runs you right into labour day. None-the-less it is a tradition for the city, and there is no better way to end the season.
The following are a few of the things I saw at this year’s Pacific National Exhibition and all that I ate there. To skip the reading, check out my vlog recap on my YouTube channel: MaggiMei. The focus is on the most original snacks and the weirdest food combinations.
The older I get, the less inclined I am to visit all the showcases. There are plenty of performances and exhibitions to keep one engaged at The Fair, but they are meant of children, and as a result you are often competing with them to try an experience or take to advantage of a photo op. With no sense of first come first serve and the dislike of waiting their turn, more often then not the children win. So I dip in each exhibit hall just to see what’s what. I don’t often take the time to toggle buttons or read placards. So don’t expect that detail below.
There was one exhibit regarding dragons which included giant robotic version from various lore. The four footed dragon, the dragon that stood on hind legs, dragons that flew with no arms and others that breathed fire with T-Rex appendages. There was even the Chinese version of a dragon present: slithery like a snake with the whiskers to match.
The “Popnology” exhibit introduced us to innovations we take for granted, and how popular media has helped shaped technological advances of the future.
There was the first 3D printed car and the iconic one that took Michael J. Fox “Back to the Future”.
You were able to experience a 3D world with the aid of the “Oculus Rift experience”. Where you choose a terrain and were given goggles to be able to explore it 360.
You were able also to speak to aliens via musical notes, control a robotic arm with a joy stick, and play with a giant light bright. You could also step into a virtual koi pond where your movements made the water ripple and the fish run.
A car show was parked outside with vintage vehicles restored, sitting behind velvet rope. You were invited to take photos and vote for your favourite.
We explored the little artisan market of tents and tables which included the selling of homemade jewelry and soaps. But only partook in the bakery therein. “Bake Shop” offered a bevy of breads, bars, and pastries. It was hard to choose, but we narrowed it down to their “Celebration cake” and key lime pie. The pie was more mousse then meringue over crust, not quite the rendition I was expecting.
Similarly, the “Celebration cake” was all show. What looked like a fun sponge with pink sugary frosting was a hard chalky brick and stale sugars. Disappointing, despite getting a dance with the sale.
The rest of the food we had was a lot more enjoyable, we ate as we walked. Stopping at any cart or stall that peaked my interested for the macabre.
The first was “Get Dipped” a stall featuring fruits dipped in chocolate, but what caught my eye was the jalapeño pepper. I thought it would be dipped before our eyes, as the clerk running the booth was stirring a pot full of chocolate. Instead, after we paid he removed a preset dish from the fridge and passed it to us.
The idea of sweet and spicy isn’t a new concept, so I figured it would taste decent at minimum. I liked how crunchy the bite was, but was caught off guard in realizing that the pepper was raw and full of seeds. The later made it spicier than I wanted, and it saw me simply finishing off the chocolate that coated the rest of it for relief from the heat.
“Handmade Burger” advertised a $15 kangaroo burger, but when we approached the counter and offered up money they said it wasn’t available. Sad, but I was able to get my kangaroo else were.
At “Rock N’ Roll” they offered up gourmet burgers such as these kangaroo and crocodile sliders. The order came with three sliders, with the ability to choose which one you wanted to double down on. But they came undressed, and without us knowing there was a condiment bar to help give flavour to the otherwise bland patty. The crocodile was white meat and the kangaroo dark, both no where near as juicy as beef, but given the opportunity and the curiosity, worth trying.
From the same stand we also got both of their “Milkshake Burgers”. These were regular cheese burgers with the addition of ice cream to top them off. A scoop of garlic vanilla or sweet and salty with a sauce. I found the garlic one plain, the sautéed garlic being engulfed by the sweetness of the soon to melt ice cream at its centre. Then there was the clash of lettuce and ice cream in the same bite. It was one I couldn’t enjoy for texture alone. I am not a fan of lettuce in the first place, so to have it highlighted like this was immediately rubbing me the wrong way.
In the second burger the lettuce was more palette-able, hidden under the mask of the sweet and tangy sauce. This played well against the sweetness of the ice cream for a familiar flavour combination.
At “Chicky’s Chicken” we tried the cheesy chicken hearts. Deep fried pockets filled with cheese and chicken hearts. The heart was a tiny ball, it rolled around the pocket so I missed it on first bite. It was good with the salty cheese and crispy wrapper, as they did well to hide the gaminess of the organ.
I was highly intrigued by the “Gold Rush” ice cream and cone offered at “The Parguery”. At $19 this was definitely the most expensive item I had at The Fair today. But being the impulsive and excessive person that I am, I had to have an item with edible gold on it. This was a gold sprinkle encrusted chimney cone, filled with vanilla soft serve and topped with 24 K edible gold leaf and a Ferrero chocolate. The dessert takes 8 minutes to make as the cones need to be made on the spot, which means after its made they need to let it cool a sufficient amount of time before the can pipe soft serve into it, lest it melts too quickly. This is the only cone covered with sprinkles. The gold was a fun novelty and their signature chimney cone all the more tastier with the crunch and sugar of the golden sprinkles, but the unappealing ice cream took away from all of it. It didn’t taste like vanilla soft serve. You didn’t get what you expected, so it left you trying to figure it out.
I preferred the vanilla and coconut charcoal ice in a pineapple from the “Drink a fruit from the fruit” stand. They also offered a watermelon version with soft serve piped into a hollow watermelon slice. Their success here is a great tasting ice cream, great on its own, but even better when combined with some of the blended pineapple juice that was poured into the hollowed out pineapple husk. A messy dessert, but one worth trying.
We searched a long time for this deep fried burger from “Tin Lizzy’s” concession. The name of the cart was hard to catch, but the product was well lit and advertised. It was a well folded pastry dough wrapping a beef patty and cheese. This wheel is deep fried and served hot. I liked the flakiness of the pastry, but would have liked some sauces to dip it in to, and this in between a burger as its patty. The snack felt incomplete as is.
And the night ended on this year’s most coveted weird treat: the cricket candied apple. Take your typical Granny Smith green apple and dunk it in thick and sticky caramel. But then instead of topping it with candy or nuts, you sprinkle whole dried crickets like you would sprinkles. The result, a classic apple with extra protein. The crickets didn’t add anything to the apple, other than novelty. It was quirky, but they detracted from actually enjoying the sweet caramel and tart fruit.
And with that we concluded our night and time at 2018’s PNE. There were many more foods I wanted to try, but alas time, funds, and stomach space were running low. The kit kat fries sounded appealing, and so did a giant meat ball served in marinara sauce. There was a mac and cheese topped with traditional Japanese garnishes like dried seaweed, bonito flakes, and sweet mayonnaise. A hot dog wiener, stuffed into a pickle, stuffed into a breaded and fried corn dog. Bacon wrapped peanut butter cups and chocolate cheesecake mini doughnuts. Ans I was curious how buffalo chicken or banana and chocolate would taste surrounded by a salty corn dog husk. All this is just the list of items I wanted to try because they sounded weird, I haven’t even breached the list of items I want to try to eat lots of, because I enjoy it.
In short The Fair is for everyone. It has plenty of activities to keep the kids occupied, and more to have you learning a thing or two. There are performances for those who want to sit and watch, random stalls and the marketplace for those who want to shop. And for foodies like me, this is a playground of tastes and adventure. Come once a year, if not a handful during their very limited, two week run. Don’t deny your cravings.
PNE, THE FAIR
2901 East Hastings Street, Vancouver BC, V5K 5J1