It has been a month since my original visit to the Aurora winter festival, now at its new home on the fair grounds of PNE/Playland. And since then, there has been several new food trucks that have parked themselves by the erected tents of their outdoor food pavilion. So today I was bearing the sprinkling rain to check out what is new and worth trying, with a focus on exclusive items you can only get at Aurora.
To skip the reading, check out my latest taste test vlog, now up on my YouTube channel: MaggiMei.
In the order of what we tried, we started our tour at the “Cannoli King”, a PNE staple with their commissary located nearby. Pipping crispy chips on the spot, they are serving up a few of their most popular flavours, and a trio of seasonal offerings.
The “cranberry, orange, and pecan” cannoli was fragrant and sweet. Tangy and refreshing, easy to finish from first bite to last. I can see this being the most widely well-received.
The gingerbread was a lot more heavier, but not overwhelmingly so. A lighter hint of gingerbread for those who are not fan of the zestier, more memorable spices used in this classic.
I am a fan of egg nog, so was happy to have this rendition taste exactly as I expected it to. Given how creamy the filling is, I was surprised by how it all stayed within the airy shell. An easy to eat treat, if you take it all in one bite, although it does get messy otherwise.
Next, we visited the food truck of one of the most popular doughnut shops in Vancouver. They have brought all their best selling cake doughnuts to Aurora, including their vegan and gluten-free options. Apple fritter, earl grey, vanilla bean, and double chocolate.
And with them they have two Aurora exclusives. The “haskap berry shortbread” doughnut and the “dulce honeycomb”. “Haskap” is a tart and juicy berry only available in BC, it is most commonly known as Japanese honeysuckle, here it was sweetened, and reminded me of a raspberry/blueberry combo. The shortbread in the name comes from the crushed cookie dust sprinkled over the glaze. Good, but I would have liked more shortbread in the actual doughnut ring. Although/otherwise, this was a lovely doughnut to pair with tea.
But between the two, the “Dulce Honeycomb” was my favourite. Visually it was stunning, fully loaded with plenty of crispy and airy honeycomb pieces to crunch through. The doughnut and glaze were the perfect base; not too sweet to overwhelm, just great doughy breading to balance out the sweetness.
We then moved on to a some hot beverages to help keep us warm, gravitating to the “Drink Coffee” sign of “Green Coast Coffee”. Here, they are proud that their teas, coffee, and holiday beverages all made with natural ingredients.
More than just black coffee they have a “cookie butter latte” and “winter spiced fog”. And for hot chocolates they have stepped it up a notch with the likes of a macadamia nut hot chocolate and a hazelnut dark chocolate. The former made with fresh macadamia nut mylk and white chocolate. The latter is fresh hazelnut mylk and dark chocolate. Each, dessert in a glass, with the nut mylk made right on their cart. Rich and chocolatey they warmed you as you drank.
For something a little lighter, and a bit more seasonal, I highly suggest their scratch made apple cider, featuring a blend of five different apples. A full bodied, warm apple juice, flavoured with a healthy dusting of cinnamon.
For something more substantial look to “Reel Mac & Cheese”, another PNE staple representing for the winter season. They are known of gooey cheddar cheese macaroni, topped with a variety of ingredients; with each combination given a name after a movie, celebrity, or pop culture reference. The “Godzilla” came with Japanese mayo and seaweed, “Snoop Dogg” has hot dogs slices and a panko Parmesan crunch; and “Kevin Bacon” naturally had bacon, and lots of it.
But today it was all about their Aurora feature, named with a Christmas twist. These are sample sizes, so rest assured you will get more in your full order. The “Grinch” was their classic gourmet cheese macaroni topped with crunchy broccoli florets and crispy onion. The vegetables were a healthy twist. Good, but not all that much different from a regular Mac and cheese in flavour.
I preferred the “Bad Santa”. The same mac and cheese base as above, but now topped with cubes of glazed ham and pineapple. If you like Hawaiian pizza, you would like this. Salty and sweet, I wouldn’t mind a scoop of marinara sauce to have it come around full circle.
And I was excited to finally try the “Shameless Buns”, the popular Filipino-inspired food truck built from an actual jeepney. I have been hearing much about them, so was exited to get into their menu and try some of their buns, but will have to come back another day to do so. They have their entire regular menu available here, including their popular spam fries and various adobos. As well as an entire, secondary Christmas menu, only available during their time at Aurora. Sausage, lumpia, and French toast with pandan and condense milk.
But today we only got a taste of their “Adobo fries”, a popular, regular menu item. Long and thin fries topped with braised chicken adobo, adobo gravy, garlic calamansi aioli, garlic chips, tomato, and green onion. It reminded me of nachos with the diced tomato, but with pulled chicken. It didn’t have the richness I expected from an adobo. And it was hard to eat with all the chopped up ingredients, and no vehicle to scoop them up with. I wanted more sauce. Luckily they had their banana ketchup at the ready. Made with real tropical bananas, it had the tang of ketchup and a unique sweetness. Different and interesting, nothing like I have had before. It was what made the fries memorable for me.
Looking for a more savoury meals? “Meat & Bread”, another popular Vancouver cafe has also moved in to Aurora. Their black truck with their origami-esque logo is eye catching, their brand easily recognizable. Here, their most popular sandwich options are named after its main protein. Porchetta, ham hock, and their “vego” vegetarian option is available.
But the one to get, and the one that is exclusive to their time at Aurora is the “Hot Turkey”. Like dinner between crusty bread. This was shredded turkey meat, a brown butter yam purée, their homemade cranberry spread; and a “winter slaw” with purple cabbage, carrot, red and green peppers, and kale. Be warned, this gets messy, with jus running down your hands. Delicious and filling. But for my personal tastes, I would have liked it more salty, maybe even with a side of gravy to dip into.
And last but not least, we finished our food tour with another Christmas market staple: the chimney cake. Specifically the ones from “The Praguery” who roll, bake, spread, and sprinkle each on location. Covered in cinnamon, coconut, or crushed almond; you can choose your topping and what filling you want smeared within, if any. Nutella or lemon available for extra.
The combination of the shredded coconut and lemon was both refreshing and tropical. The lemon filling was especially strong, like what you would get in a lemon meringue pie, but without the sweetness of the meringue to balance out the tartness. I also didn’t like the texture of the jagged, dried coconut contrasting the chewy dough. I prefer the chimney cake as is: warm dough baked golden brown.
Although, I couldn’t say no to getting the Aurora exclusive version. Their cinnamon and sugar coated chimney cake, dipped topped first into melted white chocolate and made more festive with a generous dusting of red and green sprinkles. Thankfully you only get a quarter of it in chocolate, as it was fairly sweet for my tastes.
There are many more food trucks to explore at Aurora, these were just the handful that had exclusive menu items worth bringing your attention too. I highly suggest making a night of it. Coming early for dinner, followed by enjoying the glowing lights as the sun sets early, then looping back for a drink to warm up to, or a sweet treat to go.
I didn’t spend too much time exploring the grounds, but did notice a few changes advertised on their social media page like face painting and new vendors to shop with. And today, their popular rainbow light tunnel was transformed into a different interactive experience. Now in shades of blue with a smoke machine, the lights dance and strobe to the beat of the music playing overhead. But still just as much of a photo op. So for those who have already visited once, they are keeping it fresh with new reasons to stop by again. And keep in mind, they are only around for two more weeks, shuttering down for the season on January 5th, 2020.
For what else you can expect from this winter wonderland extravaganza, checkout my recap of all the performances and photos ops during my first time around.
2901 E Hastings St, Vancouver, BC V5K 5J1