One event I look forward to every year is The Fair at the PNE. The annual mark that summer is over and fall is right around the corner. And what better way to christen the return to school for children and teens than one of the greatest outdoor events with shows, exhibitions, foodstuffs, games, and rides. However, with the recent modified return to normalcy there are still many differences that this year’s fair has over others in the past.
For starters the event spacing has been pared down from 100 acres to 50. Majority of the indoor spaces has been shut down to avoid over crowding, and the need to pivot so should BC decide that indoor spaces need to be off limits once again. You can still expect shows like Super Dogs and live performers, but their stage is built outdoors like a semi-circle arena. Similarly a lot of the exhibitor booths have been erected outdoors. Catch up on what Translink is doing for our transportation future, learn about green initiatives, how the city is attempting to limit waste, and admire topographical maps of our BC landscape.
As per the mask restriction, mask wearing is recommend on the premises but not necessary, unless within the old barn which still houses the farm animals, and now a highly slimmed down market place. The latter allows for extra wide isles and only the fan favourite booths to take up residence within.
The show home showcase is also erected here. Show runners are no longer able to construct the actual home for visitors to meander through. Instead, this exhibit is erected walls with high definition photographs and limited furnishings. You still have volunteers walking you through the space, but you must bring your own imagination.
What hasn’t changed too too much is the vast array of food and drink offerings available. I was invited to the media showing some of PNE’s favourite food and drink offerings this year. The following is what we had, in the order that we had it.
Mini donuts continue to be a fair staple, you can get a bag or a bucket full around most corners. What’s new to this offering is the presence of Cin City Doughnuts. They have taken their brick and mortar concept and brought their show on the road. Watch these cinnamon and sugar staples get formed, fried, and presented on a stick for you viewing and eating pleasure.
The Fair is acknowledging the change in diets with a new plant-based booth. The Plant Butcher is offering vegans, vegetarians, and those with dietary restrictions a collection of sandwiches, burgers, and fries so they can eat as well as those who ingest meat and animal products. So now plant-based people too can come to The Fair and expect to eat something deep fried, thanks to Plant Butcher’s Crispy un-chick’n burger. It looks and tastes like your classic, deliciously fried chicken burger. Although made with chao mozza, vegan mayo, shredded lettuce, and tomato; all in a plant-based brioche bun.
The popular foodtruck Reel Mac & Cheese, named after its use of movie titles in their Mac and cheese titles, is back at the Fair again. They are a fan favourite for comfort dining, and this year elevating it with their Lobster Mac & Cheese, simply named “The Lobster” (yes, this too is a movie title, Google it). They are calling this their gourmet Mac and cheese. It features tender chunks of Atlantic lobster, sautéed in garlic butter then finished with fresh dill and a panko Parmesan. The result is as good as you’d expect it to be. Deliciously decadent and comforting at the same time.
Tin Lizzy Concessions has a few booths and trucks. The one to visit this year is their Poutine and Grilled Cheese truck where they have concocted a rainbow grilled cheese, dyed with natural flavours. According to them
they used beets for the red colouring, blueberries for the blue, and kiwi for green. Despite the fruity colouring, the sandwich tastes exactly like a classic crispy, buttery, and momentarily gooey grilled cheese. This is not only a kids pleaser but a ‘gram pleaser as well.
For the adults, you can get your drink on at the new Muddlers booth. Muddled locally, these cocktails in a can are now on tap and pouring for your pleasure within their pink and white lemonade stand of sorts. I am already a fan of this East Van native and am glad their presence here will garner their amazing drinks additional attention. Available is their summer hit: Pink Lemonade (hence the stand), their best selling and original Moscow Mule, and their newest offering a Lemon Tea. (Note, despite my photo, it isn’t actually self serve, they simply allowed me to top my cup up.)
One of my favourite booths to visit whenever I am at The Fair is the Summerland Soft Serve one, presented by Marchant Concessions. Every season they bring about a new and limited edition flavour that not only tickles your tastes buds, but is a treat for your eyes as well. And this summer it is a cotton candy soft serve that tastes exactly like the spun sugar treat, though much less sweet. Because why eat your cotton candy when you can simply lick it?
If you are looking for a non alcoholic way to quench your thirst, visit another Fair classic in Lemon Heaven. Their fresh pressed lemonade is tasty as is, or you can add a pump of two of flavoured syrup to give it new life. Or simply do what I did (slurpee style) and mix all the syrups together for an “all dressed” lemonade. Available in flavours like watermelon, lime, strawberry, ice tea, blueberry, and cherry.
Another one of my favourite foodstuffs at the fair is their BBQ offerings. Trophy winning Gator’s BBQ is only available at select outdoor events, so every year I make sure to stock up on my favourite BBQ to date. I typically get their two meat combo with pork ribs and beef brisket. Tender and tasty, they have always been consistent on quality, despite when I visit, and who is behind the grill. Truth be told, I haven’t anything as good in the city that I can get more regularly.
Since poutine is a Canadian dish and The Fair at the PNE is Canadian, odds are that you will find a few poutine options to choose from. At Unroutine Poutine they don’t just do cheese curds and gravy over fries, but they dress their poutines to impress. Take the Vegetarian Loco made with guacamole, green onions, cilantro, diced tomatoes, fried jalapeños, black olives, cheese drizzle, and no gravy.
And if you are not looking to eat, but still want to experience food at The Fair, be sure to stop by the Safeway stage for live cooking demos hosted by Culinary Olympic winning chefs from the medal winning Junior Culinary Team Canada and the Culinary Team BC.
We caught their demo on their Miso marinated Gindara Sablefish with dashi bacon risotto and pickled vegetable salad with a bacon vinaigrette. Not only do you learn about how to prepare the food, but where it comes from as well. Although unfortunately you don’t actually get to try anything that they prepare, but after you learn from them, you can go home and prepare these award winning dishes for yourself.
In short, given the time and the necessity, The Fair at the PNE is different this year. There may be less to see and do, but just as much to eat. An occasion still worth visiting as a staple of summer. Just be sure to book your ticket for your desired date, ahead of time. $15 for adult tickets, $12 for children and seniors, and free to children under 5 (reservation still required). The Fair runs from August 21st to September 6th from 11am to 11pm daily. Not opened on August 23rd and 30th.
Pacific National Exhibition
2901 E Hastings St, Vancouver, BC V5K 5J1