The CNE (Canadian National Exhibition) is back in Toronto!
It’s that time of year again: wasps are ravenous, store shelves are stocked with back-to-school supplies and everything is coming up dill pickle. Summer is drawing to a close, which means the EX is back and primed to top itself once again. This year’s lineup includes drag queens, an interactive Pink Floyd exhibition and a new wing for cardiac patients—just kidding, but there is a whole slew of wacky food vendors ready for their fifteen seconds of TikTok fame. We’ve gone ahead and classified some of the extreme eats from weird to wonderful to “What were they thinking?”
So you'll be surprised that the food images are not included.
Wow, that’s weird!
Cheeseburger ice cream
After attracting hour-long lineups last year for their ketchup and mustard ice cream, the people behind the condiment-flavoured cones have opted for a sensible follow-up: cheeseburger ice cream. Served in a cheesy waffle cone with a sesame-seed rim, the barbecue sauce soft serve (meant to mimic the smoky notes of a grilled burger without actual meat) is garnished with a pickle spear and a fried onion ring for a true vegetarian delight.
Korean fried frog legs
Move over, chicken! From vendor Farm to Fryer comes the slightly chewy yet satisfyingly sweet, spicy and oh-so-crispy frog’s legs. Looks like Kermit, tastes like chicken.
Pickle cotton candy
It seems wrong that spun sugar, dyed green and flavoured with dill pickle powder, is actually kind of good—but, then again, what would our ancestors think of half the stuff we eat today?
While Mexican crema and Cotija cheese are most welcome to move freely among a variety of foods as a topping or a stuffing, as a beverage mix-in, they’re out of the question. Thankfully, the people behind the surprisingly satisfying street-corn lemonade agree, and they leave the dairy out of their new drink. This salty, sour and sweet concoction of lemon, lime, parsley, chive, Tajin and, oh yeah, corn juice tastes like a clarified caesar without the vodka or tomato—and is surprisingly refreshing.
From Italian sandwich kings San Francesco comes a true bastardization of Nonna’s home baking: a cinnamon cannoli stuffed with breaded veal, provolone cheese and tomato sauce, drizzled with garlic aioli, garnished with Hickory Sticks and finished with sprinkles—because, hey, it’s the CNE, baby. Bada bing.
Whoa, that’s good!
The Butter Chicken Overload
From Rick’s Good Eats comes a monstrous sandwich that is equal parts gorgeous and grotesque but also 100 per cent delicious. Spicy tandoori fried chicken is dunked in butter chicken sauce and topped with lettuce, tomatoes, pickled onions, cheddar cheese and—wait for it—fries loaded with butter chicken. It’s then doused with tandoori aioli and perversely placed between two butter chicken samosas. Your move, Double Down.
Fruity Pebble cheese curds
For the first time in a long time, Fruity Pebbles have returned to Canada, and the self-anointed King of Curds is using the colourful cereal to create something magical. They smother deep-fried cheese curds in a top-secret cereal-milk glaze and finish it all off with an ungodly amount of Fruity Pebbles. Yabba dabba do it.
Peanut butter pickle dog
Though seemingly something that only the discontinued pregnant Barbie doll, Midge, would have gravitated toward, this hot dog inside a pickle, covered with peanut butter, dipped in corn batter and drizzled with jam, actually lands on the palate like an otherworldly satay.
Speaking of Barbie, pink seems to be an underlying food theme this year. And while we can be thankful that fried flamingo didn’t make it onto the festival food circuit, this pretty-in-pink vanilla soft serve with a strawberry coulis centre stuffed into a strawberry-wafer-cookie-sprinkled chimney cone and topped with a strawberry sugar cookie and a strawberry wafer most deservedly did.
Pizza Pizza’s carnival take on the traditional slice coats a triangle of cheese pizza in batter, deep-fries it and drizzles it with hot honey. The crunchy, already-very-bad-for-you wedge is then covered with pickles, drizzled with creamy garlic and buffalo sauces, and sprinkled with crushed nacho-cheese Doritos. Our only question: Why hasn’t someone done this sooner?
Pineapple-lychee-habanero iced green tea
There was a time when roller coasters only went forward and iced tea was just sweet tea with ice. Times have changed. Yogen Früz’s habanero-infused green tea is a properly imbalanced, tentatively thrilling drink built on ups and downs—tropical notes from the pineapple, daggers of spice from the habanero and rounded-out moments with bites of sweet lychee jelly.
Quarter-pound cheese-stuffed Doritos
Remember that nut-covered cheese ball that made the potluck party rounds back in the ’80s? This is like that but instead of cream cheese, it’s a quarter-pound ball of mozzarella. And instead of nuts, it’s coated in zesty cheese Doritos. Oh yeah, then it’s dropped in the deep fryer. Or you can opt for this mac-and-cheese-stuffed chimichanga, equally as wrong-but-right.
This take on the classic s’more from Pancho’s Bakery takes deep-fried cinnamon-and-sugar-encrusted churros formed into the shape of hamburger buns and stuffs them with milk chocolate and giant marshmallows. Graham crackers had a good run.
What even was that?
Malibu mac and cheese
Sure, if Barbieland had a restaurant, it would serve this technicolour mac and cheese concocted with a bubblegum-pink champagne cheese sauce of Gruyère, cheddar and parmesan (and topped with caviar for an extra $10). But that’s because it tastes kind of like plastic.
Perhaps an attempt to reimagine the watermelon-and-feta salad trend from 2008, this burger patty on a slab of feta stuffed between two watermelon wedges and drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette seems unlikely to become the next big thing. E for effort, though.
Pickles are great. French fries can be transcendent. In this case, though, mixing them together seems to amount to a soggy, fried, pickled potato that tastes more like green food colouring than it does dill. Still, looks darn good on an Instagram feed.
Bigger isn’t always better. That adage applies to this oversized taco stuffed with a whopping four pounds of all the fixings: cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, pico de gallo, avocado, tomatillo salsa, pineapple, chorizo and—that classic taco filling—french fries. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Now, try to pick it up.