As I’m sure I’ve already mentioned, the terminus of the CNE marks the official end of summer here in Toronto. Yes, the Grand Old Lady once again shutters her carnie abodes, winterizes her hot dog stands, and abandons the Exhibition grounds to make way for more indoor, agriculturally-based pursuits.
And a Grand Old Lady she is, probably because of all the foods that abound within the burgeoning fair. It’s the main reason I went this year! :)
To be more precise, I wanted to try the deep-fried butter being sold for the first time. Possibly the last. We’ll see where the coronary takes us. Yeah, you read that right: deep-fried butter. No tricky wording or false advertising here – you get four balls of chilled butter on the ends of toothpicks, coated in batter, plunged into hot oil for a few seconds, and drizzled with a variety of sweet sauces.
If your arteries don’t harden just looking at that then you’re not looking hard enough!
So what does deep-fried butter taste like? Fucking good.
The butter has a chance to fully melt into the surrounding batter by the time you eat it, so what you end up with is a buttery, ball-shaped puff of deep-fried batter. Yeah, not bad at all.
The chocolate covered bacon I can’t vouch for simply because I didn’t have any – maybe next year. Same goes for the deep-fried Mars / Twinkie bars; I have a lard limit and I still had to try Tiny Tom’s Donuts.
People are always a little shocked when I tell them I’ve never tried Tiny Tom’s – the place has been a CNE institution since anyone can remember and almost everyone has some sort of warm and fuzzy memory associated with the miniature treats.
And now I finally understand what makes them so popular.
The doughnut-making machines squirt little rings of batter into hot oil which is kept moving in an outward spiral. During their trip through the wash, the doughnuts have enough time to properly cook before plunking out onto a moving conveyor belt which ends right at the cash register. The bag they hand you has cooled just enough to keep you from getting scalded. Mmmm.
Funnel Cakes (first photo above), can be found just about anywhere there are carnies. They’re a nest of deep-fried dough covered with (one of more of), ice cream, preserved strawberries, icing sugar, apple goop, and honey. They’re called funnel cakes because the batter is squeezed into the hot oil out of a funnel.
Batter and hot oil; a certain theme begins to emerge after a while, doesn’t it? I believe you could deep-fry dog crap and still sell it on a stick. There’s something about the process that makes all food and food-like items good.
Of course, there are exceptions.
Note, however, that the blocks of ice cream must still be buttressed by waffles – another buttery batter. And if it’s absolutely necessary that oil / butter / fat and batter be kept out of the concoction, it should still have copious amounts of sugar.
Even simple things like popcorn are typically swimming in congealed cow fat … and to offset the lack of sugar, salt to wrest what little effort is left out of your overwrought taste buds.
One of the main reasons I find the CNE so quaint is that mixed among all these junky / junkie foods are antique delicacies that were probably the shit back when the Ex was still more or less an agricultural exhibition (with a fun fair attached).
I would expect to find old-timers lined up at these concession stands, folks for whom the penchant for liver ‘n onions has given way to dangerous culinary leanings these few days out of the year; yet it’s not unusual to find kids lined up for a smidgen of bratwurst or a slathering of Canadian back bacon.
These days, people I know who attend the CNE spend most of their time in the Food Building, a large honeycomb of food shops serving anything from Swiss Chalet to Khlav Khalash. It used to be about the rides and the farm animals, now it’s all about getting your gourmand on.
Gourmand is probably a strong word. It implies that there’s some sort of hoity-toity food snobbery going on, kinda hard to accomplish when you’re squatting down over any available hunk of grass to scarf down your meal. Gluttony is, perhaps, more accurate.
Plus, having food in your belly isn’t necessarily a fait accompli if one intends to engage in any other activity the CNE has to offer.