The History of Classic Carnival Foods

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The CNE brings us the anticipated weird and the wacky eats each year.  They bring us food truck events and cooking demos.  Yet a truly genuine experience to any town fair and carnival is only complete with gallons of freshly squeezed lemonade, hands sticky from spun sugar and faces dripping in caramel, cinnamon or frozen milk products (or all of the above). While our stomach are roiling with a cacophony of indulgences let’s consider how our nostalgic favourites came to be?

Cotton Candy

Invented back in 1899 and introduced at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, Fairy Floss, Candy Floss or as Canadians know it, Cotton Candy began simply as finely ground sugar melted and spun in a large centrifuge with holes to create fine threads of sweetness. During that fair boxes were sold for an expensive 25 cents yet people were so enamoured with the concept a total of 68,655 boxes were sold, equaling  a massive profit back then of $17,163.75.

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Mini Donuts

A lot of unconfirmed theories surround where the mini donut started. Of course they evolved from the their larger counterpart much like the cupcakes coming from cakes, yet the most common thread of speculation was that  they were created during the Spanish-American War when rations were tight and smaller portions were given out. Thanks heavens that is no longer the case as most people today can easily throw back a dozen or more.

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Funnel Cakes

Fried dough can never be a bad thing and the long history of funnel cakes, dating back to Anglo-Norman Medieval times, supports our love for it.  And while the current techniques and recipe are thanks to the Pennsylvanian Dutch, any grade school child in Ontario can be equally grateful to both since no trip to Canada’s Wonderland is complete without a massive plate of Funnel cake.

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The first snow cone making machine was invented in 1920, however the popular treat was already being enjoyed at home where cheap ice and mom’s homemade syrup made for an affordable summer treat. Simply shaved iced doused with flavoured sugar water, the world’s most popular  taste continues to be the classic fruity “rainbow” flavour.

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Ice Cream Waffle Sandwich

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Ice Cream Waffle Sandwich at The Ex.  Another confection with an unconfirmed history it is believed to have been the brain child of Sharole Levan and her other Conklin Carnival employees  on route to the CNE where it made its International Debut. Hot fluffy waffles sandwiching cold, vanilla ice cream; can’t go wrong with that idea.

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Candy Apples

In the case of my favorite carnival treat, the candy came before the fruit.  In 1908, William Kolb wanted a way to promote his hard cinnamon candy.  By coating an apple on a stick with the bright red sugary treat he hoped to bring in more customers who in turn would ask about the candy and purchase it.  Little did he anticipate that while customers did in fact asked about it, they wanted it with the apple.  Variations with caramel, toffee and nuts are just as popular but it’s the classic fire engine red that started it all.

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Corn Dog

It seems that everyone wants a piece of glory in the creation of the corn dog.  Whether it’s the mom and pop shop in Oregon or the creative father in Springfield, Illinois that can be credited, the corn dogs short history matters little when you get a hankering for a deep fried battered hot on a stick. But why “corn”? The batter consists of the smallest amount of cornmeal therefore giving its famous moniker.

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Deep fired chocolate bars or anything on a stick has becoming more and more popular at carnivals and fairs, it’s the classics that we can never resist.  And while their history are varied, the pleasure they bring children and adults alike never changes.

The Weird, the Wacky and The Wonderful; The New Foods at the CNE

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Nothing says the CNE like candy apples, cotton candy and mini donuts.  Classic nostalgic carnival foods that taste the same at 50 years old as it did at 5. This year even marks the 75th anniversary of the always popular ice cream waffle sandwich.  But it’s the crazy food, the experimental dishes of gastronomical proportions that draws the crowds to the ever popular Food Building.  Each year vendors try to outperform each other making previous years creations even more outlandish and to unofficially become the CNE’s wildest dish. This year is no different.  Just take a look.

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Tim Horton’s Cotton Candy and Cola Flavour Timbits;  Timbits Poutine And Pretzel Donut Honey Dijon Ham Sandwich (CNE locations only) (Tim Horton’s, Food Building)

It’s nice to see a big franchise get playful for the CNE and the Timbit idea will please many a 8 year old Canadian.

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Deep Fried Rice Pudding; Chicken, Waffles and Ice Cream; Biggie in a Blanket and Coffee and Donuts Milkshake ( Fran’s Restaurant, Food Building)

Fran’s restaurant is offering up not one but four unique food offerings. The rice pudding is crispy and sweet, the chicken and waffles are perfect hangover food and the Milkshake is thick and creamy. The Biggie consisted of bacon, sausage and egg wrapped in a pancake making it a surprisingly portable “breakfast sandwich”.

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Bub’s Bad Boy Burger (Bub’s Bad@ss Burgers, Food Building)

Sometimes you just can’t decide whether you want a chicken burger or a beef burger.  Bub’s Bad@ass Burgers takes the decision out of your hands with a slab of both sandwiched between Spicy Jamaican Patties and topped with tomatoes, sriracha mayo, coleslaw, wasabi cucumber, pepper jack cheese and hickory sticks.  There is a flavour explosion in each bite.

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Deep Fried Cheesecake (Midway)

Pickle Pete’s will be offering up this sweet meets crispy fried confection. New Style Cheesecake wrapped up tight and topped with cinnamon sugar and chocolate sauce.

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Bloomin’ Apple (Midway)

Those fans of the colossus bloomin’ onion may want to treat their sweet side with this clever dessert perfect for sharing.  Caramel or nut coating available.

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Deep Fried Red Velvet Oreo (The Funnel Cake Shop, Food Building)

Two popular food trends of red velvet everything and deep fried come together in this snack sized morsel of Oreo goodness.

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Baked Wrapped Grilled Cheese (Bacon Nation, Food Building)

My third favorite item released this year is this sandwich is surprisingly not greasy and not overly obnoxious in the need to burden you with too much bacon-ness.  And the only reason it was third on my list is I figure I could make this myself at home.

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Chicken Waffle on a Stick (West End of CNE Grounds near Press Building)

Ok stay with me here.  Skewered fried chicken, wrapped in a waffle, dipped in maple syrup and drizzled with icing sugar and hot sauce. It’s like a Pogo only so much better.

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Garlic Snow Crab Fries(Jake’s Lobster, Food Building)

No CNE is complete without a creative take on poutine done at least once.  Here you can overindulge in a decadent plate of fries topped with garlic aioli, snow crab and herbs.

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Corrado’s “S&M” Burger (Corrado’s Authentic Italian, Food Building)

So here is where it gets a little wacky and weird with Corrado’s Spaghetti and Meatball Sandwich. Yes folks spaghetti. A meatball burger topped with a deep fried spaghetti patty, cheese  and marinara. Mild and spicy versions available. I wonder what Mamma would say.

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Frosted Flake Battered Chicken on a Stick (Iron Skillet Sirloin Tips, Food Building)

A very close second in my list of favorites of the day.  This treat is huge.  Juicy, crispy, it’s as simple as its name but so freaking delicious.

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Baonana Split (Far East Taco, Food Building)

One more sweet treat made the list with this traditional Asian bao bun filled with hazelnut chocolate, bananas, whipped cream, chocolate and strawberry syrup and topped with a cherry.

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Cold Brew Coffee Tonic (Hula Girl Espresso, Food Building)

For something refreshing the folks at Hula Girl are trying out their new cold brew coffee concept; Espresso and tonic water served over ice.  A perfect cool down after a day in the sun.

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Poutine Balls (Vienna, Food Building)

This is essentially poutine…. poutine.  Creamy mashed potatoes are stuffed with cheese and gravy, battered and then deep fried.  They are then used as the “fries” in classic poutine. So totally Canadian and my number one taste of the day.

While I don’t suggest you try everything in one day as I did I highly recommend you do taste as many as you possibly can.  Which dishes are you most looking forward to?