Eating Vegetarian at the CNE

A lot of people think being vegetarian means your life is a constant diet — the kind that involves deadly amounts of salad. What people don’t know is that eating vegetarian can be excitingly bad for you, too. Yes, vegetarian diets force you to eat more vegetables but we can dabble in delicious, crazy junk food just like the meat eaters.

This weekend I found myself at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) trying to prove just that.

After paying the hefty fee of $18 to get into the grounds we headed straight to the Toronto Star food building. The buzzing noise of friers gurgling, and people eagerly waiting in lines filled my ears. According to the the CNE website, over 1 million people visit the food building each year — a number that doesn’t surprise me judging by the overwhelming amount of people in the building that day.

By the time we got inside it was 5:30 p.m., a prime time for dinner. My advice to visitors is to come to this building during off hours. Try having an early dinner instead. The building closes at 9:00 p.m. and the entrance fee is only $6 after 5:00 p.m., Monday to Thursday, so don’t make the mistake of having a late dinner.

The first vendor on my list was, Bug Bistro. This unconventional stand is serving up cricket, mealworm and beetle-infused dishes for the more adventurous foodie. The only vegetarian items on the menu were the Crispy Critter Rolls and the Beetle Juice Smoothie. I opted for the former. There was also a Crickety Lime Pie, but traditional Lime Pie usually uses egg whites so if you’re the kind of vegetarian that doesn’t eat eggs steer clear of that item.

The roll was stuffed with mixed vegetables and mealworms then fried the perfect amount. It’s size was similar to a taquito, but it’s flavour was similar to that of a spring roll. The mealworms were salty and crunchy but overall, they were not noticeable — that is until you looked between it’s crispy outer shell. Between the vegetables I could see the thin brown mealworms spewing over the sides.

As a vegetarian I am open to the idea of eating insects. From an environmental perspective they’re a much more sustainable source of protein than beef, chicken, pork or fish and as the population continues to grow the need for a sustainable way to feed our selves is becoming more and more prominent. Plus, I’m always down to try new things.

After a few bites I moved on to my main dish, the melted swiss raclette on garlic potato cubes. Watching the swiss raclette melt and bubble under the special raclette burner was extremely exciting and mouth watering. After scraping the raclette onto a bed of garlic-seasoned potatoes the staff at the Traditional Swiss Raclette stand topped my brown box with jerkins pickles and a silverskin onion.

Raclette began as a popular dish in Switzerland before it spread like wildfire to Canadian fairs after videos of the melted cheese circled on Facebook. The cheese is made from cow’s milk and is surprisingly mild. I remember thinking that I would definitely order this over a poutine if presented the option at local restaurants. I didn’t even need ketchup, or hot sauce!

Lastly I had my deep fried cookie dough balls from, Cookie Dough Me!. This dessert was decadent to say the least. I had the choice of getting one, three or five but decided to get three dough balls; one chocolate chip, one red velvet and one brownie to try one of each. My favourite was the chocolate chip, and would probably only get one if I was returning to the CNE. Drizzled in chocolate sauce they tasted exactly how you would imagine — crispy on the outside and uncooked, goodness on the inside. It completely reminded me of eating Pillsbury chocolate chip cookie dough, and for that I was satisfied.

After trying each of these outrageous junk foods, I was satisfied with my trip to the food building. Something quirky, something cheesy and something fried…what more can a foodie ask for? Vegetarian, or not.

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