PNE carnies serve up another year of deep-fried delights

Decadent maple bacon funnel cake at the PNE

Every Vancouverite has a special memory associated with the PNE. It’s one of the city’s only institutions – a tradition that has weathered decades of political and social change. Ask any lifelong resident and they will invariably share a few memories of this highly enjoyable Vancouver custom. You might be surprised to find that quite a few of these memories are related to the most sensual of experiences. No, not sex…food.

Food has always been a major part of the PNE experience. Some people buy their tickets with the intention of spending at least $10 on corndogs, others yearn for the taste of caramelized onions on their burgers and still more are devoted to the mini doughnuts and jam-smeared scones. Apart from watching the Super Dogs for an hour or buying a miracle chamois, the food choices most Vancouverites make on their yearly trip to the PNE tend to be based on frivolity and not reason. When surrounded by screeching carnies and the promises of a new house and car, the majority of us are not looking for the ‘greenest’ or most health-conscious meal…we’re looking for something hedonistic. Something deep-fried. Something bacon flavoured.

In the past, your dining choices at the fair were limited to corn on the cob, a burger or a snow cone, but today, we’re surrounded by food trucks and other culinary underdogs. A walk down the main food thoroughfare of the exhibition reveals a variety of choices that just weren’t available in years past. Consumer’s palates are changing. Blame the food network, but it appears that the more traditional fair food has given way to experiments in deep-frying and pseudo family friendly flavours designed to tempt the hedonist in all of us.

 Pennsylvania Dutch Funnel Cakes

The PNE has had some of the most unusual (and unusually unhealthy) foods throughout the years. Last year, they brought deep-fried Pop Tarts and Oreos to the lower mainland with great success. This year, they decided to bring their A game.

Suzanne Boudrier, a self- described ‘foodie’ and one of the founders of Pennsylvania Dutch Funnel Cakes, spends the off seasons travelling and coming up with new ideas to tempt the public each season. For Boudrier, it is a trial and error process. In her search to create new taste sensations, she has breaded and deep-fried any number of decadent treats, from Kit Kats to Reese’s peanut butter cups. According to Boudrier, some work better than others. It is only through multiple tastings and testings that family and friends come to a decision on the ‘star product’ of the season.

This year, Boudrier is proudly offering Deep Fried Wagon Wheels and Maple Bacon Funnel Cakes. I have never been a fan of Wagon Wheels. I have very clear memories of my mother passing me one of the waxy, over-processed disks and making an overenthusiastic yummy face in an attempt to get me to enjoy them. Tasteless, I thought. Chalky, I mumbled. Obviously, I had never experienced one deep-fried. When the sweet breading, milled exclusively for the company, surrounds the chocolate and the marshmallow melts ‘just so,’ what was once a disappointing childhood treat becomes something I would eat in the darkness, squirreling away from others, selfish in my delight. The funnel cakes could also easily be categorized as ‘basement corner shame food.’ The cake itself is light, neutral and an excellent base for the sweetness of the maple syrup, the heavy hits of real bacon bits and fluff of whipped cream. The tastes blend into an incredibly lovely sensation that lead me to imagine how much profit Boudrier would make if she set up shop beside one of Vancouver’s many marijuana dispensaries. You don’t need to be ‘intoxicated’ to enjoy her offerings however, and her food truck should be on the top of your tasting list during your visit to the PNE.

Granny’s Cheesecake and More

Although almost across the park from each other, it’s easy to imagine these two stands going at each other ‘fight club’ style for the eccentric deep frying crown. Based in Texas with a long history of carnival vending behind them, Granny’s offers some of the strangest goods at the fair, all of which have been a great success.  Perhaps the most fascinating part of Granny’s Cheesecake and More is the 21-year-old granddaughter of the founder, Samantha Satchell.

PNE carnie, Samantha Satchell

A third generation ‘carnie,’ Samantha has been peddling her deep-fried goodness since her early teens, travelling throughout the United States and Canada with the family business. Casual but with a slight, fascinatingly jaded quality Samantha has been on the road since she was 16 and has seen a great deal in the process.

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