Eating Halal at the Canadian National Exhibition
Eating halal food at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) is fairly easy thanks to the organizers who have really thought about satisfying the various needs of their projected 1.4 million attendees this year. Aside from food options, they also make sure people have a dedicated space to pray with two Prayer Rooms, one of which is open right until midnight.
Despite the fact that the bulk of halal joints serve shawarma, there are plenty of options when you do some out-of-the-box thinking and ask the right questions.
I’m counting my blessings for once that as halal-eaters we are limited in Canada, alhamdulillah. The things people are combining and coming up with these days is nothing short of a coronary waiting to happen (cronut burger, all things bacon wrapped, fried anything on a stick). To each their own, but sometimes I wonder if that’s where we’re headed with all the trend crazes going on? I digress! Despite all the fried combinations like Oreos, Mars chocolate bars and butter — yes, there was fried butter — there were some pretty amazing healthy and halal options as well.
As a note of caution: please avoid purchasing seemingly vegetarian things from places that sell meat. For example, there were several funnel cake and deep-fried places that had halal-friendly items cooked in vegetable oil, but they also had pork and other non-halal meats on the menu. With tight cooking quarters and shared fryers throughout the Canadian National Exhibition, cross-contamination is inevitable. There’s no harm in questioning before you buy.
Quick Pita and Steak & Cheese Factory had the strongest halal presence with over 3-4 locations throughout the Exhibition grounds, indoor and out. Can’t complain about the Philly, it was easy to eat, tender meat and savoury flavour with a spicy and tart kick to keep you from taste bud boredom.
Aside from the bacon theme at The Canadian National Exhibition, their Nutella inspired concoctions is a trend we can (almost*) safely partake in. The Nutella food stall inside the Toronto Star Food Building had all things chocolate hazelnut. Independently owned by Blue Donkey food truck owner Tony Vastis, the Nutella booth is exclusive to the Canadian National Exhibition. They had typical Nutella-esque things such as waffles and… jalapeno poppers. Chocolate with spice is not a new combination, but not sure the addition of sour cream and then being deep-fried is going to go well with my intestines, so I pass.
I knew however, that I had to try “Sweetchips” aka Nutella Fries, one of CNE’s feature must try gastro medley for 2013. They take sweet potato fries with a sprinkle of sea salt, lace strips of Nutella and then top with a perfect dusting of icing sugar. The Nutella food booth had only a couple of items that contained marshmallows as an ingredient/topping (*the non-halal options on the menu). With their fryers using vegetable oil; I gave myself the green flag to proceed.
The order was received hot, in a great red checkered lined box with sturdy plastic forks. The combination works similar to the savoury/sweet mix of kettle corn. Nutella fries were comforting and satisfied both cravings on top of the substance of eating a warm, deep-fried root vegetable. Potato is a vegetable right? It was so surprisingly good I’m sitting here craving more as I type.
Moving on, we found some more halal places with the help of the awesome Food Building Directory from Canadian National Exhibition organizers. However, since it’s not confirmed how their process works to gain this halal icon on their restaurant listing, it’s best to double check with the restaurant directly. Plus they could have a partial halal menu, serve pork, etc. So please don’t use this as a halal pass — investigate!
Bua Thai was one of the few non-Middle Eastern choices. The only meat they carry is chicken from Markham Meat Packers Co. which is all hand-slaughtered by Sargent Farms.
Next up, Thyme & Olives Lebanese Bakery, also owned by Quick Pita and Steak & Cheese owner, Khalil Assaad. Their feature dish is their Halloom Cheese Sesame Purse, but also have unique pies like Greek Cheese and Turkey plus Olive and Veggies and other pastries. Lighter halal fare and really friendly staff as well. All three of Assaad’s eateries use halal meat from hand slaughtered sources. Staying with the Labenese theme, Family owned and operated Ghazala caught my eye with their colourful spread of fresh salads, stews and of course, shawarma. A quick energizing salad from their impressive line up is a great lunch idea if you’re trying to escape Toronto’s sweltering summer heat.
Pioneers in the West Indian restaurant scene in Toronto, Ali’s West Indian Roti Shop gets rave reviews from critics and bloggers and offer a full halal menu. Their chicken comes from Sargent Farms and Beef is sourced from Corsetti Meat Packers (purchased through Imran Halal Meat).
If food trucks are your thing, Paramount Fine Food’s new truck Yalla Paramount and Pretty Sweet will be participating in Food Truck Frenzy! Food Truck Frenzy happens between August 23-25 along Princes’ Boulevard across from Direct Energy Centre.
Venturing off the halal track, why not approach some vegan and vegetarian stalls? With the right questions answered, you can safely eat, and most likely eat well. We purchased some mango lassi from Kala’s Kitchen (all vegetarian with no alcohol served or used) then went across the lane to Wild Child’s Kitchen.
Paulette and her Wild Child’s Kitchen team are fun, energetic and passionate about their food. Even with lineups they took time to chat with us and answer our questions. Vegan, gluten free, raw, their tagline is delicious, honest food — truth!
Nacho-Rama is a corn nacho platter served with fresh guacamole, tomato salsa, red and green pepper, morita chilli sauce and mock ground beef and sour cream. Even though we kept it moderate while we ate our way through the CNE, we still felt the gluttony so this was saving grace at the end of a long afternoon of fryers upon fryers.
For an icy treat, their all natural lime and mint ice lolly sweetened with agave, hit the spot but was more of an adult taste with very strong fresh mint flavour. Opt for tropical or mango if you’re in a more fruit-minded mood.
Desserts and sweets were in no short supply. Take your pick from fudge puppies, funnel cake, chocolate gelato in a brioche bun, candy/caramel apples, Chilly Ribbons (shaved snow) — just remember to check about ingredients and cooking/preparation methods used as there are several places and not all will have the same set-up/process.
To keep it light, I recommend a large bowl of Chilly Ribbons which are made purely from real fruit puree, sugar and milk and boast less than 100 calories (large sized with no added toppings).
Our family experience was a great one at 2013 CNE! Monday to Thursday take advantage of their $5 after 5pm ticket price.
Let us know what foods you tried by leaving a comment below and remember to tag your pictures with #halalCNE2013