For those unfamiliar with EAT!, it's "Canada's largest consumer food, beverage and cooking festival ... featur[ing] hundreds of food, beverage and kitchen goods exhibitors along with wineries, breweries, restaurants, cooking demonstrations, wine and cheese seminars, cookbook authors, and chef competitions." It takes place every year during the month of May at BC Place Stadium.
For $15 (adult price) at the door, or $12 online, attendees could watch black box cooking competitions; see food celebs like Rob Feenie at the Food Network Celebrity Stage; sample and learn about cheese; spend more money on food tickets ($10 for 20 or $5 for 10) to use for sampling items at the Bite of Vancouver restaurant pavillion, Grapes and Hops pavillion, and other booths selling snacks; and sample lots and lots of food and drinks -- even getting to take some home for their pets, too!
For those who missed this year's fest, over the next few posts (this one counting as Part 1), I'll be giving you the full scoop on what was served up.
First up: the samples!
Samples are no doubt one of the main draws to attending EAT!. This year's offerings were enough to ensure that no one went home hungry.
Among the most-grabbed items, I'm sure, were the chocolate samples. Green & Black's offered more than eight varieties of chocolate squares (including Mayan Gold, White, Butterscotch, Ginger, and Caramel), while Nestlé NOIR had four kinds of dark chocolate (including two filled with mousse) available to sample. Being partial to white and milk chocolate, my faves were G&B's white chocolate and Nestle's chocolate-mousse-filled milk chocolate square.
Four Kozy Shack ladies kept busy opening and distributing sample individual-sized regular and sugar-free varieties of their rice, tapioca, and chocolate puddings. Having already tried all the regular versions, I went for all the sugar-free ones. My advice? Stick to the regulars -- the sugar-free ones are, for the most part, tasteless and just don't cut it.
Stoneyfield Farm gave out two different kinds of yogurt -- pomegranate-blueberry and peach-mango. Both were creamy and delicious. One teenaged girl must have really enjoyed it -- I saw her ask the food demonstrator to take a photo with her (with the company's logo in the background), and overheard her telling him afterward that he'd "made [her] day". No, I don't think the man's "yumminess" was a factor.
One booth had over 10 varieties of shortbread cookies, including lemon, maple, rosemary, and original. My faves were apricot and raspberry -- so yummy!
Island Farms started charging two tickets for ice cream samples this year (boo!). On the plus side, their booth hardly ever had any lineups. I tried three flavours in one cup (melon, black forest, and peach cobbler -- their fourth flavour, coffee crunch, was all gone at the time), and they were all quite good, especially melon. They're all new flavours, and I recommend giving them a try.
Aquafina Plus had new flavoured water flavours on offer (here's an interesting review), including fuji apple pear. Interesting fact: as a natural health product, Aquafina Plus can't be given away for free, so the demonstrators got would-be samplers to grab pennies and nickels from cups full of change and got them to drop them back in to bypass that law. Oh, the loopholes.
Fuze had to abide by the same rules, and, since I didn't have any change with me, I sadly missed out on their offerings -- no new strawberry-melon juice for me :(.
Pasta from Olivieri; salad with italian dressing and pear and blue cheese dressing from Renee's; kimchi, korean cookies, garlic tablets, and tea samples from the korean section; and miso soup, two kinds of miso-based dip with tofu, rice with medium-hot curry, flavoured teas, and more from the Japanese section, and many other food and drinks were available to try for "free" at various booths throughout the stadium.
Over at the Jamaican booth, I was lucky enough to get a sample of Jamaican rum cake -- the demonstrator didn't start sampling those till the afternoon -- which I've read are one of the things to bring back as souvenir gifts from cruise trips to the Caribbean. It tasted like fruit cake or plum pudding to me -- nothing special -- but I'm glad to have tried it.
Antigua and Barbuda offered a type of coconut fudge made by the representative herself.
Spain sliced wafer-thin pieces of jambon serran (the country ham) before our eyes to let us sample. Had my digital camera not malfunctioned, I could have scored a picture, which many onlookers were doing when the carving first started. It looked kind of like the ham featured above, only far more appetizing and clean-looking.
The Turkey booth had a limited quantity of Turkish delights to give out (rose, lemon, and lime) -- and if you've tried the real stuff from Turkey, you know they're as good as they made them out to be in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
There were two booths with coffee (I think only one was giving away freebies). As well, there was also rice and soy milk, regular cow milk, granola cereal, chocolate bliss and pumpkin bliss balls, and birch sap (it tastes like maple syrup) available to try.
Arthur's Fresh was sampling pretty much all its smoothies (sooo many flavours!). I wasn't a fan of the Goji berry one, and the carrot one tasted more like mango.
What else was at EAT!?
Chai, butter chicken, kiwi juice, three different kinds of bread from Silver Hills Bakery, four different kinds of ginger snap cookies... the list goes on.
I love frozen foods, so I couldn't get enough of the vodka-infused spiked ice (re. freezies!) at the Black Fly booth at the Grapes and Hops pavillion. I had all three -- Cranberry/Blueberry, Strawberry/Rhubarb, and Black Currant/Blueberry -- for $1 each. Those were so good!
For the most part though, I stuck to the food pavillions, and so don't have much to say about the alcohol. A perk of being an emptier-of-spit-buckets was getting free samples from some of the drink exhibitors :). Nothing really stood out as particularly amazing to me, however.
Over at the "Bite of Vancouver" Pavillion, there were some pretty good food deals going on -- with all items going for $1 to $4.
At the Sweet Chili Café booth, I tried the bami goreng (Indonesian stir-fried noodles; see below for an approximation of what it looked like; $2.50) and nasi goreng (fried rice; $2.50), as well as a cantaloupe-mixed-with-honey-and-lime drink ($1) and a cendol drink (coconut milk, palm sugar, and and starch noodles; $1.50). The cantaloupe drink wasn't that great -- my family's recipe -- which just uses cantaloupe, sugar, and water -- is loads better.
I also went for a stick of chicken seekh kebab (it looked like one of those featured below; $1) from Ashiana Tandoori. It wasn't bad (my companion, H, enjoyed it), but it seemed really greasy to me.
Birch sap toffee (indistinguishable from English toffee; $0.50); a california roll-sushi cup (nothing special -- just sushi ingredients layered in a cup; $3); jambalaya from Big Al's Soul Food (free at the end of the event at closing time, but just tasted like vegetable soup on rice to me); brownie explosion and strawberry-banana gelato from Mamma Mia Gelato (I wasn't too impressed; $3 for a large); some cupcakes from Goldilocks (not too impressed with these either; $2.50 each or $2 each for more than one); samosa, papadam, and mango juice for free from New India Buffet -- or was that Maurya -- at closing time); and tacos (ground pork, chicken, and lamb -- I loved the lamb but didn't really like the chicken) from Dona Cata (I got them for $5 altogether at closing) were just some of the things I tried.
Sadly, I missed out on the Indonesian booth offerings: tumpeng (a cone-shaped mound of rice surrounded by an assortment of Indonesian dishes), which looked kind of like a mini-version of the one featured below, only with different and less-elaborate sides (including a garden salad, chicken wing, and tofu/veggie mixture)) and pisang goreng (fried bananas) with condensed milk and chocolate ($3). I couldn't find the booth until my break was over on Sunday, and so didn't have the time to wait for them to make me a rice cone :(.
You can check out the list of participating restaurants here.
Note that the list isn't entirely accurate. I was sad when Cassis Bistro was nowhere to be found -- I had been hoping to try their ratatouille, which they offered last year. I hope they'll come next year.
So there's my take on the food samples at EAT! Hopefully this post gave you enough of a glimpse of EAT! Vancouver to whet your appetite for next year's event!
Did you attend? Was there anything I missed that you particularly enjoyed? Comment and tell us about your experience! I know I haven't covered everything!
Stay tuned for my next post, where we'll move on to a more useful subject that I might revive when the next EAT! rolls around: tips on how to make the most of your EAT! admission fee.