Famished to Full at the Niagara Food Festival [Welland, ON]

In less than 2 hours, and with less than $20, I went from famished to full at this year’s Niagara Food Festival. Taking place in my beautiful hometown of Welland beside Merritt Island Park – this annual event attracts tens of thousands of locals and tourists alike.

This year I was happy to leave both my rain and winter jackets at home. Armed with a light sweater, my camera and some cash it was a quick drive downtown. This year the “fall fair” smell was absent, but that was likely due to the fact that the festival usually happens in October around Thanksgiving and this year it was moved up a month. Don’t quote me on it but I have a feeling it was due to the not-so-pleasant weather the festival has experienced over the last few years.

Each year I appreciate all of the community booths that set-up on East Main, but I must admit I usually skip them and make a bee-line right for the food. This year was no different. As we walked in there was a band that I have never heard of playing on stage – they are called These Kids Wear Crowns and their sound was a great backdrop for the festival.

Now, as odd as this may sound, in the last 4 years of attending I have developed a Food Fest strategy. I do one full walk-through to see all the menus and gauge what I feel like eating, prioritizing as I go, and then I walk through again and order what I like.

This year I indulged first in some Gyoza and Pulled Pork Soba from The Smokin’ Buddha. If you have not ever been to the restaurant, it’s located in Port Colborne. But, you can also find this great restaurant at most of the Farmer’s Markets around Niagara. The gyoza was cooked to perfection – tender meat on the inside and crispy dough on the outside. I did not care much for the dipping sauce that came with it – it was a little too vinegary for my taste – thankfully it was on the side. The soba was delicious and, unfortunately, I was so hungry that I did not even take a picture! And, I have no idea what most of the ingredients are called (they were mostly asian) so here is the best description you are going to get:

… the Pulled Pork Soba was this “orangy Asian wrap thing” filled with deliciously succulent pulled pork and topped with a zesty mango, cilantro (and other stuff) salsa …

At this point I took a little walk over to the Mobile Culinary Theatre (which in effect is a spiffy looking mobile home with a built-in kitchen) where celebrity chef Trish Magwood was getting ready for a show and cook-book signing. I know she is a celebrity chef and there seemed to be a lot of people waiting for her, but the food was calling my name so I did not stick around.

Instead, I could not help myself but to head to Johnny Rocco’s for their jumbo Cheese Ravioli and sweet Cannoli. I was tempted to grab some of the Parmesan Chips but only had two hands. The ravioli was “GIANORMOUS” (gigantic + enormous) and smothered in a creamy mushroom sauce. The cannoli looked delicious and tasted the same – pistachios on one end and chocolate chips on the other.

Now – at this point you might think that there was much more space left in my modestly sized stomach. But there is a part of this story that I’ve left out – I have not included what my husband and friends ordered that we were all sharing which included rice balls, Jamaican rice and jerk chicken, a bloomin’ onion and a pulled pork wrap. So now you’ll better understand when I say that I was STUFFED! Not stuffed enough, however, to head to the Niagara College stand for a waffle cone of their home-made pear sorbet. Mmmmmmm!!! It was cold, fresh and tasted like an orchard — my kind of sorbet! I must admit that I missed the typical frosty air that usually accompanies this event and then spending $5.00 on $1 cups of steamy, spiced apple cider.

We enjoyed our sorbet at the edge of the canal, enjoying the concert stage from a distance — the glow of lights in the darkness adding to the hip vibe that came with nightfall. In that moment I had a pretty nostalgic feeling. The Niagara Food Festival was the first community event that my husband and I attended when we moved to Niagara in September 2008. Now, with 5 Food Fests under my belt and a community full of friends, Niagara feels like and is my home.

With a 5 dollar bill still in my back pocket, I could not resist grabbing a bag of Cinnamon Caramel Apple Pie Kettlecorn from the Shriner’s Creek stand. I first tried their popcorn while buying cheese at the Upper Canada Cheese Co, which is an amazing cheese company by the way.  And now I cannot help but stop and buy whenever I see Shriner’s Creek which is problematic when they are at the Welland Market, where I do my grocery shopping, every Saturday morning.

As I waddled in the cool air from the car into my house – completely full of delicious Niagara Foods, I could still hear the music from the party downtown. And, as I sipped my tea on the couch listening to the fireworks in the distance, I could not help thinking about all the deliciousness that next year’s 2013 Niagara Food Fest will bring. See you there!


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