Fair Food for the Soul
By Monica Romig Green
This past Saturday, I went to the Texas State Fair for the first time. I would call myself a fan of county, state and national fairs. I love experiencing the energy of all the people coming to have a good time. I enjoy the sounds, the sights and the smells. I’m particularly partial to the old-fashioned parts of a fair: the contests for hand-crafted items, like quilting, painting or canning; the young people proudly showing their farm animals; and the exhibits that speak of local pride. All of these efforts remind me that hard work, creativity and sense of a place are still important in this isolated, mobile, and post-modern age.
But one of the most popular draws to a fair in recent years is what’s called “fair food.” In the past what would have been corn dogs, cotton candy and popcorn has become, over the last 10 years or so, a kind of extreme art form unto itself! Each year, fair food providers across North America try to outdo themselves by inventing the craziest, most decadent and/or extreme food offering. These are often reasonably priced versions of street food, either palm-sized or on a stick, and quite often deep-fried. Some recent examples include cheeseburgers with donuts for buns, deep fried butter, and chocolate-covered bacon.
The Texas State Fair, in particular, has made a contest to encourage new and exciting fair food. Since 2005, they have picked a handful of finalists for the “Big Tex Choice Award,” with two coming out on top for Best Taste and Most Creative. This year, I enjoyed the 2013 Best Taste Winner, the Deep Fried Cuban Sandwich, and a 2014 finalist called the Deep Fried Texas Bluebonnet, which is described as “a blueberry muffin, scone-style batter that is stuffed with cream cheese, blueberries and sweet morsels of white chocolate. It is baked and deep fried to a perfect golden brown. This mountain of flavor is topped off with whipped cream, chopped white chocolate morsels, powdered sugar, blueberries, and a delicious blueberry glaze.” Needless to say, both were pretty fantastic, and I felt awfully decadent while enjoying them, despite their reasonable size.
These tasty treats got me thinking about what it is about fair food that is such an appeal to so many of us. Clearly, we aren’t eating these foods for health reasons. I do not what to know the nutritional values (or lack thereof) of what I ate. That would take all the fun out of it, right?
I think that’s the most important appeal of fair food: fun. Because it happens only once a year, we all give ourselves permission to experiment and eat something we would never usually try in “normal life.” It’s fun to throw out the rule books for one day. Since the fair is a special place at a specific time of year, we indulge ourselves, whether it’s with food, rides, midday games, or even watching some guy demonstrate a product we would never consider purchasing on a normal day. At the fair, everything is an adventure, including the food. And once again, we can approach food with the carefree attitude, excitement and joy of a little child, discovering something new and hopefully delicious. And definitely deep fried.