What To Eat At The Fair

An article in today’s Epi-Log stimulated waves of nostalgia for a Martin family favorite summertime tradition: The county fair. It was a fine article, but didn’t really focus on food, so here’s a follow up with some personal culinary favorites available at most county and state fairs.

Of course, the main rule is to eat things at the fair that you can’t get anywhere else. If you’re in Wisconsin, for example, get cream puffs, even though they’re not traditional fair food. In Minnesota, eat nothing that doesn’t come on a stick. In western Washington, top your burger with Walla Walla sweet onions.

But in addition to the regional favorites, pretty much all fairs bring with them a host of classics that you can get almost nowhere else. After the jump you’ll find a few personal preferences. Feel free to comment with your own favorites/forgettables.


• Funnel Cake. Duh. This is like the food of the fair. You don’t have to eat it first but if you don’t have one you really don’t deserve to be here. We normally just go for one straightaway to get into the spirit of the thing.

• Unless you’re a grownup and can drink beer, that weird lemon ice drink should be your beverage of choice. Soda pop is boring and for the other 50 weeks of the year. At the fair, you’ve got to go for something fruity but still junky. That sugary yellow sludge is perfect.

• Two words: DEEP FRIED: Get anything and everything you can find dunked in hot oil. Fairs are notorious for really crazy treats like fried candy bars and Twinkies. They also drop every kind of vegetable imaginable in the oil, so get one of each. And don’t complain that you’re full. There’s plenty of time to not eat when you get home.

(An aside: One time at the Alameda County fair, when it was like a million degrees out, we were bravely wading into a tray of maybe five or six different kinds of fried vegetables with creamy sauces when our little clique wandered into one of the livestock areas with us in tow.

Suddenly we were trying to enjoy fried artichoke hearts with ranch dressing in the middle of a 100-degree room filled with 200 cows and their droppings. This is not the way to enjoy your food. Tell your friends to cool it for one freaking second and make them sit in the shade and eat fried with you. You’ll all be the better for it.)

• Outlandish soft-serve. This gets overlooked sometimes, but a lot of those traveling carts carry weird flavors of soft-serve ice-cream like pistachio and banana. Get it dunked in chocolate or rolled in sprinkles and you’re golden.

• Chili!

Don’t Waste My Time:

• Caramel and candy apples need to make some room. Christ, why are these so popular? Who wants an apple? Nobody, that’s who. Fine, cover it in gross candy approximation. It’s still fruit. And on this one day when mother isn’t forcing it down your throat, do you really want an out-of-season apple taking up valuable stomach real estate? No, you do not. Plus, they’re super dangerous to losing a tooth, which would put you out of commission for the rest of the day. Steer clear.

• Sno Cones and Cotton Candy are soooooo boring. You may get a cotton candy to split amongst the group, but seriously? These are like the lowest-budget treats in the world. Any half-baked city hall or school district fund-raiser will probably rent a cotton candy machine or sno-cone cart and you’ll get your fill of what is basically straight sugar then. Save it.

• Soda pop: See above.

• Why must every bastion of cart-based, hot-dog-dominated junk food such as the fair or the ball game also contain pizza? Unless you’re getting it from an actual parlor, or at least a restaurant with a legitimate oven, pizza never any good. In fact, the fair variety is almost guaranteed to be undercooked and doughy and lame with like four pepperonis. Will America ever learn?

• Those huge lollipops are going to be fun for about two minutes and then they will become a burden. Resist.

Top Five Things To Do At The County Fair

[Photo: Funnel cake with M&Ms; via ajagendorf25/flickr]

What To Eat At The Fair