The Best and Worst Fair Foods
Let’s be fair. For every crave-worthy carnival treat out there, there’s a cringeworthy complement – an abomination dressed all too often in blankets of batter, drifts of sugar and Technicolor hues that would make The Price Is Right set chartreuse with envy.
Below, my humble take on the best and worst foods to have graced our fair midways to date. (Because who knows what lies in wait come next summer.) And, of course, a couple finds that walk that fine line between ick and, well, intrigue. SPAM Curds, my friend, I’m looking at you.
Best Fair Foods
1) The Funnel Cake
Elegant in its simplicity. There are those foods that are battered and fried and then there’s the pure joy of good ol’, unadulterated fried batter. With plenty of surface area for maximized crunch and a reliably craggy texture that cradles that dusting of powdered sugar just so, the funnel cake is quite possibly THE quintessential fair food.
2) The Orange Julius
When I was a little girl, my mom and I made a tradition of riding the double Ferris wheel every year at the CA State Fair. And every year, during those few thrilling seconds perched atop the highest wheel, we’d scan the landscape below for the Orange Julius stand – our Waldo, of sorts, albeit with fewer stripes and more, uh, frothy egg-white stuff. (Is that just a rumor?) Perhaps it’s that tradition, alone, that has me so smitten. Or perhaps it’s the promise of sweet-tart OJ whirled into creamy oblivion with those teeny tiny icy bits that keep everything just cool enough.
3) The Kettle Corn
There have been times, walking ‘round the farmer’s market or through a local festival, when the smell of Kettle Corn, alone, has turned me around in my tracks – and we’re talking Dead Stop. Pivot. Aaaaaand Continue. It’s salty. It’s sweet. It’s available in five-foot sacks. Totally awesome. And somehow, eating it in excess now makes me feel like I’m making up for all that time spent avoiding popcorn when I had braces the first time. Oh yeah, and the second time. Because, yes, I had braces twice. Image credit: seriouseats.com
4) The Turkey Leg
The original meat on a stick, there’s nothing quite like the primal appeal of an oversized turkey drummy, its subtly seasoned dark meat richly complemented by a caramel crackle of skin and spice. No other fair food touts the literal lip-smacking pedigree of this carnival classic. Bring. It. On. Image credit: theworldisabook.com
5) The Decked-Out Caramel Apple
Truth? This was closely tied with Dippin’ Dots. I mean, they’re the ice cream of the future (where, apparently, ice cream will cost $8 for a 4 oz cup of tiny little pellets that stick to your tongue in a hurts-so-good kinda way). But the caramel apple just has the fair scene dialed. Stick food? Check. Caramel? Check. Nuts? Check. Chocolate? Probably. “But mommmmm it’s fruiiiiiit and you said I could pick one thiiiiiiiing and at least it’s mostly gooooooooood for meeeeeeeeee………”? Check.
Image credit: columbusfoodie.com
Worst Fair Foods
1) The Snow Cone
Real, true shaved ice (or shave ice, sans-“d,” if you want to get legit) is an art form, chiseled into such delicate flakes that it begins melting almost the moment it touches your tongue, each fragile spoonful dissipating into a mouthful of the forgivably sweet, fruity syrup in which it bathes. Snow Cones are domes of clumsily formed hail drowned in an onslaught of patriotically hued Kool-Aid. Oh! Except for Rainbow Snow Cones, where the Kool-Aid eventually runs together into a kind of a purply-poo hue that is infinitely more appetizing, still with sucky ice. You choose.
2) The Deep-Fried Watermelon
BLASPHEMY. Is a slice of cold, crisp watermelon — heavy with its own, thirst-quenching liquor of sugar and sunshine — not gift enough in the heat of these late summer months? Improved only with a delicate crowning of coarse sea salt, watermelon is the summer romance I long for allllllll year long. Because lusting after after vine-ripened fruit is hot. Image credit: azcentral.com
3) The Hot Beef Sundae (and the Pulled Pork Parfait)
A base of buttered corn topped with massive scoops of mashed potatoes, thick shreds of saucy beef, white or brown gravy (regionally dependent), orange cheese and – the crowning glory – a cherry tomato. Not to be confused with the closely constructed Pulled Pork Parfait, which is only infinitesimally improved due to its alliteration, alone. (Also, I’m just going to say it. Hot Beef Sundae sounds super, super dirty.) Image credit: nydailynews.com
4) Fudge. Any and all Fudge.
I could be completely alone in this, but what is the deal with fudge? I’ll admit that few confections are as lovely or nostalgic to look at when arranged in neat little bricks along a candy counter, but that’s where the appeal ends. I mean, you guys, we’re talking about a slab of almost-chocolate flavored Crisco embedded with sugary grit and positively buzzing with the promise of tooth decay. Not even nuts can save this one.
5) The Jumbo Corn Dog
You know the one. They come in varying degrees of excess, but the average is somewhere between 1.5 and three hot dogs skewered end-to-end on a fat dowel and dunked in a frothy batter that undoubtedly contains more corn syrup than meal. Do they taste good? Ok, yes, they are phenomenally delicious. But the bottom line remains: no one needs that much battered beef. Ever. Image credit: foodfamilyfinds.com
Best of the Worst
Sweet: Pink Popcorn
Sure, it’s a one-dimensionally sweetened brick of stale popcorn tinted with color that has almost certainly been linked to chronic disease, but it holds a special place in my heart. Would you believe me if I told you my dad used to fiend for this stuff on road trips? Most impressively, it was never hard to come by when we needed to re-up our stash. Likely, I now realize, due to the fact that we were the only ones buying it. Image credit: sfgate.com
About Emily Stoffel
Emily Stoffel lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, Chris, and their three bikes. In addition to attempted kitchen wizardry, her passions include marketing, sustainable living, chatting with Mama and planning elaborate vacations that sometimes work out.