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Monday, August 24, 2009

California's Carnival and Fair Foods

I love everything about county fairs--the livestock, the art work, the pig races, the rides, the lights at night, and, of course, the food. Growing up in Montana, I was excited to go to the Yellowstone County Fair each year, with my favorite food being the Viking on a Stick from the Sons of Norway booth. It is a Swedish meatball on a stick--and it might have been deep fried. I'm not sure--it has been quite a few years.

Now that I live in Sacramento I'm lucky enough to get the small Sacramento County Fair over Memorial Day Weekend, and the enormous California State Fair for 17 days ending on Labor Day (and it used to be 24 days). But that doesn't stop me from visiting other county fairs in the area--I try to combine visits to those fairs with hiking/camping trips, or with excursions to photograph vintage neon signs and historic buildings.

At first I took to photographing the typical carnival foods--corn dogs and caramel apples and the like. But at fairs these days there are always people selling over-the-top food, like a deep-fried White Castle hamburger. I'm willing to give those a try too, no matter how unpalatable and unhealthy the concoction might sound.

So here, just for your amusement, are some photos of foods I have eaten and the fairs in Northern California that I ate them at.

20070602 Deep-Fried Twinkie
Deep-fried Twinkie on a stick
Contra Costa County Fair (Antioch)

This was surprisingly good--certainly better than what I remember an unfried Twinkie tasting like. I've seen that at other places, though, they top the Twinkies, with powdered sugar, or chocolate syrup. Discovering that, I felt like I had been cheated with a plain old deep-fried Twinkie.

20070602 Cheese-on-a-Stick
Deep-fried cheese on a stick
Contra Costa County Fair

The melted cheese is contained by the fried cornmeal batter. The cheese was not of high quality, and this really didn't work too well as stick food.

20080626 Bacon-Wrapped Hot Dogs
Bacon-wrapped hot dogs
Mother Lode Fair (Sonora)

I'm afraid I didn't get to try these. I had eaten a very large meal at a barbecue restaurant while waiting for the fair to open. I've looked for them at other fairs since, but haven't had any luck in finding them. I'm very anxious to give them a try.

20070817 Cheesecake on a Stick
Cheesecake on a stick
California State Fair

Frozen and dipped in chocolate. You know they couldn't go wrong with this one.

20070817 Foot-Long Corn Dog
Foot-long corn dog
California State Fair

A classic. The only corn dogs I had as a kid were from the school cafeteria, and they were not good, so it came as a surprise to me later on to find out how delicious a well done corn dog is. As for the meat--I've seen booths boasting that they serve 100% turkey corn dogs, and ones boasting 100% beef corn dogs. I love them both, as long as they are either "jumbo" or "foot-long."

20080819 Totally Fried White Castle
Deep-fried White Castle hamburger and fries
California State Fair

Between this and the unusually greasy fries underneath it, I felt a bit queasy when I finished eating, but soon recovered. There was no way I wasn't going to try this after reading about it in the Sacramento Bee.

20090619 Twister Dog
Twister dog
El Dorado County Fair (Placerville)

When I couldn't find a bacon-wrapped hot dog, I had to settle for this. It's a spiral-cut potato wrapped around a hot dog and deep fried. It was not good.

20060529 Smoked German Sausage
Smoked German sausage
Sacramento County Fair

Mmmmm, I wish I had one right now.

20080522 Caramel Apple on a Stick
Caramel apple
Sacramento County Fair

A classic I used to enjoy at the Yellowstone County Fair in Montana. I need to also get a photo of a candied apple, which is something I never saw growing up. I don't really understand that one either--the hard shell makes it a bit of a challenge to eat. The caramel apple is no problem.

20070602 Frozen Banana
Frozen banana dipped in chocolate
Contra Costa County Fair

Always a favorite of my mother and sister.

20090823 Turkey Leg
Turkey leg
California State Fair

Awfully pricey compared to the turkey legs at Sam's Hof Brau, but the seasoning was delicious.

20080821 Totally Fried Pop Tart
Fried Pop Tart
California State Fair

Topped off with syrup and sprinkles. I don't really remember this, but in my comments on the posting of the photo on Flickr I said that it was surprisingly good, and I don't lie about these things.

20070907 Funnel Cake
Funnel cake
Gold Country Fair

Topped with cinnamon and sugar. I think I need to get one with more impressive toppings to photograph, not to mention getting a shot without shadow on the corner.

20070825 Fried Peanut Butter & Banana
Fried peanut butter and banana with honey
California State Fair

If it's good enough for Elvis . . . .

20080819 Swirl Cone
Swirl cone
California State Fair

20080522 Eggroll on a Stick
Egg roll on a stick
Sacramento County Fair

You'll have to take my word for it that they shoved a stick up into it. A poorly conceived photo. I like the idea, however, of putting food on a stick for no reason. I mean, an egg roll is convenient finger food anyhow. I've been looking for pizza on a stick, which I have seen photos of on Flickr, but not yet found for myself.

20060829 Beignets
California State Fair

The New Orleans classic.

20090524 Corn on the Cob
Corn on the cob
Sacramento County Fair

One of my favorite things about summer growing up in Montana was all the roadside stands selling sweet, juicy, golden corn on the cob, usually 8-12 ears for $1. I think it will set you back more like $3-$4 for one ear at the fair.

20090523 Italian Sausage Sandwich
Italian sausage sandwich
Sacramento County Fair

German sausage, Italian sausage . . . it's all good.

20080826 Totally Fried Frog Legs
Fried frog legs
California State Fair

They tasted more like cod than chicken to me, and were served with lemon and tartar sauce like fish would be.

20090801 Frito Pie
Frito pie
Yuba-Sutter Fair (Yuba City)

Cheap and filling--fair food tends to be pricey, so this was a nice find. It's just Fritos, chili, and cheese. I added the onions, which were set out for topping hot dogs.

20090801 Gourmet Caramel Apple
Gourmet caramel apple
Yuba-Sutter Fair

Ooh, much too sugary. I'll stick with the regular caramel apple next time.

20090523 Deep Fried Artichoke Hearts
Deep-fried artichoke hearts
Sacramento County Fair

I love artichokes, but was disappointed with these--far too greasy.

20080826 Funky Monkey Waffle Cone
Funky monkey waffle cone
California State Fair

The server took out a large scoop of vanilla ice cream, put fresh banana slices, bits of chocolate, and peanuts on it, then folded it all together with two spatulas before putting it all in the waffle cone. Delicious

20070817 Hawaiian Shaved Ice
Hawaiian shaved ice
California State Fair

Strawberry, banana, and grape. Looking at all of these photos together, I know now how I SHOULD have shot this subject.

20090826 Churro
California State Fair

We didn't have these at the fair in Montana, but they are the classic carnival/fair/festival food in California's Central Valley. They're just deep-fried dough with cinnamon and sugar.

There are plenty more foods to be tried, so I'm sure I'll be updating this every year.


Anonymous said...

Can you tell me where you found beignets at the CA State Fair? I looked all over this year and last and could not find them. Thanks!

Tom Spaulding said...

I got them at the Cafe Orleans in the lower level of Expo Center, right on the water. But that was in 2006. There's probably a different food vendor there now.

PxT said...

Apparently the Texas state fair now sells deep fried butter, which sounds about as improbable as deep fried coca cola but if anyone could do it, it would be the Texans. No doubt it will make its way out here before too long.

Jef Poskanzer said...

Everything tastes better on a stick.