new Things I Ate in Cambodia: I Love the California State Fair

Monday, September 10, 2007

I Love the California State Fair

I've been a Sacramento resident for about five or six years now, so I've adopted the California State Fair as one of my very favorite local traditions. It's big, hot, smelly, and populated by California-style rednecks. It's also absolutely fabulous.

The midway is fantastic, populated by See The Giant Cow booths, disturbing foot massage machines, and hordes and hordes of very large people munching on funnel cakes and Blocks O' Curly Fries. This is the place to grab a Merlino's Fruit Freeze (if they're available) or a frozen lemonade, then circulate through and watch people attempt not to barf on the roller coasters and the myriad other implements of destruction people who are not me love to ride on.

Move on to the farm animal barns, where you can look at tremendous bulls, ridiculously adorable alpacas, and angry looking sheep for as long as your heart (or your olfactory glands) desire. Once you're done observing the living, breathing livestock, you can easily mosey over to the smokehouse and BBQ area - the turkey legs are delicious. I haven't taken a rack of ribs inside the pig area and waved them around yet, but you can bet it's on my agenda.

Then perhaps to the model garden and farm, where all manner of lush California produce is man-handled by small children and not so reverent passerby. I like looking into the tanks of trout, catfish, and sturgeon provided by the Fish and Game Department and imaging how they would be grilled.

I love the wine area, although I technically can't partake in the wine. It's cool, excellently air-conditioned, and generally a wonderful place to sit and get out of the brutal Sacramento heat that seems to descend on the city at the exact time of the State Fair. Just for God's sake avoid the freezer-burned cheese plates they try to push at you at the bar.

As for the food...I admit, I'm not a huge fry-a-lator fan. However, this being California, there's a lot of options that don't involve deep fat frying. Not that we don't have fried Snickers bars or fried Pepsi or fried Krispy-Kreme and chicken sandwiches at Charlie Chicken....

Bloomin' Onion (2006) - Pretty good and definitely bigger then my head, at least when spread out on a plate. However, the inside of the onion was not completely fried through! Encountering grainy batter in the middle of your artery-busting onion is just a total buzz kill. Boo.

Deep-Fried Snickers Bar (2005) - I was prepared to hate this. Too bad it's friggin' delicious. The bar melts to a silky consistency, and with the combination of the crunchy batter and the raspberry sauce, it's like deep fried crack. You have to try it at least once. The Scottish are on to something.

Grilled Corn On the Cob - Simple, easy, ubiquitous. And tasty. Rolled in seasoning salt, it's the way summer oughta taste.

Merlino's Fruit Freeze - Merlino's fruit freeze is a Sacramento institution, making fruit ices that aren't quite slushes and aren't quite solid and are all delicious, with intense flavors and a perfect consistency. I always order a big cup with one scoop of strawberry, one of lemon, then mush them together for the Best Frozen Strawberry Lemonade ever. However, Merlino's was NOT AT THE FAIR THIS YEAR! (2007) My heart is broken.

Deep-Fried Artichoke Hearts: Blah. Soggy batter and insipid insides. How the hell did the California State Fair of all places and all locations screw this up?

Frozen Yogurt with Fresh Strawberries: Tasty all right, but nothing particularly special or specific to the fair. I need more pizzaz.

Smoked Turkey Leg - Yummy and tender, although the barbecue sauce is too damn sweet. (But my roots are in North Carolina.) However, 10 bucks a turkey leg? Are these organically raised rare-breed platinum plated turkeys or what?

Margarita - I am underage and thus have no idea what this tastes like. (It was good.) I will always treasure my father going off on the margarita guy because the big phallus-like cups the drinks are served in are "stupid."

Laotian Style Papaya Salad - Okay, this isn't really traditional fair food. However, it was excellent, made with lots of extra fish sauce (this is the Laotian bit) and incendiary amounts of chili pepper.

This year (2007), the food we tried wasn't particularly special. Either the thrill is gone, the food is really going downhill, or we're just not ordering correctly.

On the agenda for next year: fried catfish, chitterlings, finally try at least a bit of that amazing Krispy Kreme Fried Chicken sandwich. Because it is there.

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