As a Texas native, I always look forward to this time of year, not because of fall foliage and temperatures that hover somewhere between brisk and perfection—autumn is somewhat of an abstract concept in Texas—but because this is Texas State Fair season.
I’ve never been to any other state fairs, but I have a hunch that Texas’ annual celebration in Dallas is one-of-a-kind.
First of all, as you walk into the 277-acre Fair Park complex, you are greeted by a 54-foot-tall cowboy, lanky and smiling as he calls out “Howdy folks” over and over. His name is Big Tex, and he has been a Texas State Fair icon since 1952. In his former life, he was the world’s tallest Santa Claus, but these days he wears mostly denim and pearl-snaps, custom fit by a team of eight seamstresses.
This year, Big Tex is joined on the fairgrounds by a 25-foot statue of the Egyptian god Anubis (left). The jackal-headed statue is there to promote National Geographic's latest King Tutankhamun exhibit, "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs," which will be showing at the Dallas Museum of Art through May 17, 2009. (There's no word yet as to how Big Tex feels about sharing the spotlight with his Egyptian friend.)
But after you pass the odd duo and head deeper into the fairgrounds, the fun really begins. Choosing between concerts, craft booths, daredevil stunt shows, and pig races (yes, pig races) can be difficult, but choosing what to eat is even harder.
Which brings me to the most mind-boggling thing about the Texas State Fair—the food.
While many state fairs boast an array of standard, fairground junk food such as corn-dogs (Texas's own Fletcher’s corny dogs are hand-dipped right in front of you) and funnel cakes, the Texas State Fair takes this to a whole new level. Texans just are not satisfied with ordinary fried foods, which is why each year, there is some strange, new, fried creation that astounds North Texas and everyone else who hears about it.
In 2006, there was Fried Coke (as in the cola). These deep-fried nuggets of Coca-Cola-flavored batter, doused in Coca-Cola fountain syrup and topped with whipped cream, cinnamon, sugar, and a cherry won concessionaire Abel Gonzales the “most creative” category in the Big Tex Choice Awards. Pretty soon, the recipe was adopted by state fairs in Arizona and North Carolina, as well as the Calgary Stampede in Alberta, Canada.
Fried Coke’s success seems to have led to a fried food renaissance at the fair, and the offerings are getting more creative, more high-tech, and presumably more fattening.
To prove my point, here are some of the winners and finalists in this year’s Big Tex Choice Awards:
Fire & Ice—A pineapple ring is battered and deep-fried, topped with banana-flavored whipped cream that’s been frozen in liquid nitrogen, and then ladled with strawberries and syrup.
Chicken Fried Bacon—Thick bacon is seasoned, double-dipped in batter and breading, then deep-fried (served with a side of ranch or honey mustard sauce).
Fried Banana Split—A mixture of honey peanut butter and banana is rolled in balls, battered, and deep-fried. It is then topped with whipped cream, banana split flavored ice cream bites and any combination of banana split-esque toppings.
Texas Fried Jelly Beans—Jelly Belly beans are rolled in funnel cake batter and fried.
And that is only the beginning. Fried grilled cheese sandwiches and fried chocolate-covered strawberry waffle balls also made the list. It’s probably a good thing that this only happens once a year.
Getting There: The Texas State Fair is currently underway: Official 2008 dates are Sept. 26th through Oct. 19th. To plan your trip to the Texas State Fair, visit the official website, check out fair entertainment highlights, or look up specific daily happenings on a detailed fair calendar.
Photos: Anubis statue joins Big Tex at the Texas State Fair; Photo by Mike Stone. Chicken Fried Bacon; Photo by Kevin Brown/State Fair of Texas.