The NC Food Fair: When a State Fair isn’t an Option

By: Alexis Cope

I love fair food. It’s like a big holiday with its overwhelming spread of turkey or potatoes or some other indulgent and buttery food, except it’s a week long, someone else does the cooking, and everyone agrees that everything tastes just so dang good. So, of course, I went to this year’s NC Food Fair, which, in reality, was just the toned-down version of the annual state fair. 

Since 1853, the North Carolina State Fair has been held annually as a chance to showcase statewide accomplishments in agriculture, horticulture, livestock rearing, homemaking, artwork, and craftsmen and women. Of course, there’s always rides and attractions and shows, wrapping the whole week and a half long event into a complete package for everyone who comes. 

But in 2020, a year that’s been nothing but chaotic, the Fair was just not an option. For the first time in its history, the Fair would not happen due to concerns and restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Luckily, the NC Department of Agriculture found a fix: a Food Fair. For 11 days, 22 of the local food vendors of the State Fair parked their trucks and trailers on the fairgrounds to provide a little taste of the annual fun we all miss. Deep fried candy, oreos, and mac-n-cheese? Yep, it’s there. Turkey legs? Check. North Carolina barbeque? You bet. Fried dough, funnel cake? Of course. Gator tail on a stick? For some reason, yes. 

In addition to all the vendors, a small display of large pumpkins and watermelons from across the state was set up for all those who passed to admire or take a picture with. It was a sweet nod to all the farmers who were unable to show off their accomplishments this year. 

Safety was, obviously, paramount. The stands and lines were spread out, and everyone was wearing masks. Unless they were eating, of course, but even then there were pavilions and other areas to eat away from others if you wished. 

To all those who helped plan the food fair and to those vendors who participated: thank you. You have brought a fun little piece of the fair to all those who miss it, and from the flocks of people I saw, that’s quite a few people.

All in all, the food fair was a thoroughly enjoyable event. To be able to sit and eat powdered sugar-topped funnel cake with my family while watching a beautiful sunset brought a smile to my face, and to all the others I saw doing the same. Walking around under the, albeit dimmer, carnival lights was enough to make me content for the year. And to sit with a belly filled with barbecue – well, I was not complaining. 

The Food Fair ended this Sunday, after more than a week of fun. For information about future state fairs, visit ncstatefair.org. 

A Culinary Journey Through the NC State Fair

BY SUZANNAH CLAIRE PERRY

This year’s North Carolina State Fair, now nearly a month past, attracted almost a million folks to the fairgrounds in Raleigh. Some came for the gardens or the old-time cheer, some came for the rides, and some even came for the cows. But most fair goers shared a common experience, or rather, a common meal.

The food at the state fair is a collision of NC classics and new (usually deep-fried) creations, a delicious and relatively affordable dining experience for all. My friends and I entered 2018 fair with one main goal: to eat some local, delicious deep-fried goodness. Join me on this tasty journey through our local history and culture, as I review the North Carolina State Fair’s most iconic foods and hunt for that “Gotta Be NC” flavor.

 

Deep Fried Oreo: 5/10

Fried oreo

I’ve had many deep fried Oreos in my day, and in this time I’ve observed a few quality-determining factors: the balance of the dough, cookie, icing, and powdered sugar; the flavor and texture of the dough; and the quantity of powdered sugar. This dough was, well, too doughy! It was more than twice the size of the actual Oreo and overpowered the other flavors. The powdered sugar and icing were lacking, but the Oreo cookie’s perfect sogginess and the satisfying balance of dense dough and fluffy sugar saved this dish from complete culinary desolation, raising my rating to a (mediocre) five out of ten.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Candy Apple: 9/10

candy apple

When I tried a cinnamon candy apple for the first time last year, it wasn’t my lack of appreciation for its two major ingredients that disappointed me, but the fact that it got stuck in my teeth—and hair! As a result, I was hesitant to try this fair’s apple offerings, but the cutesy allure of one stand caught my eye. I was blown away by the freshness and lack of grittiness of this bona fide North Carolina grown apple, whose bitter skin perfectly complemented the sweet candy. The apple was juicy, perfectly sweet, and perfectly priced, ringing in at only two dollars.  This apple earns a nine out of ten for its delicious taste and well-balanced textures. I can’t wait to eat one next year!

 

 

 

 

 

Fried Green Tomatoes: 5/10

fried green tomato

A delicacy rarely recreated well north of the Mason-Dixon, fried green tomatoes are one of my favorite foods, and I was excited (though unsurprised) to see them being sold at many of the fair’s booths. Alas, I was mostly disappointed by these particular tomatoes’ lack of flavor and their unpleasant texture. The tomatoes were far too ripe to have that classic sourness—almost as if they were straight off a lackluster deli sandwich. The thin, flavorless crust didn’t help, and their blandness even coerced me, a self-proclaimed health nut, to douse them in salt. These disappointing tomatoes were offset by slightly less disappointing ranch, but ultimately, while I appreciate the effort to incorporate vegetables into the State Fair diet, this is not the way to do it. I give these pathetic tomatoes a four out of ten for shaking me to my Tar Heel core.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Corn on the Cob: 8/10

corn on the cob

I love corn on the cob. Something about plowing through the kernels is animalistic, and the fibers between my teeth always trick me into thinking this food is healthier than the calorie count suggests. The pictures inundating my Instagram feed of State Fair corn, char-roasted, dripping in butter and covered in seasoning, had tempted me for a week before I went to the fair. When I finally found corn that seemed high enough quality to buy after a thorough search for kernelled perfection, I ate it with ferocious, blissful speed. Even with just butter (I forgot to add seasoning in my feverish rush), this sweet, salty, and filling snack satisfied my taste buds and my appetite for hours. I give this corn an eight out of ten, and I highly recommend that your next state fair experience includes a freshly shucked treat.

 

 

 

Deep Fried Pickles: 8.5/10

deep fried picklesAlthough I’m not a pickle aficionado, the intrigue of deep fried pickles compelled me to invest in a seven dollar container from a Mount Airy-based barbecue booth by the lake. To my surprise, this exotic food was worth its cost. The crisp cucumber, sour vinegar, crunchy crust and overall pleasant saltiness made for a perfectly balanced evening snack, and despite my love of ranch I didn’t even consider using it to add flavor. This dish will definitely be on my state fair feast list next year, and though my friends’ dislike of it serve warning that it is an acquired taste, I give these fried pickles an eight-and-a-half out of ten.

 

 

 

Frozen Banana: 9/10

frozen banana
https://www.retirebeforedad.com/2016/07/20/theres-always-money-banana-stand/

After eating the fried pickles, which have a wicked aftertaste, I was craving something cheap and sweet to cleanse my palate before I went home. A chocolate-covered frozen banana with sprinkles did just the trick. Ringing in at a mere four dollars, this banana was sweet, cold, and super indulgent, a relatively healthy snack that fulfilled my craving for dessert. I give this banana a nine out of ten, bringing my “fruitful” culinary journey through the NC State Fair to a stupendous (and stuffed!) end.