in the heart
 of Texas

State Fair of Texas compelling, if horrible.


It’s like one of those videos of a plane diving into the crowd at an air show: You know it’s going to be horrible, but you can’t stop watching.

The State Fair of Texas is long over for the year. With more than 2.5 million people streaming through its gates next to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, it is, by a large margin, the biggest fair in North America.

Besides its staggering attendance figures, the fair is known for many things. Its annual auto show. The tallest Ferris wheel in this hemisphere. Big Tex, the 52-foot high sculpture of a friendly but vaguely frightening cowboy at the entrance.

And then, of course, there is the food. This is the horrible-but-compelling part.

The fair calls itself the Fried Food Capital of Texas®, and they are so proud of the term that they have registered the trademark. You’d think they would be prouder of other things (“More than 10,000 livestock entries!” “World’s largest butter sculpture!”). But no. It is the fried food on which they have staked their claim (“More heart attacks per capita than any other fair!”).

Fried food is such an important part of the whole State Fair of Texas experience that, for the last eight years, the fair has held an annual Big Tex Choice Awards contest seeking out the best-tasting and most creative fried food concoction within the fairgrounds.

This year’s winner of the Best Taste award went to the Deep-Fried Cuban Roll, with its filling of slow-cooked pork shoulder, chopped ham, Swiss cheese, and pickles, spread with a secret sauce onto a slice of Swiss cheese. This was then rolled up in pastry dough and deep fried.

The Most Creative award went to the Fried Thanksgiving Dinner. Turkey and stuffing were rolled into a ball, then dipped into creamed corn, rolled in seasoned corn meal, and deep fried. It was served with giblet gravy and an orange-cranberry dipping sauce.

If it were just these two fried delicacies, we could forget the whole matter and turn our attention to football. But those, alas, were just the winners.

Other entrants included the Southern Style Chicken-Fried Meatloaf. That was slices of meatloaf coated with breading, then deep-fried. The Texas Fried Fireball was pimento cheese and bacon, dipped into a jalapeño batter, and fried.

The Deep-Fried Chocolate Chip Burrito consisted of cookie dough rolled into the shape of a burrito, deep fried, and then drizzled with chocolate sauce and powdered sugar. For the Deep-Fried Chicken and Waffles, the chicken and waffles were mixed together before it was all fried, like a corn dog, and put on a stick. The Deep Fried Spaghetti and Meatballs, which has been described variously as the size of a baseball or the size of a softball, was, I’m sorry to say, exactly what it sounded like.

And please, let’s not even think about the Fried Bubblegum, which won the Most Creative award in 2011. It isn’t actually made of bubble gum, thank heaven, but it is a bubble-gum flavored marshmallow which is then, of course, deep fried and topped with icing and powdered sugar.

What is it about us that makes us want to eat any of these? Is it something deep in the human soul that craves foods that have been deep fried in hot oil? Is it a universal trait that associates fried foods with the happiness and security of childhood? Is it a death wish?

I suspect we, or at least 2.5 million Texans, head for these extreme fried foods as a way to feel special, to celebrate the unusual experience of being at the fair. After all, they rationalize, the fair only comes around once a year.

And Thanksgiving only comes once a year, so have some pie. Halloween is a once-a-year event too, a rare chance to overindulge in candy. Though the parties last for weeks, Christmas comes but once a year. And of course, by definition New Year’s Eve is just once a year too. Then there are Valentine’s Day, birthdays, anniversaries.

So, by all means enjoy a Deep-Fried Chocolate Chip Burrito, if you can. A special occasion like this comes but 15 or 20 times a year.

Contact Daniel Neman at 
or 419-724-6155.