Hand to Mouth

misadventures in eating

The point is, in the end, Al’s Fries was located and I was vindicated.

with one comment

I hit the fair today with Aggie, April, Ellen, and Nikki, and a body couldn’t ask for better co-conspirators, since they threw themselves into the spirit — read: lard — of the fair with a gusto that brought tears to my eyes, a little bit.

fried twinkies(Photo by Ellen) “What are you going to eat?” was the predominant question of the evening, since nobody over the age of 17 goes to the fair for the rides. My general answer was “Anything I can wrap my mouth around,” which served the dual purpose of sounding filthy and being totally, completely honest. The fair is a carnival of edible delights: deep-fried twinkies, deep-fried Oreos (way better than deep-fried Twinkies, for the uninitiated), deep-fried pickles, deep-fried chicken, deep-fried green tomatoes. This isn’t even including all the sandwiches and steaks available for your enjoyment; the polish sausages snapping and carmelizing brown and sweet-savory on the griddle, the fried loops of onions, the candy apples and frozen bananas dipped in chocolate. pie! (Photo by Ellen.) The discovery of the afternoon, though, was the frozen key-lime pie dipped in chocolate and then served up on a stick. April exclaimed upon seeing the sign that she’d had them in Key West (mile zero, ladies and gentleman, rampant with wild chickens) and that they were absolutely divine, and our wordless moans of love once we took the first bite really backed up her claim. corn dogs! And then there were corn dogs and roasted corn, the consumption of aforementioned deep-fried Oreos. Oh, and then there’re the turkey legs roughly the size and shape of a human skull. To make your way through all of these magical treats is to invite yourself into the Red Cross Center to get your stomach pumped, but we did our best.

Of course, the money shot is this one:


I’ve always wondered why, when at my most downtrodden and miserable, I crave Southern food. Not nouveau south cuisine, either, no smart re-imaginings of shrimp and grits or clever reinterpretations of fried okra. I want fried chicken, double-breaded and buttermilk dredged. I want collards stewed for hours with ham hocks. It’s food I grew up with, to some extent, but it’s the pure weight of it in my stomach, I think, that makes it so comforting.

The same goes with fair food: It’s utterly terrible for you, and I didn’t see one person the entire night who was bothering to resist. We come to the fair because we yearn for the macabre food creations that make us horrified and intrigued at the same time — read: deep-fried Twinkies, I mean, why? — and because we want the fried green tomatoes, the monstrous heaps of grease and fat and ketchup from my mad dive toward Al’s Fries, located in its place ever as it was, across from where the Red Cross building used to be. We come because we want funnel cake — because we want it drowning in powdered sugar.

As a kid, my parents were terrible killjoys and refused to take me to the N.C. State Fair — this was by turns an economic decision and one based on truly astonishing laziness. Sitting on their asses on the couch for free > taking adorable only daughter to a wonderland of fried foods for the low low price of $3 a corndog. At the time, I felt wronged in a way unparalleled since Ramses accidentally destroyed Syria and it fostered in me a deep desire to go to the fair as frequently as possible, one that has melted out of sheer contrariness into a real appreciation of what the state fair is: a showcase of the agricultural history of North Carolina.

3000 pies, easy.North Carolina has always been a state of farmers, and between the rolling hills of our peidmont and the flat of our beaches, the leewards and rain shadows of our mountains, are flat expanses of farmland that used to be lush with tobacco, with cotton fields. These days, with smoking on the drop and vegetarianism on the rise, those same fields are being snapped up by conglomerates. Instead of the green, nearly puffy leaves of tobacco lining the roads going eastward toward the ocean, you see rows of soybeans. tiny vegetables! Change is inevitable and not necessarily bad, either, but it’s nice in October to find your way to the fairgrounds and see the largest pumpkin or the smallest peppers, to be reminded of where the state has come from, and maybe to feel a little regret at what we might be — largely, anyway — leaving behind in our mad rush to catch the new economy. (To that end, the entire fair was run on biodiesel this year, a fact proudly proclaimed by the enormous banner that was hanging in the midway.)

camwhoringBut stepping out of nostalgia — the best thing about the fair is that it’s a zero-calorie zone. By which I mean: it’s completely impossible to come to the fair and worry about getting fat; the entire point is to consume as many items as possible that have met with a deep fat fryer. If they’re working with something that’s non-hydrogenated, they’re just not trying hard enough. I mean, clearly, we weren’t worried about it.


Written by lshen

October 15, 2006 at 3:52 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. I went to one of the local fairs here in Texas a few weeks back and had a deep fried Snickers. It was insane, and actually really good.

    My husband and I are going to the Texas State Fair this weekend (we’ll say hi to Big Tex for you), and I’ll be sure to eat a deep fried Oreo, on your suggestion!

    Love the blog 🙂


    October 19, 2006 at 10:29 pm

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