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Fair food: Deep-fried and guilt-free. Well, almost.

August 09, 2011|By Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Mmmm. Fried butter. Yes it is.
Mmmm. Fried butter. Yes it is. (Jeannine Stein / Los Angeles…)

I ate deep-fried butter at the Orange County Fair. And I'm not apologizing for it.

Let's face it -- going to a county fair is like getting a free pass to junk food land. All bets are off, and no one gives you the admonishing finger if you follow a platter-size funnel cake with a deep-fried Oreo chaser. In fact, while carrying around the deep-fried butter I was bestowed admiring glances from other fair-goers. You have to love a place that offers something called a "Coronary Combo" of deep-fried butter and chocolate covered bacon.

Of course, eating the artery-clogging treat (and the rest of the stuff I'll tell you about in a minute) was all done in the name of journalistic investigation. Or something. I was here to find out if fair foods are all they're cracked up to be. Are they really worth the calories and the extra hit of Metformin, even if it's a once-a-year thing?

With the fair in full swing my husband and I high-tailed it to the main food drag and went immediately for the butter, which is becoming legendary for being perhaps the worst food imaginable on the planet. Take butter, dip it in batter and deep fry it. What could be better? Or worse, I guess. The dish came piled high with whipped cream, and there was the option of adding chocolate sauce. But I wanted to experience it in its purest form.

It was good.

The taste was like a buttery churro or, to quote my husband, "A funnel cake on steroids." From there we decided to go savory and split a barbecue turkey sandwich, waffle fries and an ear of roasted corn. The corn was the best of the three and didn't even need butter. Not that it would have mattered at this point. Those giant turkey legs seemed popular, but the people we saw gnawing on them looked like flesh-eating zombies. The legs quickly lost their appeal.

The theme of this year's fair is "Let's Eat!" as if people really need to be reminded. Fair food is an American tradition and as much a part of the fair experience as the Ferris wheel and the giant alligator. An exhibit detailed the history of fair food, from peanuts and popcorn to the tradition of deep frying anything that doesn't move.

With a few hours of walking under our belts, my husband decided to try some grilled beef kabobs, which were on the chewy side, although they did come with unadulterated onions and peppers. Vegetables make an appearance at the fair, but they're most often fried, as in zucchini nachos. I thought a stuffed jalapeƱo might be tasty until I discovered what it was stuffed with -- a Butterfinger bar. That may be the least appealing food combination ever.

While eating the kabobs we shared a table with a young couple who generously offered us some of their fried Kool-Aid. Like our taste test of the fried butter, they were curious about what this bizarre-sounding delicacy had to offer. Balls of fried donut-like dough revealed a hot pink interior that tasted like Kool-Aid and had a fizzy tang to it. Not something I'd go back for.

With an hour to go until closing time we figured we'd throw caution to the wind and try one more thing. I lobbied for the cheesecake on a stick, but my husband convinced me that the deep-fried Snickers bar would be a better choice. It wasn't bad -- I liked the hot, melted chocolate -- but by that time the whole fried dough thing was becoming overwhelming.

Shall we do the calories? I thought you'd never ask. The WebMDsite lists fried Snickers at 444 calories and 29 grams of fat, and a funnel cake at 760 calories and 44 grams of fat. That ear of corn was positively slimming at about 125 calories. The online site My Fitness Pal has one fried butter ball weighing in at 443 calories and 39 grams of fat, but since our version was extruded, I'm not sure how to calculate calories. Let's just call it an even billion.

Yes, it was fun trying some truly decadent foods that are otherwise inaccessible, even though I felt like a big ball of fried dough by the end. The guilt was assuaged by the fact that this is so far a biannual event for my husband and me, and by the fact that I walked (albeit at a leisurely pace) for about six hours. At least that's what I'm telling myself.

We're curious to know what your fair food strategy is. Do you try one of everything? Only go for what's deep-fried? Just stick to sweets? Do you have any favorites? Let us know.

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