Fair Food Choices Take in Ethnic Variations
By Bernice Hurst, Contributing Editor, RetailWire
Brad Wolverton of The Washington Post describes the summer fair as “an annual eating extravaganza that seems to guarantee every American the freedom to leave their diet at the door for at least one day.” Starting this year’s tasting season at the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair, Mr. Wolverton dives into pupusas – tortillas filled with unique combinations of grilled Colombian chorizo, mozzarella, “peppery salsa and vinegary slaw.”
Mark Isaza, his business partner Arnoldo Ulloa, and their helpers make nearly everything from scratch and operate one of the larger food stands at the fair. Besides the pupusas, they offer healthful items such as Ecuadoran fruit salad made from melon, strawberries and pineapple.
Mr. Wolverton describes previous experiences primarily consisting of funnel cakes, corn dogs and cotton candy. He says that fair food is still made by stall-holders who put “just about anything on a stick” before dropping it in a fryer, including delicacies such as avocado (California), cheese curds (Minnesota) and even chunks of butter (Texas). Apparently this summer’s Iowa State Fair “features some 54 foods on a stick, including deep-fried Ho-Hos, pickles and pineapple.”
Other stalls in Montgomery County include Nick Strates’ Greek stand, featuring what some fairgoers say is the event’s best dish – Demetri’s gyro.
As recently as a decade ago, many fairgoers weren’t as familiar with Greek food, said Mr. Strates, a first-generation Greek American. “I’m not sure if it’s a cultural thing or if it’s generational,” he said, “but younger people – be they white or ethnic – are buying our food.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Wolverton savors a typically American favorite – corn on the cob – sold both traditionally or with a Latin twist, exclaiming about the ways in which a single food can “straddle the line between the familiar and the exotic.” He finishes his tour with an Oreo dipped in cake batter and deep-fried to make “the cream in the middle all melty and the cookie soft.”
The range of choices available to fair-goers of different ages and ethnic backgrounds celebrates diversity, he believes. Judging by the popularity of each dish he describes, having that range of choices is appreciated by many.
Discussion Questions: Is there a significant opportunity to broaden the range of ethnic foods found at fairs to retail food stores? Should more of the food found in fairs – albeit largely of the fried variety – be more widely adopted by retailers for year-round eating?
[Author’s commentary] State and County Fair season is providing massive material for journalists and bloggers indulging both their cravings and their attempts to reconcile that indulgence with dietary righteousness. Julia O’Malley of the Anchorage Daily News shared her fair food with a dietician and wondered, like Brad Wolverton, if there are lessons to be learned from foods that are never eaten at any other time of the year.
- Ethnic food earns its fair share – The Washington Post
- Deep fried, cream filled, delicious (but what am I really eating?) – Anchorage Daily News