The Indiana State Fair brings out the kid in me. I look forward to seeing the baby animals, riding the tractor shuttle and eating more food than I should, but the state fair only happens one time a year and I always take full advantage of what it has to offer. As I’ve gotten older, the food has really become the highlight of my visits. Between the traditional options and the radical treats you can’t find anywhere else, I’ve got a list of must-have’s that you won’t be able to pass up.
Year of Popcorn – Popcorn is the featured product at the 2013 Indiana State Fair, and you’ll find it at almost every turn. All of the varieties like caramel corn, kettle corn, cheese corn and wacky flavors such as dill pickle popcorn can be purchased at a number of food vendors. Find Indianapolis’ own Just Pop In! in the DuPont Food Pavilion along with Pop Weaver, which is based in Van Buren, Indiana. Head to the Ball State/Agriculture & Horticulture building to take your picture with the largest popcorn ball in the world. All of the ingredients were donated by Pop Weaver.
Food to share – I love trying many things at the fair, so when I order something that’s a large portion I always make sure I share it with my group. Ribbon fries are when you take a potato and turn it into one large curl that’s deep fried like a french fry. I suggest getting them loaded with chives, ranch, cheese and bacon bits. Other favorites like onion rings and blossoms are easily found and best enjoyed with a little salt and ketchup in my opinion. For dessert, funnel cakes and elephant ears will satisfy your sweet tooth.
The new thing this year – Each year there’s something that everybody is talking about. For 2013, it’s bacon glazed doughnuts. MCL’s tent is the only place you can find them (right next to the DuPont Food Pavilion), and I can attest that they are worth buying. Doughnuts are all shapes and sizes, which tells me they’re homemade, and they come topped with lots of crunchy bacon pieces.
Deep fried this and that - As one of the signs at a vendor’s shop said, “We don’t count calories at fairs or festivals.” Fried cheese and veggies are your lightest options, but I’m sure the deep fried brownies, Snickers, Twinkie’s and Oreo’s will have you wanting to balance your good decisions with something sinful.
Going traditional – Corn dogs were in the hands of many at the fair. Easily held in one hand, these options are traditional but also mean you don’t have to sit down to enjoy your food with two hands. Corn on the cob was also prevalent, not just because we’re in Indiana but because it was dipped in hot, tasty butter. Smoked and slow cooked turkey legs give you a protein kick but I challenge you to eat the whole thing. Apple dumplings weren’t at every stand, but if you come across them you should pick up one at least for the ride home.
Dairy Barn – One of the most popular food pit-stops in the Dairy Bar with their Indiana Dairy products like grilled cheese sandwiches, cheese sticks, yogurt, ice cream scoops and large milk shakes. While we aren’t having record temperatures like last year, that noonday sun can still be hot on your head and shoulders. Cool off at the Dairy Barn before getting on those fair rides.
Freebies – There are many ways to save at the Indiana State Fair and it’s hard to miss these coupons and free bites. Turkey Hill has traditionally handed out samples of their delicious ice cream, and this year you can try their vanilla bean or salted caramel treats along with coupons to purchase Turkey Hill in the store. Walk into the Farm Bureau Building and I guarantee your nose will taste you straight to the popcorn machine with freshly popped kernels that you can enjoy for free. Stop by the Red Gold Tomatoes booth in the DuPont Food Pavilion for coupons to use on their products and to play a game that may win you a free ketchup air freshener or koozie.
Hungry for more – If you’re really in the mood for a big meal, stop by the Indiana Pork and Beef tents. Smoked pork chops, rib-eye sandwiches and pulled pork are sold by the sandwich or in a meal with potatoes or chips. A lot of farmers and vendors were fueling up in these tents and many families were splitting the large plates with each other. Ask about the garbage burger in the pork tent and you’ll be told “it’s heaven on a plate,” aka a pork burger with pulled pork on top.
I encourage you to visit the fair and stay for breakfast, lunch or dinner (or maybe all three) as you enjoy what Indiana farmers have to offer. If you’ve been to the fair already this year, what did you eat? You’ve got until August 18th to stick your fork in it!