Sampling the Delicacies at the Iowa State Fair
I don’t feel well.
LOOK, LET’S GET THIS OUT OF THE WAY right up front: I have a very good diet. It’s healthy, consistent, and extremely low in sugar, carbs, and processed foods. I will go for weeks, sometimes even months on end without a single cheat meal. I’m a psycho, I know.
This is why the Iowa State Fair—an event I last covered eight years ago as a 25-year-old cub reporter on the campaign trail—presented a daunting task: What should I eat?
The state fair isn’t short on options. It’s essentially a pop-up walkable city. Iowans and other Midwesterners trek to the fairgrounds in Des Moines because on some deep-down, primal level, everyone wants a dense, walkable space with an abundance of art (the butter cow is indeed art), activities for all age groups, zero cars in sight, and diverse culinary choices.
The pork chops were easily the most popular food destination at the fair. The line was out the door, where Iowa’s Pork Queen—person, not porcine; a young woman crowned the state’s pork-industry ambassador—greeted ravenous fairgoers. When presidential candidates venture to the fair, they show off their grilling chops by, well, grilling some chops. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds hosts her Fair-Side Chats on the premises as well, while politically curious onlookers scarf down ribs at JR’s SouthPork Ranch.
My pork chop was good, I think. It wasn’t dry but it was hard to cut with the plastic fork and knife. But I’m not the best judge of a well-cooked chop, as prior to this I couldn’t remember the last time I had the other white meat. 6/10.
The chop was too basic, so I later grabbed a bacon-wrapped rib on a stick. The addition of bacon to a rib makes it more salty and harder to chew. The stick for holding makes it somehow more difficult to hold, as it’s much flimsier than the actual rib bone. It doesn’t alleviate the messiness of eating a rib either. 4/10.
Here’s the rest of what I had—outside the pork category—over the course of my couple days at the fair.
When I found myself needing something “healthy,” I ventured to the “Applishus” kiosk. The woman ahead of me ordered “apple egg rolls,” which were clearly just egg-roll shaped apple turnovers, so I went with the “apple nachos.” I don’t know why I thought those would be as simple as sliced apples with caramel serving as the cheese. These were actually fried pastry-puff chips slathered in baked apples, caramel, and whipped cream. I had about four bites before tossing them. 2/10.
I’m not big on cookies—or chocolate for that matter—but when former Texas congressman and current presidential candidate Will Hurd left his bucket of Barksdale chocolate-chip cookies behind after his onstage chat with Gov. Reynolds, I took one. It was very soft because they had been sitting in the hot sun for nearly a half hour. You can spot the bucket right before it was abandoned in the picture below. 1/10.
A&W, the root beer company, had booths sprawled across the fairgrounds. I ordered a diet root beer float, which came with less soft serve ice cream because, according to the server’s disapproving tone, it foams too much due to the diet’s fizzier and less sugary nature. I liked this because the cold draft of diet root beer creates a paper-thin casing of ice around the soft serve, similar to that of the glacial layer that forms on the top of a well-shaken martini. 8.5/10.
Finally, my favorite item was the fair’s simplest offering and conveniently the one free thing: a hard boiled turkey egg on a stick:
Heartier than a normal chicken egg, and freshly seasoned by a man in overalls pouring red dust over an empty tray. 10/10.
There were a few offerings I was not willing to try, such as the crab rangoon reuben, the shrimp ceviche, or the “world famous” Iowa lobster roll. This is not skepticism of Iowa’s ability to import quality seafood, but my general distrust of portable kitchens selling low-cost food in the hot August sun. Maybe my mind will change by the next presidential election cycle.