The Los Angeles County Fair runs from September 5-28 this year. There's only one week left. Check it out while you still can!)
The arrival of autumn is also the start of fair season here in California. The largest fair in the United States, the Los Angeles County Fair is also one of the oldest on the West Coast, having begun in 1922. Every year, over a million people travel to Pomona to enjoy the food and fun.
County fairs have a long and rich history in the United States. Held around harvest time, they were a way for dispersed agrarian communities to gather and socialize through contests, activities, and communal events. Rides and games were slowly incorporated following the Chicago World's Fair, held in 1893.
Food has always been an integral part of county fairs, sold from stalls, served during events, and as the focal point of numerous cooking or eating competitions. Unfortunately, the vittles at modern county fairs have slowly been taken over by large food service companies that hold exclusive contracts with the corporations running the fairs. The result is the standardization of mediocre food that mirrors the slow death of traditional American foodways at the hands of fast food and chain restaurants. The food served at the Los Angeles County Fair is exactly the same as that sold at the Orange County Fair. Even the food stalls are the same, down to their decorations.
There are three major food groups at fairs; grilled, fried, and sugary. As a general rule, you're pretty safe sticking to the grilled fare. It's somewhat lower in fat and the flavors tend to be better.
There are even healthy vegetable options for herbivores or dieters. Good luck trying to find fruit or salad at a county fair. The odds are stacked against you.
Keep in mind my cardinal rule about fair food - Nothing served on a stick can possibly be bad. Stick == good. Remember that.
Having partaken of many grilled items during our visit to this year's Orange County Fair, Cat, Nahoko, Mr. Big, and I had a different objective at the Los Angeles County Fair. We were there to sample the fried end of the fair food spectrum as part of our search for the legendary and elusive Deep-Fried Coke.
Before I could immerse myself in the golden, brown, and delicious world of fried fair fare, I needed to indulge in a personal sin; Bacon-Wrapped Jalapeno Poppers. Served sizzling hot from the grill, each dull green capsicum was the size of my thumb and encircled by a wide belt of crispy bacon. The innards of the peppers had been hollowed out and filled with thick cream cheese, waiting to burst forth from their meaty confines and sear my mouth with lipid napalm love. Thus fortified, we set off.
Our first stop was the outdoor shopping area, full of strange gadgets, silly t-shirts, food products, cooking supplies, hot tubs, jet skis, cosmetics, jewelry, etc. Everything from nuts to candy to jerky to hot wax was for sale. No Deep-Fried Coke here.
We did, however, get a great look at the magnificent Budweiser Clydesdales. I'm no fan of the company's beers, but the horses are absolutely gorgeous.
Our search took us indoors, where entries in a variety of competitions were displayed. There were cakes, quick breads, cookies, pastries, breads, and preserves. Some of the submissions for the cake decoration contest were close to professional grade. Too bad we couldn't sample any of them.
(One person's trash...)
The craft contests were truly spectacular, with insanely elaborate table settings, skillfully made quilts, and a table of milliners demonstrating their work. The most interesting area was titled "Trash to Treasure", featuring decorations made entirely from discarded objects. It showed both the wastefulness demonstrated by what Americans throw away and the resourcefulness of the creators.
I was amused by the holiday and Christmas tree decoration contest, given that the temperature outside the building was in the mid-80s. Unfortunately, the lighting was very bad in the exhibition hall. Most of the rest of my pictures didn't turn out.
Once outside, we found ourselves near a series of displays meant to educate fairgoers about pioneer life in California. We explored a bit, but had to flee to avoid being roped into a storytime performance for children.
Famished, and with no Deep-Fried Coke in sight, we stopped at the largest fried food stand we could find for some grub. I picked up a plate of Frog Legs and Fries to share. Well, plate is a bit of an overstatement. For close to $13, we got two pairs of spindly, soggy, fishy, and bland frog legs that were a chore to eat. The cold, limp, and greasy fries were equally bad. They'd obviously been sitting in a tray for a while and the heat lamps had done nothing. Nothing!
I also ordered a plate of Fried Vegetables to provide something we could delude ourselves into thinking had some health benefits. They turned out to be surprisingly ok, albeit bland. The batter was crunchy and the vegetable were quite large. We enjoyed the artichoke hearts and the mushrooms, but the zucchini had soaked up too much oil to be eaten.
Feeling bloated from all the grease, we staggered towards "Fairview Farms", the Los Angeles County Fair's produce and farm animal display. The entire area was sponsored by, of all companies, McDonald's.
Unlike the animal exhibits of other county fairs, which consist primarily of meat animals waiting to be auctioned off and displays by local 4-H clubs, McDonald's Fairview Farms was an idyllic fantasy-land far removed from the reality of the slaughterhouse. The few animals of each type were kept in pens with potted plants for decoration. Cedar shavings covered the floor to disguise the odors of the animals, while staffers were assigned to remove droppings on a regular basis. Brightly painted backdrops with picket fences and rolling green hills attempted to give the impression that the animals lived luxurious lives in an agrarian paradise.
Product branding was everywhere, attempting to associate the illusion of the happy farm with McDonald's food. For example, several varieties of show chickens with gorgeous plumage were allowed to run free in pens while signs next to them touted the quality and freshness of the chicken in McDonald's offerings. Every display had a placard containing some reference to the "healthiness" of the ingredients used by McDonald's in their restaurants. Rather than educating LA's children about farming or animal husbandry, the entire exhibit was a colossal, Disney-fied advertisement for the Golden Arches.
Disappointed, we headed towards the rides and games. By now, we'd already covered most of the fair, but had yet to get even a whiff of the Deep-Fried Coke advertised by the fair brochure. I'd even gone online with my iPhone to see if I could find any news about Deep-Fried Coke being removed from the 2008 Los Angeles County Fair. This area was our last hope.
In addition to the usual collection of Ferris wheels and roller coasters, we saw some inflatable hilariously horrible inflatable slides. I was tempted, but $3 for one slide ride seemed a bit steep.
(His headband says, "Karate Panda".)
I'm notoriously bad at fair games, but I was tempted to squander some cash trying to get this little guy. Unfortunately, all the booths that had him were running games I had no hope of winning. Maybe next time...
With the entire fair canvassed and still no Deep-Fried Cokes, Mr. Big and I were forced to admit it wasn't meant to be. Instead, we settled for an order of Deep-Fried Oreos. It was a mistake. Deep-fried items rely on the steam released by the cooking food to keep the oil from permeating the batter. But, Oreo cookies have no water content. What we got were dense, pasty balls of fat that sat heavily in our stomachs for the rest of the day. Very disappointing.
The Los Angeles County Fair - The crafts and contests are the best part of the fair. The displays about pioneer life are fun, but Fairview Farms is a joke. The kids should have a good time petting the animals, though. Stay away from the fried foods and stick the grilled items. Your taste buds and arteries will thank you.
Los Angeles County Fair
1101 W. McKinley Ave.
Pomona, CA 91768